The main goal of hypnosis is to access the subconscious mind. This is the part of us that stores all memories, controls all autonomic functions and is the seat of our emotions. All the stuff in the subconscious mind first has to go through the filters of the conscious mind before it can be put into action. Hypnosis is the process of finding a way to put the conscious mind in the backseat and letting the subconscious play a more active role. This is done by using deep relaxation or focusing exercises which calm and subdue the conscious mind into taking a less active role in the thinking process. Some techniques will keep the conscious mind so preoccupied with other tasks in order for the subconscious to have a more forward role.
Hypnosis is often compared to daydreaming or the feeling you get when you are so absorbed into a book or movie. Even thought you are fully conscious, everything else around you has been completely tuned out. The imaginary world has become real in this state. If you have ever gone to a movie and been moved to tears or jumped out of your seat in fear, you have experienced a state comparable to hypnosis. The movie (which is just actors and special effects, not real at all) has become so real that its evoked real emotions. .
Psychiatrists often compare subjects in a hypnotic state to children. They are playful and imaginative and more willing to participate and embrace some suggestions. This is because the conscious mind is not forward enough to disciplin the subconscious mind. With the conscious mind put on hold, you start to approach the suggestions from the hypnotist as if they are your idea, coming from your own mind.
The manipulation of the conscious and subconscious minds as an explaination of hypnosis is based on psychological theory, its also supported by some interesting physical evidence in the past few years. When scientists hooked up subjects under hypnosis to an EEG machine, the researchers could measure the electrical activity of the brain and found that the hypnotized subjects show a boost of brain waves associated with dreaming and sleep (alpha, theta and delta waves) and a drop of beta waves, those associated with full wakefullness. This patterns supports the hypothesis that the conscious mind backs away during hypnosis and the subconscious takes a more active role.
There have been other studies that focus on activity in the left and right brains of subjects under hypnosis. The left side of the brain has long been associated with logic, mathmatics and scientific thinking while the right side of the brain is associated with creativity and imagination. Readings showed a marked reduction in the activity of the left side of the brain and a large increase in the right side of the brain complimenting the theory that hypnosis subdues the conscious mind's inhibitory influence over the brain and lets the subconscious take over.
Believe it or not, not every person is able to be hypnotized, the right subject is required. Studies have shown that children, the elderly and people with lower IQ's are almost impossible to hypnotize. There are several requirements to be hypnotized by a hypnotist. First you have to be willing, believe that hypnosis is possible and be able to relax enough for the process to happen. Once those requirements are met, there are several processes that hypnotist can use.
There are two primary techniques used that focus heavily on lulling your conscious mind into inactivity. They call it a hypnotic sleep but there really is no sleep involved. The old popular waving of the pocket watch or pendulum, known as fixed-gaze induction, is used to get the subject to focus on the object to the point that everything else outside of the hypnotist's voice is tuned out. This method was popular in the early days of hypnotism and the bad B-movies but its not used much these days simply because it doesn't work on a large portion of the population.. Another method, called rapid induction hypnosis, takes a very different approach to blocking out the conscious mind. Rapid induction focuses to overlaod the conscious mind with simple, subsequent and firm commands rather then focusing on one thing. The subject will surrender conscious control over the situation if the commands are forceful enough.
Other techniques focus more on tapping more closely into the subconscious and less on luring the conscious mind away. Psychiatrists often use this type of method, known as progressive relaxation and imagry hypnosis. The therapist can gradually bring about complete relaxation and focus, and essentially ease the subject into full hypnosis by speaking to the subject in a slow, soothing calm and long drawn out voice.
These techniques only discuss hypnosis with a hypnotists and not auto-suggestion or self-hypnosis. The fact is, we go in and out of a hypnotic state many times a day while reading, listening to music or getting deep into a movie as discussed earlier. We can easily employ the use of guided meditations, visualization and other tools to put ourselves into a hypnotized state and take advantage of that to help ourselves instill positive habits and positive programming.