Self-Hypnosis for Freediving
Since I have started to freedive I have become fascinated by the psychological side of the sport, in theory the more one can relax, the longer one can breath hold for; the deeper the dive.
To me this seems as important or more important than the physical fitness required to achieve successful dives.
Self hypnosis, deep relaxation and yogic trance states induce calm, lower the heart rate and therefore use less oxygen, employed in conjunction with the mammalian dive response, they are ideal complimentary resources for freedivers to exploit.
During hypnotic states positive auto suggestions / post hypnotic suggestions / mantras can be embedded deep into the psyche.
Since the conscious state is being driven by the unconscious state, when one accepts new auto suggestions whilst in deep hypnosis, these then become part of ones normal consciousness in everyday life.
Brainwaves of different frequencies can be accessed to embed new behavioral patterns.
By learning and practicing mental techniques one can boost self confidence, visualize perfect dives, induce extreme calm preceding dives and actually enter trance states during statics.
Trance states are as old as humanity itself and have been used to alter consciousness in many cultures, modern science still has yet to fully explain this phenomena.
Mind over matter is a concept as ancient as sporting contests themselves.
The concept "mind over matter" first appeared in 1863 in The Geological Evidence of the Antiquity of Man by Sir Charles Lyell (1797–1875)
In the ancient Roman poem Aeneid by Virgil the concept of "the mind drives the mass" first appears.
Relaxation techniques are capable of reinstating balance that we can easily loose in our everyday lives; firstly we must address our negative mental habits, delete unhelpful ways of feeling and reacting. Then we can install new positive psychological training habits. (Pelizzari, Umberto and Tovaglieri, Stefano)
Total relaxation is very necessary to apneists, there are various methods available, this paper is primarily concerned with hypnosis and self hypnosis.
A Brief History of Hypnotism
James Braid (1795 – 1860)
Regarded by many as the "Father of Modern Hypnotism"
In 1841 James Braid; Scottish surgeon and physician; coined the English term “hypnotism.” Braid taught himself “self hypnotism” two years after discovering hypnotism. He used it first on his clients and then on himself. (www.historyofhypnosis.org/james-braid)
“By the impression which hypnotism induces on the nervous system, we acquire a power of rapidly curing many functional disorders, most intractable, or altogether incurable, by ordinary remedies”
Emile Coué (1857 – 1926) The Coué method
The Coue method or Coueism is famous for using the conscious positive mantra or auto-suggestion (10) "Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better"
Coue never claimed to be a healer but stressed that he enabled others to heal themselves, he claimed to have produced organic changes through the use of auto suggestion. (www.britannica.com/biography/Emile-Coue)
Auto - Suggestion
Coue realised that far from using strong consciousness to achieve success, the new path to curing illness was successfully achieved by harnessing human imagination and changing unconscious thoughts.
Coue believed that by changing unconscious auto-suggestions, (which we have all our lives but don't realize) to conscious auto-suggestions, that negative thoughts could be replaced by positive thoughts. Then desired changes (within our powers) are accepted by our unconscious, becoming new auto-suggestions, they will then be manifested. Coue also observed that people could not be hypnotized against their will. He developed the Coue method and published Self-Mastery Through Conscious Auto suggestion in 1920.
Coue also maintained that if a patients willpower and imagination were in opposition “self- conflict” would occur preventing healing of a condition, if one forces oneself to sleep one is less likely to sleep.
“If (the will) is not in agreement with the imagination … not only does one not obtain what one wants, but even exactly the reverse is brought about.”
If however if one relaxes and imagines oneself asleep and stops forcing the mind success is more likely.
Coue stated that most people can easily walk along a plank of wood placed on the ground, but that if that plank of wood was elevated higher, most people would refuse to walk on it, they would imagine falling and probably would fall. Their wills would not allow them to walk on it. Yet carpenters and workers walk on high planks everyday because their imagination overrides their will, they can do it because they think they can do it. (Coue, Emile)
Milton Hyland Erickson (1901-1980)
The birth of modern hypnotherapy it generally credited to the American psychiatrist Milton Erickson, he believed that the unconscious mind could create imaginative solutions to conscious problems.
Famously he once shouted so much at a man who had been left paralyzed after a stroke, that the man got up and walked out of the room, an instant cure!
He also developed more subtle forms of hypnosis, moving away from old methods of putting people into a trance, he championed client centered approaches, tailoring therapies to each person, enabling people to find their own solutions and goals. (www.historyofhypnosis.org/milton-erickson)
Autogenic Training, means “generated from within”
Developed and published in 1932 by Johannes Schultzand a German psychiatrist, autogenic training is a relaxation technique or form of meditation focusing on muscular relaxation, breath control and heart rate control.
