How Anyone Can Use Hypnosis to Become Unstuck
We often forget that we’re in charge of our thoughts—even the habitual patterns that drive us nuts and drag us down are ultimately our doing. Hypnosis can help us take back control of our thoughts to break harmful habits and entrenched patterns. (Trying to quit smoking? See this goop piece.) “We spend a lot of time telling our brains what we can’t or shouldn’t do, and in doing so we create a lot of negative scenarios within our thoughts,” hypnosis practitioner Morgan Yakus explains. Yakus’ work focuses her clients on identifying the thoughts that trip them up (whatever they may be, from specific fears to chronic stress), realizing the person they could be if those thoughts/blocks were removed, and then actually knocking down their negative thoughts and images to become that best version of themselves. Staffers who have had sessions with Yakus—where you remain awake the whole time through a period of what feels like guided meditation—say the experience transformed them.
Yakus is no stranger to transformation herself. Her first career was in fashion—as a stylist, and co-founder and owner for nine years of the beloved No.6 Store in NYC—before she became a certified hypnotist and holistic health coach (she puts her herbal wisdom to use in a Mobile Tonic Bar, which you book for events). Here, Yakus explains the power of hypnosis to shift our point of view and give us the confidence to be ourselves—while offering solid, simple tips that anyone can use to get unstuck.
A Q&A with Morgan Yakus
What issues/conditions is hypnosis most effective at treating? What are most of your clients looking for help with?
Hypnosis can be applied to anything that holds you back from being your true self: When I work with clients, I primarily combine conversational hypnosis with NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), along with a few other tools like tapping. I work with clients on weight loss, fears, stress, phobias, and habits on a daily basis. Below every one of these blocks is the need for confidence, support, trust in ourselves and others—to know that we are safe. I guide clients through techniques to change the images or audio that may be blocking them—that their subconscious may be referencing over and over. Hypnosis can work with any block or fear to help bring about closure, ease pain from trauma and abuse, change a person’s view around money and success, open up intuition, streamline decision-making, and create more confidence, balance, flow, and calm in daily life.
What effect does hypnosis have on the brain? Why does it work?
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to allow us to learn and adapt to our environment. Scientists who have been studying the brain now have a more in-depth understanding of the brain’s neuroplasticity, and how it works: We know that through our cognitive practice, we can shift our thinking.
Research shows we can actively affect how our brains rewire themselves to create new neural networks and override preexisting ones. During hypnosis, we’re able to access our own neural networks and neurons, and let the subconscious know we don’t need a particular habit anymore. We can communicate to ourselves what habit we would like to create instead; neuroplasticity allows us to do this, rewiring the neurons.
When we are experiencing a block in our lives, particular neural networks light up. Neuroplasticity can be created by interrupting those networks with positive new thoughts and visuals. The idea is that the brain reframes the block and begins to create new audio and visuals the next time the trigger for the block appears.
“Research shows we can actively affect how our brains rewire themselves to create new neural networks and override preexisting ones.”
In tandem with hypnosis, I teach my clients neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) tools, interruption techniques, and self-hypnosis so they can navigate their everyday life smoothly after a session. [See examples below.] NLP is a method of influencing brain behavior, through the use of language and other types of communication, to enable a person to recode the way the brain responds to stimuli, and manifest new and better behaviors. NLP often incorporates hypnosis and self-hypnosis to help achieve the change (or “programming”) that is wanted.
It’s work and a process that takes place over time. Eventually, clients find themselves living in a new pattern, which is further strengthened as they consciously work to change their thinking around a particular issue. Through this cognitive work, neural networks change, resulting in a different, healthier response to a particular situation.
What are the tools from your practice that anyone could benefit from incorporating into their lives?
In my experience, if someone is stuck, it’s because they are thinking about the past or writing a story about the future and they are not in the present moment. Interruption can be the best tool, and that can be done with simple techniques such as NLP, breath exercise, visualization, or self hypnosis.
Pattern interruption is the best option in any situation for stopping a negative pattern, loop, or thought. Interrupt yourself right away by creating the opposite positive audio, image, or movie: Take a walk around the block, drink some water, and/or take five deep breaths. While you’re doing that, create the positive version of the image or audio in your mind. Any of the below can be used as a pattern interrupt.
