One of the most common questions I get as a hypnotherapist is: What’s the difference between meditation and hypnosis? In order to answer that question, I think it’s important to also understand mindfulness as a precursor to meditation and hypnosis. These three concepts may be similar in nature with overlapping benefits, but they each serve a distinct purpose so the terms describing these disciplines are not quite interchangeable. In this blog post, I will present you with how I make the distinction between mindfulness, meditation, and hypnosis so you can determine which of these self-improvement tools to incorporate into your life as part of your personal self-care plan.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a mental habit of being aware of what you are experiencing and how you are experiencing it. You can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere, while you are sitting or standing, or even while engaging in everyday activities like eating, walking, or doing chores. You can apply mindfulness to any situation throughout your day to help you become more aware of unpleasant thoughts and emotions so you can deal with them proactively instead of reacting to them.
This mental habit involves becoming aware of your surroundings by leveraging the five senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell) and focusing on what is happening in the here and now. Another way I like to think of mindfulness is being intentional as opposed to being mindless, or in default mode. For example, mindful eating might involve you intentionally chewing your food slower than you normally would so you can savor each and every bite, allow your body the time it takes to let your brain know when it is full, and ultimately prevent overeating.
I usually recommend a mindfulness practice to people with a tendency to live in the past or the future (or inside their head) and a personal goal to be more present and live in the moment. I also recommend it to anyone experiencing “writer’s block” because it serves as a wonderful gateway to finding your creative flow. Mindfulness is a form of mental conditioning, a lot like physical strength training, that can help improve your focus and concentration.
What is meditation?
Meditation is to the mind what exercise is to the body. If mindfulness can be likened to strength training, then think of meditation like a cardio workout. Meditation is a formal practice with ancient roots in spirituality. This practice generally involves clearing the mind and creating space within for wisdom and guidance to come forth by connecting more deeply to oneself. You can practice anytime, anywhere, ideally in a quiet environment where you can sit or lie down with minimal distractions. One of the most popular types of meditation happens to be mindful meditation, so it is understandable how one might confuse mindfulness and meditation as one in the same.
While mindfulness emphasizes the importance of awareness, meditation complements mindfulness by adding insight and perspective. The word “meditation” means to ponder or think deeply about something. Meditation is not about turning on or off your thoughts, but rather understanding them by observing them without judgment or engagement (feeling like you have to act upon your thoughts). I like to think of meditation as a mental exercise with no particular goal in mind, only your intention to gain insight and perspective, shift your way of being in the world, and enhance your overall quality of life.
There are many different ways to practice meditation. You can do a guided meditation where you are listening to someone guide you through an experience. You can do a silent meditation that involves focusing on your breath, or an affirmation, and drawing your attention back to your breath or affirmation when you notice your mind starting to wonder. You can even do a movement meditation like qigong or tai chi. There are dozens upon dozens of ways to practice meditation, but these are some of the most common ways.
I usually recommend a meditation practice to people experiencing chronic issues (like anxiety, fatigue, or pain) or have a tendency to get overwhelmed easily as a nice little reprieve from the daily stressors of everyday living. I also recommend it to anyone seeking spiritual growth, personal enlightenment, or mind-body attunement. Meditation is a mental exercise that can help you achieve mental clarity, emotional calmness, and lower levels of stress or anxiety.
What is hypnosis?
Hypnosis is a therapeutic technique designed to bridge the gap between your conscious intentions and subconscious motivations by relaxing the body and focusing the mind. The American Psychological Association describes it as a procedure by which “suggestion is used to evoke changes in sensation, perception, cognition, emotion, or control over motor behavior.” I often describe hypnosis as similar to guided meditation because it serves as a familiar reference point for someone unfamiliar with hypnosis as a therapeutic technique (as opposed to an entertainment gimmick).
Hypnosis is a naturally-occurring state of mind we all have the capacity to experience. It can happen when we watch a movie that stirs our emotions, get lost in a good book we can’t seem to put down, or even when we are driving to work, school, or the grocery store. It can also happen when we find ourselves so deeply immersed in a creative project that we enter into a hypnotic flow state. It is in this trance state when our mind is most receptive to both positive and negative influences from the people and world around us, including the news we watch or the music we listen to throughout the day. Our minds are like sponges, absorbing all the information we are exposed in a given day to a point that we internalize some of that information as undisputed truths without sufficient sleep or a regular practice of clearing useless mind clutter.
Hypnosis and meditation are similar in nature because they both involve entering into an altered state of consciousness. Both disciplines follow a similar structure: find a comfortable and quiet spot to sit or lie down, close your eyes, focus on your breath, and then open your eyes when you are done. So if you know how to do one, you will easily be able to do the other. They can sometimes even share similar intentions (like relieving stress and anxiety, creating abundance, manifesting love, or losing weight), which make it difficult to tell the difference. However, the main distinction between hypnosis and meditation boils down to purpose. The purpose of meditation is to clear the mind, creating space for insight and perspective. The purpose of hypnosis, on the other hand, is to suspend the critical filters of the conscious mind, creating a door to the subconscious mind from which you are more open to positive suggestions that will help you achieve a particular goal.
I usually recommend hypnosis to people with a specific personal or professional goal they would like to achieve. I also recommend it as an alternative to meditation for people who just can’t get into meditating or have not been getting the results they want through meditation alone. Hypnosis is like the CrossFit of mental conditioning, helping you transform unhelpful feelings, thoughts, and behaviors into new pathways to love, success, and happiness.
Which one is right for you?
Mindfulness, meditation, and hypnosis are three separate practices that function in similar ways and provide similar benefits, but they are not one in the same. Mindfulness is a mental habit of being aware of what is happening as it is happening in the present moment. Meditation is a mental exercise that uses mindfulness to relax the body and quiet the mind as a welcome reprieve from the everyday stress of being human. Hypnosis is a therapeutic technique for engaging the mind in a way that turns previous limitations into new possibilities. Mindfulness, meditation, and hypnosis are to the mind what physical strength training, cardio, and CrossFit are to the body. You can still get results doing one over the other, but you can amplify those results by incorporating all three as part of a daily or weekly mental workout plan.
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