By modifying the central nervous system the organisms self-regulatory capacities are improved. It also uses visualization to improve health. (González de Rivera, José Luis)
Hypnosis, deep relaxation and trance states are states of awareness induced by relaxing, focusing ones mind, concentrating on a visual aid, blocking out everyday thoughts and using post-hypnotic suggestions. Total absorption with visualizing a desired goal can be achieved. Like the chicken and egg theory, some schools of research say subjects reach an altered state, whilst others believe the subjects enter a fantasy state where they imagine they are hypnotized. Either way instinct tells us something is happening, as with humor we know it exists but scientifically proving it is tricky.
EEG (Electroencephalography) machines can however track brainwave activity (we will come to them later).
Hypnosis has been used successfully to relive pain during dentistry and childbirth, it seems to help with overcoming addictions and instilling behavioral modifications.
Hypnosis and self hypnosis are similar in that a subject will not become hypnotized against their will and therefore allowing oneself to be hypnotized is akin to self hypnotism.
A number of positive benefits can be produced by practicing hypnotic techniques:
- Athletes can reduce stress and pre-event nervousness
- Focus, concentration and relaxation can be increased
- Pain control, blood pressure and heart rate can be influenced
- Athletes can body map themselves and understand how to improve techniques
- Self motivation, confidence and self esteem can be boosted
These techniques can be used by the athlete themselves or used with assistance from their coach.
Basic Stages of Hypnotism
There are many many “how to” guides available on the internet and in books about how to induce a deep state of relaxation, trance or meditative state. Hypnotism begins with these states or “empty hypnosis.”
Coming out of hypnosis! Before inducing a trance state one needs to learn how to come back, practice imagining coming back into the present, alert and refreshed by counting up from three to one. No one has ever got stuck in a hypnotic state and one will still react to danger whilst hypnotized.
Most methods begin with finding a suitably quiet environment without distractions, relaxing ones posture uncrossing arms and legs and deep breathing.
Gazing out of ones eyes 45 degrees above normal site lines and focusing on one spot, repeating a phrase such as inhale “sleeeeep” exhale “deeeeep sleeeeep” for several minutes till the eyelids drop, keep “seeing” the visual spot and then counting down “one deeeeeper, two deeeeeper, three deeeeeper” into more relaxed states of hypnosis. (Countdowns and extending vowels sounds are common tools for inducing hypnosis). It is also helpful to visualizing ones self going into a deeper state of hypnosis.
The term post hypnotic suggestion refers to stimuli given by a hypnotist or self suggested in self hypnosis (in both cases we are self hypnotizing either by accepting stimuli from an external source or by generating our own stimuli ) ones mind will not accept stimuli that could be harmful.
The goal of self hypnosis to aid performance is to go into deeper states of hypnosis and whilst in these states imagine the self obtaining the desired result. (this is auto suggestion or post hypnotic suggestion)
- Picture a yourself performing a perfect deep dive from lots of different angles in a controlled and relaxed manner.
- Imagine slowly going deeper on a extremely relaxed hang.
- The more detail that can be pictured whilst hypnotized the more the subconscious brain seems to accept the suggestion.
- Visualizing a piece of equipment and all its small details can help to focus the mind.
- Using positive language in the first person to embed goals is also helpful ie I am a calm, confident, strong, happy freediver, I will reach my goals. (Powers, Melvin)
To gain the most benefits from self hypnosis
- Motivation - one must want to succeed.
- Relaxation - remove distractions, allocate time and learn to relax.
- Concentration - one needs to completely focus on a visual spot.
- Directing - one needs to concentrate and visualize ones goal.
As with most physical training regular practice and self discipline will produce the best results.
The Power of Suggestion : A Lemon
Relax in a chair with your eyes closed:
- Imagine a lemon
- Picture cutting it in half
- See the juices seeping from the cut lemon
- Visualize biting into the lemon
Did you feel your mouth watering? Did your body react to your mind? (Cohen, Michael)
- Product advertisements use repetition of slogans or catchy jingles to commit their brand name to your memory.
- Ever imagined you heard your phone ring when you are expecting a call?
- Have you performed better when your coach has praised you with lots of positivity?
- These are examples of how suggestions can influence your subconscious. (Powers, Melvin)
Depth of Hypnosis
Levels of hypnosis are measured in Aron's Scale (named after the deviser Harry Aron) from category 1 (light hypnosis) to category 6 (deepest hypnosis).Imagine a swimming pool, some people may like to swim on the surface, they are lightly hypnotized subjects. Others enjoy swimming underwater, the deeper they swim the deeper they can become hypnotized. In general auto suggestions/post-hypnotic suggestions are more quickly and readily accepted in deeper states of hypnosis.