Turn Your Negative Image Into a Funny Cartoon
For example, if there is a person that makes you uncomfortable, turn them into a silly cartoon—this will shrink down and dissolve your discomfort. Just the idea of it can make you laugh/lighten, and your brain will reference the person differently next time.
Create a Positive Outcome in Your Mind
If you’re nervous about a future situation, visualize yourself going through that situation in an optimal state and experiencing a positive outcome. If an activity or task feels daunting, imagine completing that task in a positive state/with a positive outcome. This activity gives your brain a visual to follow.
Stay in the present, and respond from where you are in that moment. Don’t visit negative past situations, as that brings up old neural networks and causes stress. Design only positive future scenarios: You haven’t arrived in the future yet, so you might as well design something positive.
Tell your brain the positive version of what you would like it to do. If you’re feeling negative or stressed, most likely you have been creating negative thoughts. Talk to yourself in the same way in which you would talk to a friend, family member, or a partner.
Turn It Down
If there is a loud or negative audio, imagine it being controlled by a switch in your mind and see yourself turning it down, off, or dissolving it. Sounds silly, but it can work in under 10 seconds.
Ask what you might need in that moment to make a shift into a happier place. Usually your mind will present an answer.
Try an active meditation, like this one, to show the mind what you would like to create.
Dance to Your Favorite Song
Dancing for even five minutes can create a positive shift in body, bringing in a new perspective. Plus, exercise is always good!
What’s a typical hypnosis session like?
Every session is different, depending on the client’s needs. The time together is usually a combination of dialoguing, sharing tips, techniques, and hypnosis. I like to meet the client where they are (mentally and emotionally), hear and see where they would like to shift, asking questions like: “If that thing/block wasn’t there, how would you be as a person?” This helps me to understand where they would like to move toward. Most people haven’t seen the version of themselves (related to their particular issue) they would like to become.
The hypnosis is a dialogue between the client and myself—we focus on changing the blocks into resources. Hypnosis can be compared to an interactive guided meditation. It is a deep state of relaxation and a heightened state of focus (which is a theta state). It is designed as a shortcut to communicate with the subconscious mind using images, sounds, and feelings. The client is always aware and can remember everything. While many are blown away by the experience, clients say it’s not like what they have seen in the movies—most say it’s actually very relaxing. After, clients tend to feel more calm, balanced, free, and open.
A lot of what you do is aimed at changing thinking patterns that underlie our emotions and behaviors. Can you talk about that more?
We spend a lot of time telling our brains what we can’t or shouldn’t do, and we create a lot of negative scenarios. Thoughts create chemicals in the body, which then have physical manifestations. When creating negative thoughts, images, and feelings, we instruct our brain to carry out negative actions.
You can use that same skill for good. You are actually in control, and when you talk to yourself positively, you can create positive outcomes in your mind, and the brain will start to work towards the state you desire. By having positive thoughts, visuals, and feelings, you can show your mind what you would like to create in any situation—and the body can follow.
The first step when you experience a block is to ask yourself: Is this block visual (movie or image), audio, a feeling, or a combination?When you know the source, the block is easier to dissolve. Blocks are layered, like an onion.
“You are actually in control, and when you talk to yourself positively, you can create positive outcomes in your mind, and the brain will start to work towards the state you desire.”
For example, if a client has a phobia or fear, I ask them to walk me through what they see. Most times, they are creating a negative future outcome before it has happened: This negative future outcome has now shown the body a map of what it should be doing and how to be fearful or nervous. When the client thinks about the situation in the future, they will most likely be referencing that projected audio or visual that they’ve created.
Next, I ask them to go through the future experience again, step by step, but this time, turn the negative audio or images they usually see into positive audio/images. If they are referencing experiences from the past, these may have to be resolved first.
Say a client is nervous about a presentation at work, and imagines their colleagues sitting in the conference room, on their phones and not listening. I would ask the client to reverse what he/she had been seeing to create a positive version—to see themselves going through the presentation and feeling good about it after. This lets the brain know it’s safe to give the presentation and shows the body what state it should be in while that’s happening. The idea is that the brain will reference the new visual as opposed to the original, discouraging/demeaning one.
“In my field, we say neurons that wire together fire together, creating a tendency to fire together again, thus forming a habit or a loop.”
The last step is to reference the original issue and notice how it might feel different now.
