Meditation and hypnosis have much in common. Certainly, the major movement in alternative health considers each one an important way to achieve and maintain a healthy state. But even within the medical context, the two practices have very different outcomes. Consider that a general goal of meditation is to achieve mental relaxation and calm, while hypnosis attempts to “program” a person’s mind with good habits and suggestions. Also speaking in general terms, meditation is done alone, but hypnosis is typically a two-person activity.
If someone wanted to quit smoking or drinking, hypnosis could be a great help in conjunction with other therapies. For someone looking to achieve spiritual insight or relieve stress, meditation would be the more common way to go, as it works directly on a cluttered, tense mental state. Meditation aims, in many cases, to recharge a person’s inner energy, quiet any inner disturbances, and bring peace.
Hypnosis, on the other hand, often begins with a relaxation phase but almost always ends by reprogramming a person’s subconscious.
Though they have a few obvious appearances in common, meditation and hypnosis are actually quite different branches of the study of human consciousness. How exactly do they differ? Here are some of the most crucial points of divergence between these two highly effective techniques:
- Hypnosis is usually induced by someone else, while meditation involves a person sitting quietly and leading the mind toward a calm state. Self-hypnosis is an exception, but in formal practice is best done after a few sessions with a trained therapist.
- In its most common forms, meditation works to achieve a calm, clear mind. The result is nearly always a state of decreased physical stress as well. The calm mind of meditation has numerous effects, not all of which are mental. Hypnosis is a formal therapeutic, clinical technique that begins from a point of mental calm. After that, the real work begins, whether the client wants to stop smoking or discard some other bad habit.
- Meditation works on the entire mental and, eventually, physical state. Hypnosis is more particular, aiming to reprogram the subconscious. However, the Theravada Buddhist form of meditation could be called a type of hypnosis because it attempts to deprogram deep, incorrect beliefs about life and the world around us.
- There is some overlap between the goals of meditation and hypnosis. One occurs in hypnotic therapy sessions where the client’s goal is to achieve a state of inner calm and mental balance. In this instance, hypnosis is being used to enable a person to meditate. And when Buddhists employ insight meditation to re-learn concepts of personal identity and adjust deep-seated attitudes (as mentioned above), they are turning meditation into a powerful form of self-hypnosis.
- Hypnosis and meditation can both be used to eliminate stress from one’s life, find clarity of purpose and achieve mental and physical well being. It is the way they do so that is their point of divergence.
- Meditation is often, though certainly not always, connected with a particular religious practice. Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and Christians commonly employ methods that are extremely close approximations of meditation, if not outright referred to as such. Christian prayer is an informative example. When Catholics pray the Rosary, their mental state is not much different than that of a Buddhist in deep meditation. Hypnosis, however, is not connected to religion in any way. In fact, hypnosis came into being through medical channels and has remained in the realm of therapeutic treatment ever since.
- The term “hypnosis” has as its root the Greek word for “sleep,” implying that the conscious mind goes to sleep and the subconscious mind is available for therapy. Meditation works in just the opposite way. The meditative mind is aiming to be more awake, aware, and knowledgeable of its surroundings, no less so.
- Hypnosis is usually easier to learn than meditation. That’s not to say that beginners can’t meditate. But, many goals of deep meditation call for several months of regular practice in order to bring the highest forms of inner calm and insight. Conversely, a state of deep hypnosis with a willing and able subject can be achieved in just a few sessions. And, self-hypnosis techniques can be taught to practically anyone who is willing to devote a few weeks honing their technique.
- Meditation is not typically used for the removal of bad habits, but for insight and mental calming. Hypnosis is often the therapy of choice for people who want to quit smoking or lose weight (Ironically, hypnosis weight-loss sessions routinely begin with the words, “Your eyes are getting heavy”).
- While meditation is known to have been around for about 3,000 years or more, hypnosis is thought to be a much younger pursuit. However, there are a few historical records, again about 3,000 years old, in which hypnotic techniques are recorded. In modern times, hypnosis was first used as a medical form of anesthesia in the early 1800s. Its use as a psychotherapy tool is quite recent, dating to the late 1800s. Meditation is not used as a method of anesthesia or a form of psychotherapy, though practitioners often report results that could be categorized as therapeutic.
- A form of Zen Buddhist meditation takes place when attendees at Japanese tea ceremony consume matcha tea and contemplate the situation. This is a state quite different from hypnosis, which works on an even deeper level, sometimes without awareness of the present moment. In this case, the hypnosis subject and the matcha tea drinker in the ceremony don’t have much in common.
- Meditation can improve the health, and is often advocated as a good substitute for stressful activities. Hypnosis is rarely touted strictly as a road to better physical health.
The reasons for common misconceptions about hypnosis and meditation are easy to understand. Both involve closed eyes, a motionless body, and a goal of personal improvement or insight. To those who have tried neither one, hypnosis and meditation might seem like two slightly different versions of the same thing. In fact, their commonalities are only on the surface.