Joan S. Ingalls
Do you have a sinking sick feeling as you approach your workout? Do
images of half completed projects, and deadlines make you wish you were
back at your desk making progress toward lightening your load instead of
wearing yourself out? I wouldn't have thought that this was a serious
enough problem for someone to devote a counseling session to it, but there
was Ed, a college senior who was very seriously saying exactly that. Even
though he quickly shifted into full concentration when he got in the boat,
he wanted to not have that bad feeling on his way to there. Ed had made a
appointment and brought Sam, his partner in the pair. As I had prepared for the session with Ed, I had thought that since he had
to travel so far to see me, I would teach him self-hypnosis. He could practice it on
his own between visits or just call to report on how things were going. I
thought that since he had a specific issue, I would each him to use the
self-hypnosis for help with that issue. It's nice
to put self-hypnosis into a context - that is, you set a task for yourself to
accomplish while you are in the trance. I had thought that I would suggest that
Ed use his trance-- his practice self-hypnosis trance with me-- to learn how
to forget after every twenty strokes that he had just rowed twenty strokes. That
way the mental part of fatigue would be absent. Every twenty strokes, he would
think that the next stroke was the first. This is a neat little trick to stay
feeling fresh throughout a race or even a workout.
Now, with Sam here, I thought it would be fun for
both of them to experience it together. Done properly, the capacity to forget
is associated with some "trigger"-- in this case, it might be the
number "twenty" which, typically, he would say to himself if he
were counting strokes. As it happened, I would save this for another time.
I ask Ed, "Can you think of any situation at
all in which that dread, that difficulty with shifting from
the study mode to the rowing mode, or shifting from any mental state to
another might be useful?"
My question is the beginning of a trance
induction. It focuses Ed's attention on the novel idea that the behavior
that he wants to get rid of may have a purpose. Maybe he shouldn't get rid
of it. It's mildly confusing that I should bring up such an idea. Confusion
leaves him open to suggestion. Receptivity to suggestion is a defining
feature of trance. After some thought, Ed said, "It prevents you from jumping into
I wanted to include Sam in my work with Ed.
Sam said that he had specific
points in his rowing technique that he wanted to correct: At the finish of
his stroke, he hunched shoulders and never cleared the water cleanly. The trance induction I chose for Sam contained all the ingredients of self-hypnosis, "Pay attention to yourself sitting the chair... Feel the sensation of your back against the chair... the sensation of your weight bearing down in the chair... the sensation of your feet being supported by the floor... the weight of your arms resting on the arm of the chair... the texture of your jeans against your finger tips as your hands rest on your thighs... the muscle tension around your mouth... forehead... behind your ears... the air flowing through your nasal passages as you inhale and exhale.. the rise and fall of your chest... Allow your mind to drift off to some pleasant experience... Look down a long foggy tunnel and see something at the end of the tunnel." Sam closed his eyes as I spoke and appeared to become more relaxed. I
suggested to him that he explore ways to make his corrections, "You know
something about anatomy... You have seen the desired movement performed correctly... Your unconscious mind knows how to do it... Remember a time when you learned
something and you didn't know before you started that you would learn it... As a
child you learned to ride a bike... It was hard at first, but after awhile you
forgot how hard it was." I made all of these suggestion deliberately vague and
general so that Sam could make a wide search in his experience for a way to correct his stroke. The reference to childhood
was intended to evoke the state of
childhood learning which is much freer and more spontaneous than adult learning.
I left Sam to work on that, and turned to Ed, who had followed along as I spoke
to Sam. His eyes were closed and he was relaxed. "Ed, your conscious mind
identified a problem, but your unconscious mind might have a different idea.
You can be curious what this might be."
I presented that
idea - the separation of the conscious and unconscious mind several different ways, and then waited while Sam and
Ed did their own
unconscious work. After about fifteen minutes, I suggested that they open their
eyes and return to their normal waking state.
Sam who had said that he had never before experienced a
trance was surprised, "It's amazing how fast I felt myself going under.
It's a little scary, so I pulled myself back out of it a little. Then, I just
watched myself rowing. I don't remember what happened after that."
"Well, the next time you row, you will discover
whether you corrected your stroke." I suggested.
Ed said, "I can remember almost nothing of what you
said. Half the time I just tuned out your voice somehow. And at a certain
point I realized that I wanted to work on something entirely different than
the dread as I approach the boathouse, and I did find a solution. It was
very surprising" I encouraged Ed to keep that new problem to himself so
could continue to work on it unconsciously. Hypnosis can be scary.
It evokes fears that someone will take control over your will, or you will
become a robot responding to things that you were programmed to respond to. This is
a valid conclusion if one remembers only the work of stage hypnotists.
Hypnotherapy and self- hypnosis, however, are designed to allow a
person to gain greater access to the resources of his or her unconscious mind.
The unconscious mind is assumed to be creative and to contain a person's potentials.
In a trance, possibilities are freed from the critical, logically conscious mind which
places limits on what you can do rather than discovers novel solutions.
A Coach's Psychology of Rowing
A case of Dying in the Middle of a Race
Patrick: A Case of Pre-Race Injury