By showing the brain what we would like to achieve in the future, the body can follow and feel more relaxed. In my field, we say neurons that wire together fire together, creating a tendency to fire together again, thus forming a habit or a loop. Which—thank you, neuroplasticity—means our brains are capable of change. Over time, the brain will change, and you can create the new patterns you want. When you shift your relationship to the environment, positive changes will occur.
How to Manifest Positive Outcomes When You Feel Stuck
If you are overwhelmed by a project, not feeling confident, have a fear of public speaking, nervous about going on a date, and so on—try the below:
1. When the negative thoughts arise, take note of what you may be hearing and seeing.
2. Take those negative thoughts and images, and turn them into the positive version of how you would like to be in that situation. See yourself being confident, finishing the project, speaking in front of others comfortably, etc.
3.Focus on the positive version of yourself in the picture.
4.Imagine yourself jumping into that version of you. Take a deep breath. This will change your state and feelings in the body.
5. Ask yourself: What is the first step I need to take now to arrive at my new outcome? When you go step by step, focusing on one at a time, it helps the brain stay focussed, and allows you to better manifest positive outcomes and feelings.
What kind of results do your clients typically see (and how many sessions does it take)?
There’s an amazing range. I have seen clients feel more free to be confident in any situation—i.e. at work, dating, social settings—successfully growing or starting their own business; having better relationships with loved ones; losing weight; finishing big projects; changing jobs; becoming happier and being present; experiencing a more positive view of the world. After the session, clients can focus on creating the outcomes they desire, as the “thing” that had been blocking them isn’t there any more.
Results can be very quick; in one to three sessions (in person or via Skype), people can make great strides, as long as they want to make a change and are proactively using the tools offered outside the sessions. Everyone has had a different set of experiences, which has led them to the moment when they enter my office. Talking to a client before helps me get an idea of what they want to work on and how many sessions they’ll likely need; some phobias, weight loss, or certain goals may take three sessions or more.
You also do past-life regression—who is that for, and what should someone expect in a session?
PLR is a technique that uses hypnosis to recover potential memories of past lives or incarnations. A regression can spark creativity from images, story, and allot emotional access that has previously been locked. Anyone interested in past-life regression can enjoy and benefit from the experience. Sometimes, I may ask people to clear their issues via present-life hypnosis before we do the PLR, and examine issues they think were carried over from past lives.
“A regression can spark creativity from images, story, and allot emotional access that has previously been locked.”
I was lucky to study with Dr. Brian Weiss who wrote the book Many Lives Many Masters. Over the years, I have developed my own PLR technique, where we might go through the key moments of several lives, or I may have clients bring questions, which allow them to move around through different lives and get information and resources that they need for this lifetime.
I actually think it’s better if there are no expectations—it makes it easier to relax and have the experience. I always say it’s like an IMAX for your mind because you are using the imaginative part of the brain to create the experience. No one session is alike, and with PLR, I never know where the adventure might lead!
If you’re trying to score a promotion or find love, there are a ton of wellness tools to help you get in the mindset to make that happen—like journaling, intention-setting, and prioritizing self-care. (Bath time FTW!)
But there’s another goal-getting strategy that could be a powerful complement to the usual suspects: hypnosis.
Okay, before you start picturing mind control and quacking like a duck, hear me out. Morgan Yakus, a practitioner of integrative hypnosis and past-life regression who sees clients in both New York City and Los Angeles, swears real-deal hypnosis isn’t that far removed from meditation. In fact, if you’ve ever gone to a group sit or tried out a mindfulness app, you’re already halfway there.
“Self-hypnosis is essentially a step beyond a guided [meditation] practice.”
“Self-hypnosis is essentially a step beyond a guided practice,” explains Yakus. “Instead of letting someone else lead you, you’re the driver—and you direct your mind to where it needs to be.” That’s the beauty of hypnosis, she says: Since you’re in charge, you can use the practice to achieve whatever you want.
Clinical studies indicate that the technique is especially effective for decreasing stress and anxiety, which will also help you in pretty much every area of life—whether that’s sleeping more soundly, gaining confidence at work, or getting over a breakup.
So how does it work, exactly? “We can actively override preexisting neural networks [in our] brains to create new ones during hypnosis,” Yakus says. (In layman’s terms, that means it helps create new thought patterns.) “A person can let the subconscious know they no longer need a habit. Then, they can let go of repeating that negative thought and feeling for good.”
