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Uses of Hypnosis in Sports

By Miguel Humara PhD.

Many of us have heard of professional athletes who are in the midst of a slump but can not figure out how to correct the problem. In some instances, you may have heard that the individual turned to the technique of hypnosis in order to correct it. Perhaps you now find yourself in a similar situation and are looking for anything to help you break out of that slump. Maybe you are just looking for that extra competitive edge that leads to a peak performance. Whatever the reason, hypnosis may have beneficial effects for you. However, it first is important to understand exactly what hypnosis is.

What Is It?

Hypnosis is a temporary, trance-like state, which is characterized by the individual being exceedingly suggestible. If a hypnotized individual is told that he can not move his arm, then he will act as if that limb has been paralyzed. Typically, people enter this state with the help of another individual (the hypnotist) but some people can hypnotize themselves (self-hypnosis). It is important to note that a trained professional should conduct deep hypnotic induction (if you are interested in receiving a referral simply contact us using the link at the bottom of this page). This is not to say that self-hypnosis can not be conducted.

Hypnosis effects memory such that if the subject is asked to forget everything that happened during the trance, the individual will comply but will respond to suggestions planted during the trance. This is called a post-hypnotic suggestion. For example, an individual can be given a post-hypnotic suggestion to bark like a dog while he is under the trance whenever the hypnotist coughs. The applications in the realm of sport are limitless. However, there are many misconceptions about hypnosis. Some of these are listed below along with a clarification for each.

  • “People who have been hypnotized are just sleeping.” This is not true. Although, hypnosis has been called sleep-like based on its superficial features, it clearly is not a state of sleep as evidenced by the brain wave patterns, which do not resemble that of sleep. The person is usually quite relaxed but is quite alert, although attention may be very focused.
  • “Anyone can be hypnotized.” Again, this is not true, although some hypnotists would have you believe differently. In reality, people differ with regard to their hypnotic susceptibility. Like many psychological variables, hypnotizability is distributed normally, meaning that most people are moderately susceptible with about 5-10% of individuals being highly susceptible or not susceptible at all.
  • “You can make people do anything you want while they are hypnotized.” Once again, an unequivocal not true is the correct response. Under hypnosis people can not be made to engage in actions that would go against their moral beliefs. In general, people who are hypnotized are not mindless robots that can be totally manipulated by the hypnotist. They maintain considerable control over their behavior and will refuse to comply with suggestions given to them if they are indirect moral conflict with them.

How It’s Used

While hypnosis in sports is useful, it is not a cure all. Although case studies involving efforts to enhance performance in athletes by means of hypnosis appear to be universally successful, it is important to understand its uses and limitations. Discussed below are those areas where hypnosis has been empirically studied including pain management, anxiety, exertion, and exercise.

Perhaps the greatest success of hypnosis has been in the area of pain management, either by reducing it of eliminating it. It is such a powerful technique that hypnosis has been used as an anesthetic for surgical procedures. It seems to work by focusing the individual’s attention on something other then the pain, often a sensation in another part of the body. Another method is to have the individual imagine that the painful area has been deadened with an anaesthetic such as novocaine. Although the mechanism by which it works is not clear, it works for many pain sufferers, regardless of whether the pain is acute or chronic without the negative side effects of addictive drugs.

Many people have heard the term “getting up for the game.” Sometimes you can even get too “up for the game.” You might be asking yourself how this is possible. Researchers have found that there is a zone of optimal functioning, and that this zone is based on the individual’s optimal state anxiety level in pre-competitive settings. In other words, if you can duplicate how you felt before your previous successful performances, then you will be in this zone. Athletes are asked to recall their pre-competitive state anxiety levels in terms of their thoughts and physiological responses. Individuals to get them back into that zone of optimal functioning can then use self-hypnosis. If individuals are unable to recall what this zone is like then hypnosis by a trained professional allows the individual to recall what this feeling was like.

Have you ever noticed that some individuals don’t give their all when they are on the playing field. It’s like they are consciously or unconsciously saving something for the next time that they play. If you are one of these individuals and would like to change this, self-hypnosis may be of help. Individuals who are not accustomed to performing at maximal level usually experience gains in muscular strength and endurance when administered suggestions in a hypnotic state. It is important to note that hypnosis without suggestions for enhanced performance did not influence muscular strength or endurance.

The technique can even be used in exercising. Perception of effort during exercise can be systematically increased or decreased with hypnotic suggestion even though the actual physical workload is maintained at a constant level. This means that on those days when you feel that you have no energy, you can use self-hypnosis in order reduce your perception of the workload that you are doing. You can even make your body believe that it is exercising when you are resting. Researchers have found that hypnotic suggestion of exercise in the non exercise state is associated with increased cardiac frequency, respiratory rate, ventilator minute volume, oxygen uptake, carbon dioxide production, forearm blood flow, and cardiac output. These metabolic changes often approximate responses noted during the actual exercise conditions of individuals. Of course the level of hypnosis needed to achieve this is so deep that a trained professional should only attempt it.

Clearly, there are many uses for hypnosis within the field of athletics. Whether you want to use it for pain management, anxiety control, maximizing exertion or exercising, the effects can be dramatic. At times it may be necessary to consult a specialist in this area (again contact us for a free referral using the link at the bottom of this page). However, in many instances, you can achieve the benefits of the technique. Look for the how to’s of self-hypnosis in the next issue of Psyched – Athletic Performance Enhancement.