Brainwaves are produced when our neurons fire signals through our brains, aiding our cells to communicate with each other, they are measured in Hertz (cycles per second) by EEG (Electroencephalography) machines.
During normal wakefulness we generate Beta waves (12 to 38 Hz) they help us process stimuli but we retain little information in this state. This high frequency uses a lot of energy.
During relaxation, hypnosis and trance states, we can generate Alpha waves (8 to 12 Hz) stimuli given during alpha states is retained and deeply embedded.
In deep meditation or dreamless sleep we can produce Theta waves (3 to 8 Hz).
Trained hypnotists can undo deeply embedded traumas in this state and the patient has no recollection upon awakening.
Delta brainwaves (the slowest 0.5 to 3 Hz) occur in the deepest of sleep and unconsciousness, however some yogis can remain conscious in very deep meditation, and produce delta waves. (www.brainworksneurotherapy.com/what-are-brainwaves)
Ulf Dextegen (born 16 November 1960)
Swedish freediver and hypnotherapist Ulf Dexetegen can perform static breath holds for up to nine minutes long by entering a trance state.
In his forties he started training in statics and hypnosis, over two years he went from an unknown to a national record holder and entered the top five world ranking in 2008-2009.
He did not excessively physically train or use special diets and has an average lung capacity. He wanted to see how hypnosis could help him.
Retiring in 2013 he now helps other athletes to mind train.
“Overall, the moral is that regular serious training produces results, I can hold my breath for more than 9 minutes, others can!”
The light hypnotic state he induces 15 minutes before entering the water; and the deeper trance state he enters by counting down from 25 to 0 before contractions; cannot mask the “hell angst” caused by CO2 build up and he comes out of his trance before the end of his static dive.
Natalia Molchanova (8 May 1962 – 2 August 2015) Attention Deconcentration
Russian freediving legend Natalia Molchanova used Attention Deconcentration (AD) to perform her dives, her words describe a state similar to “empty hypnosis” mentioned in basic stages of hypnotism.
She states that the secret to a good dive is tune into the water environment with all your senses, relax and reduce your energy expenditure. By modifying your attitude to the perception of risks you can reduce stress. By tuning in to your bodies sensations you can make good safe decisions about your dives. Natalia rated self love above pushing oneself to achieve records.
“AD induces peculiar feeling, resembling meditation, but without detachment from reality. This state is the most desirable for diving: energy consumption is at the minimum level, and at the same time diver retains control over situation and is free from emotional reactions, which is especially important since emotions intensify oxygen utilization.
AD leads to “empty” consciousness or, in other words, to cessation of inner dialogue – this permits one to react quicker and adequately.” (www.molchanova.ru/en/article/attention-deconcentration-freediving)
I feel self hypnosis is a very powerful tool that can be employed by free divers to reach much deeper levels of relaxation.
The mind is a vast unexplored territory and results gained so far from regularly practicing mental techniques are very promising.
Lots of top athletes use their minds to overcome challenges and focus on obtaining higher goals.
Divers and coaches can both benefit from learning and practicing techniques outlined in this paper, and who knows what we can discover about ourselves on the journey.
By getting to know ourselves in minute detail we can learn to conserve energy and stay safe whilst enjoying freediving and pass that knowledge onto students and training buddies.
Braid, James (1843) Neurypnology; or the Rationale of Nervous Sleep Considered in Relation with Animal Magnetism.
Brainworks (2012) “What are Brainwaves?”
Cohen, Michael (2010-2011) “How To Use Self-Hypnosis To Achieve Your Goals”
Coué, Emile (1920) Self Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion
(online EBook #27203) Available from:
Densky, Alan B (2009) “The Strange Phenomena of the Hypnotic State”
Dextegen, Ulf (2010) “A Static Geek”
González de Rivera, José Luis (1996) Autogenic Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis
Available from: http://gonzalezderivera.com/art/pdf/97_C047_02.pdf
Molchanova, Natalia (2006) “Attention-Deconcentration” http://molchanova.ru/en/article/attention-deconcentration-freediving
Moss, Vicki (1985) "Beating the stress connection: self-hypnosis". AORN Journal 41
Paccagnella,Michelle (2008) “Demystifying sports hypnosis” ACT Academy of Sport Issue: Volume 27 Number 1
Pelizzari, Umberto and Tovaglieri, Stefano (2001) Manual of Freediving
Italy: Gruppo Mursia Editore and Idelson-Gnocchi Ltd
Powers, Melvin (1961) A Practical Guide to Self-Hypnosis. USA: Wiltshire Book Company