So, how do you hypnotize yourself? And does it work? Keep reading for a 4-step guide—and find out what happened when I tried it.
How to hypnotize yourself
“There are so many uses for this technique: balancing the body, calming the mind, finding clarity in your life, or helping you visualize finishing a project,” says Yakus. It might take you a few tries to get the hang of self-hypnosis, but the expert swears there’s really no way to mess it up. “Be patient with yourself…and enjoy the process!”
Step 1: Find a quiet place and sit in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor. Locate a spot above eye level to rest your eyes upon—this starts the relaxation process. Have a soft focus and take in the whole room without moving your eyes.
Step 2: Mentally state your goal. Why are you going into hypnosis, and what do you intend for your mind to do?
“I am going into this meditative state for the purpose of _____________ .” (Examples: calming the mind, balancing the body, finding clarity, or working towards a goal.)
“During this process my mind will make adjustments so that _____________ occurs naturally and easily.” (Examples: a calm mind, a balanced body, clarity, a goal.)
Step 3: Repeat the following sentences to yourself as many times as needed to feel very relaxed. (At least four times.) The observations are all coming from what’s popping up in your imagination—no matter how weird or random it is, roll with it. Eventually, your eyes will want to close. Let them—that’s the whole idea.
“I am now aware that I see _________.” (Repeat four times, with a different visual observation each time.)
“I am now aware that I hear _________.” (Repeat four times, with a different auditory observation each time.)
“I am now aware that I feel _________.” (Repeat four times, with a different observations of how you feel right this moment each time.)
Step 4: Next, tell yourself how you want to feel when you complete the process and how long you wish to be in meditation. If your mind wanders, be an observer—and come out of the meditation whenever you’re ready.
“In 10 minutes, I’m going to feel __________.” (Examples: calm, grounded, motivated, energized, balanced.)
While it may read like a lot of steps, when you’re in the moment it’s quite easy. It’s simply a tool to control your thoughts and shift your perception of a mood or event—and I should know, because Yakus led me through three rounds of self-hypnosis myself.
What it did for me
Before we began, Yakus had me chat about something that I wanted to work on. In my case? Feeling stressed about an influx of projects at work and letting the pressure affect my performance. As we went through the steps, she told me to imagine myself reacting in my normal way.
On the second round, she told me to envision myself acting the way I wish I would react and playing it out in my mind. On the third round, she told me to play out my “dream scenario” again, but for an extra couple of minutes. By the time we were finished, I had been sitting there for five minutes straight, without getting distracted, and I felt way more calm and ready to tackle the inevitable tension in a manageable way.
I was never “out,” as people in shady, quack-like-a-duck hypnotism sideshows are, so I never had to “come to”.
I was never “out,” as people in shady, quack-like-a-duck hypnotism sideshows are, so I never had to “come to”—in fact, I felt more focused and my mind was super sharp during and after the session. The process gave me an approachable and practical method of try to visualize and manifest my goals. And just like meditation, I can do it just about anywhere. (Translation: I’ll be adding self-hypnosis into my daily routine.)
So, next time you’ve got a major meeting with your boss or a nerve-wracking first date, you might want to try it out in your bedroom, on the subway (with noise-canceling headphones), or even in the office bathroom—no swinging pendulum required.
I Tried Hypnosis to Get Out of My Own Head
When you are suffering, you will do anything to make yourself heal, which is how I launched into an exhausting list of “self-care” practices that include herbal supplement consumption, adrenal testing, yoga, acupuncture, talk therapy, meditation and eating a banana everyday (apparently, it is mood lifting).
The problem with doing all these things when you’re a nervous person is that you’re a nervous person, so you apply the tendencies of your mind to these experiences and they become painstaking chores. You forget to take your herbs and feel like you have failed. You wake up and don’t want to meditate or go to yoga because you’d rather just sit at your computer with a BIG-ASS COFFEE that will definitely impact your adrenals, and you start to think that maybe you just don’t care enough about yourself. That maybe you don’t deserve to feel good.
So you keep working towards betterment, which is how I ultimately cherried my “healing” cake with hypnosis.
