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Hypnotherapy and Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) are two practical tools that can really help you get more from your martial arts training. Martial arts has always stressed the link between the mind and body; knowing that it is more than just physical techniques that creates mastery. Therefore it makes sense that training your mind is going to enhance your physical performance.
What is Hypnosis?
Many people are surprised to learn that a hypnotic "trance" is a naturally occurring state that everyone is likely to go in an out of many times during a day. This can be for example, when we are engrossed in watching a movie or driving over a familiar route. The hypnotherapist uses techniques to lead you in to that normal state in which your level of consciousness is altered. In this state you will tend to have a narrower focus of attention, giving you the power to focus easily on the changes you desire.
Some people have the belief that they cannot be hypnotised, maybe because they feel it's a sign of weakness. However everyone can be hypnotised if they choose to be. In a way all hypnosis is self hypnosis, with the therapist just guiding the way. As long as your therapist has a sufficiently flexible range of techniques, you will be able to achieve a hypnotic trance. You will only not be hypnotised if you choose not to be, or refuse to let your imagination get involved. That would rather defeat the object of the exercise, wouldn't it!
What does Hypnosis feel like?
Although many people's only experience of hypnosis is seeing people acting a comical way at a stage show, the subjects chosen are those open to the process of wanting to join in with the fun. With a hypnotherapist you remain in control at all times. It is commonly said, "I don't think I was hypnotised because I remember everything you said". However, it is, in fact, usual to be fully aware throughout most if not all of the process; although you may drift off into pleasant day-dreams at times. The trance state is usually very comfortable and relaxing, so that even without any therapy, it is a great answer to relieving tension and stress.
What is hypnotherapy?
Hypnotherapy is any type of therapy done in a hypnotic trance. In this state your critical conscious mind is less active, leaving your unconscious mind free to respond to the positive suggestions given. It is at the unconscious level that our automatic patterns, habits and responses are established. You will only respond to suggestions that are acceptable to you, which is why even in stage shows, you'll see some people choosing not to respond to some suggestions.
Hypnotherapy is a particularly useful approach to take when will power has not resulted in making the changes you want. This is because the unconscious mind is the centre of the imagination. To the unconscious mind, what you imagine is really no different from actual reality. If you cannot visualise yourself achieving your goals in your mind, you'll have little chance of making them a reality out in the world.
Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) is a set of tools that help to explain how people's minds work and provides techniques to facilitate easy changes to be made. It is often used in conjunction with hypnotherapy.
NLP is highly eclectic. It developed from behaviourally modelling people who were experts in their fields and working out exactly how they achieved their excellence. By dissecting the internal processes of these experts, (including their beliefs, ways of thinking, the primary way they take in information, etc), NLP practitioners were able to teach other people to achieve the same excellent results. In the martial arts field, for example, masters in various martial arts, could be modelled to find out the specifics that distinguish them from lesser mortals. Often the expert does what they do automatically; their skill runs at an unconscious level. It takes NLP modelling to bring their behaviour in to conscious awareness. This then enables the subtleties which create the expert, to be passed on to others.
What is involved in an NLP session
The NLP coach will start by getting very clear on exactly what it is that you want to achieve. For example you may have a general aim of being a better fighter. However to achieve that, you need to get clarity on what specifically you need to change (for example to respond more quickly), so that the coach can come up with practical ways to allow you to succeed with that goal. The changes may involve learning a new skill, or refining an existing one; it may be around altering your thinking about your capabilities or your beliefs about yourself. For example if you have a belief that you will never master a new technique, your body will unfortunately make that belief a reality.
How to use Hypnotherapy and NLP to improve your martial arts
Traditionally many people have the view that hypnotherapy is just used for things like stopping smoking and weight loss. However, the mind can be harnessed to make changes in every area of life, from treating health issues to overcoming emotional and behavioural blocks.
For the martial artists, hypnotherapy and NLP can be utilised in many ways. They can be used to learn a new skill, by visualising it first in the mind or used to enhance a skill by focussing on the components of moves, picking out the subtleties that make the difference. These can then be coded in to your memory to transfer to your muscle memory in training. As martial artists know, it is necessary to be reacting on the unconscious level to respond to an opponent skilfully. Someone relying on using their conscious mind to decide how to react, is never going to reach their full potential.
Hypnotherapy and NLP can help to overcome mental blocks or performance fears. This is especially relevant if you are one of those people who can get easily psyched out by your opponent. Alternatively it can be used with athletes who have got stuck in a pattern of having made a mistake and they keep reliving it over and over in their minds. The problem is that what you focus your mind on, is what you manifest out in the world. Thinking about (not) making the mistake, keeps re-creating the mistake!
These tools can also maximise performance by focusing all of your energy on your specific sporting goals, so in this way can help you by enhancing motivation. By engaging your imagination in to the equation you can, for example, make it a priority to set aside time for sufficient training.
In common with other athletes, there is a great emphasis on martial artists entering a centered state, often called the "zone". Will Horton (1986) describes how to get in to the zone using a simple NLP technique. Some of the components of this involve feeling as if time has slowed down, so that your opponent appears to be in slow motion; having your vision in soft focus, so that you are aware of things in the periphery; being fully in the present moment. Whether using this technique or working with an NLP coach to design the perfect state for you, this state can be called on at will using a process called anchoring.
It is not necessary to always be reliant on a hypnotherapist or NLP coach to make the changes you want. Self hypnosis techniques can be learnt quickly by anyone. With practise they can be used by you at any time to create the mental state to produce your desired results.
How to choose a hypnotherapist or NLP coach
You might want to ask friends for a personal recommendation. Making sure that the therapist or coach is trained to diploma level in hypnotherapy and to at least Practitioner level and preferably to the level of Master Practitioner in NLP, will show that they are professionally trained. In New Zealand, the New Zealand Association of Professional Hypnotherapists http://www.nzaph.co.nz/ keeps a database of qualified therapists, while the NZ Association of Neuro Linguistic Programming www.nzanlp.org.nz is the body for NLP.
Horton, Dr W. Martial Arts, Hypnosis, and Rapid Learning. A Perfect Match (1986) Online. Available at: http://www.infinityinst.com/articles/martial_arts.html (17.2.09)
For further information on this type of massage or if you would like Neuromuscular Therapy contact: Marianne at Ybsore.co.nz, phone on 09 576 1368