The year is 1908. Hypnosis is in decline, as far as its therapeutic use is concerned. Criticism centers around the fact that subjects are completely passive and dependent on the hypnotist, enabling suggestions to be made that may run counter to their better judgement.
J.H. Schultz a young doctor fascinated by a new discipline called psychotherapy, became interested in hypnosis and suggestion, claiming that it is possible for certain gifted and cultivated individuals to enter a state of hypnosis of their own accord, simply through an effort of will (the idea of self hypnosis had originally been proposed by Oscar Vogt).
When questioned about what they saw and felt, subjects would often report an initial impression of chiaroscuro, like a twilit space, which would soon start filling with spots, veils, lines, shadows and shapes. All these images seemed to appear against the backdrop of the eyelids, in so-called visual space, similar to what you see after staring at a bright light and then turning away or closing your eyes.
Schultz called this first stage the amorphous stage, during which the mind is still oriented outward, towards exterior events.
According to Schultz, the next stage is characterized by the visualization of thoughts. In most cases these images are of past events, arising like sequences in a film, with the subject as spectator. In some cases images are symbolic representations of ideas, rather than actual events. It is also during this phase that remarkable perceptive changes may occur, especially in visually oriented subjects. For example, visual space can shift to an area directly behind, instead of in front of, a subject.
Was Schultz describing some kind of clairvoyant phenomenon? Well, not exactly. But as we'll see later on, this stage, characterized by an increasing interiorization of consciousness, does lend itself to the development of extrasensory perception (ESP) in some subjects.
Next comes the third stage, during which strange images arise in the mind. The images seem extraordinarily real: objects, forms and colors, all linked to the subject's unique personality, unfold in a series of metamorphosing scenes.
Subjects also report experiencing physical sensations, notably heaviness and heat in various parts of the body.
It occurred to Schultz to try and develop a method of self hypnosis where subjects could make suggestions to themselves that would cause these same sensations of heat and heaviness to arise. Why? Because a feeling of heaviness is an indication of muscular relaxation, while heat indicates a dilation of peripheral blood vessels.
Schultz considered these two physiological characteristics to be the basis of the state of 'disassociation' he deemed necessary for the liberation of intuitive, as opposed to rational, thought processes.
He called his method autogenic training or autogenic relaxation, defining it as a system of physiological exercises carefully designed to induce a state of general disassociation from external stimuli in the organism, with the resulting state of consciousness facilitating all therapies based on suggestion, autosuggestion, mental conditioning, and so on.
For that reason, autogenic training (A.T.) became the basis for more elaborate therapeutic techniques, including sophrology.
One major benefit of autogenic training is that it enables people who suffer from insomnia to reestablish regular sleep patterns. Another benefit is the elimination of the almost constant nervous and muscular tension - or stress -associated with a modern urban lifestyle, which in turn results in glandular abnormalities, causing disorders like ulcers, cardiac and respiratory disease, etc.
Therefore, in addition to facilitating the development of paranormal faculties, autogenic relaxation improves physical health as it relaxes the body and allows the subconscious mind to express itself with much greater freedom.
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