At the end of New York Fashion Week — specifically, two hours before the Thom Browne show on a Monday — I met with Morgan Yakus, a former East Coast stylist and shop owner who is now a bi-coastal certified hypnotist and generally compassionate person. I was vulnerable enough to not even consider the archetypal renderings of what it means to be hypnotized. Would she sit me on a sterile chair in front of a black seamless and dangle a yo-yo in front of my face until I genuinely started to believe that I was someone else? Right out of the gate, she explained that I wouldn’t feel like a different person at the end of the treatment. Then she asked why I’d come.
I told her I was sick of being a prisoner of my mind. I’d been holding on to my lost pregnancy like it was the sole defining trait of my identity and I couldn’t let go. That I didn’t want to let go because I feared I would never get pregnant again, that I’d never have another period. A broken loser who at best could muster vile jealousy towards any carrying woman and at worst, regretted waking up in the mornings.
She walked me through my childhood, asked a number of benign questions about how I was raised and where I was raised and how a whole bunch of hypothetical scenarios dealing in pregnancy made me feel. The questions were rudimentary — I felt like a kid learning how to express emotion — but I think their simplicity was precisely the reason I could let it hang out. There’s something about assuming the innocence of your child-self that makes thinking scary thoughts feel a little safer.
Following the inquiry portion of our session, she laid me down on a treatment table. I had a black towel over my head and was instructed to roll my eyes back and let them flutter until they felt the need to close. At this point, the questions progressed. We walked through a ton of shit — everything from my relationship with my mom to my favorite kind of breakfast. Over and over she asked if I was ready to let go; while she asked this question, I had to pay attention to four different sounds coming through the room. “Yes,” I kept telling her, as I heard the fan slow down then pick up, slow down then pick up. “Yes.”
It felt like 20 minutes but by the time she’d concluded our session, it had been close to two hours. I got up, rubbed my eyes, put my shoes back on, left, and felt exactly the same.
Granted, I was slightly tired (I’d definitely fallen into some version of a meditative state), but I was sure that if you’d have asked me to replay the miscarriage — sitting in that chair while my mother-in-law tried to console me — or the announcement of my best friend’s pregnancy, I’d cry. But my mind wouldn’t let me go there, so I didn’t bother trying to make it go there.
I went for dinner that night with a couple of friends. We were talking about life and work and love and food and one of my friends looked over at me in an intimate moment and said, “You know you’re going to be fine, right?” I looked back and said I was fine — like I meant it.
For a good number of weeks, I believed it. I barely thought about kids, I stopped calculating how old I would be by the time they reached their 20s, I had sex just to have sex — can you believe that? For pleasure. It was actually nice to hang out in my head again. I loved being there! People always say that when you stop thinking about it is when you get pregnant (a stupid thing to tell a heartbroken, desperate woman) and when my doctor called me following some blood tests to let me know that I still hadn’t ovulated, it felt like all the work had been reversed. Like the past several weeks were a trick. A joke on me. I was angry and comparative again. I wanted to grasp anything that could give me hope. The acupuncture, the energy healing, the supplements. So I did. When I could. And when I couldn’t?
I simply couldn’t. It didn’t make me a failure or indicate that I deserved to suffer. I just didn’t have time. For me, this has really been the magic of hypnosis. That I could genuinely stop thinking I am the greatest loser of them all, stop beating myself down so profoundly? That’s freeing.
I have since modified my “self-care” routine to the following:
+Anything else when I feel like it.
I don’t think I’m ever going to not want to be a mom, or that I’ll stop fighting either. I anticipate that the vile jealousy will get better but don’t expect that seeing other women effortlessly receive (conceive?) what I still have not will make me happy like everyone says it is supposed to. I know that’s a controversial thing to admit — it might make me sound bitter — but for right now, in this moment, it’s enough to acknowledge and allow that without hating myself. No judgement.
Collage by Maria Jia Ling Pitt; images by GraphicaArtis and Fox Photos/Hulton Archive via Getty Images.
ELLE UK, MAGAZINE AUGUST 2016
Morgan's healing work is an extension of her curious, open heart and nurturing demeanor with both psyche and soma.
She is a channel of intuition and wisdom, constantly seeking further education to assist her clients on a personal level, while carrying a sagacious understanding that each person has a unique set of challenges that need tending to. Morgan meets her clients where they are, and offers guidance and insightful questions without an agenda. With a multifaceted array of modalities from Akashic records to hypnosis to past life regressions, a hidden perspective will be revealed from a session with her. She is a true alchemist when it comes to her mouth watering tonics, too! - Dana Kline, Depth Psychotherapist.