Everyone who falls asleep must first enter a state of hypnosis.
Every person experiences hypnosis, and stage hypnotist Brian Imbus, who has performed at True Bruin Welcome Week for the past 10 years, will return on its final Sunday for two evening performances to demonstrate hypnosis routines on students.
Imbus said his show typically starts with visualization routines to have the audience enter hypnotic induction. Eye fixation is one technique used for hypnotic induction, in which his volunteers concentrate on a specific object or a specific point on a wall. Someone’s visual fixation and concentration on a small point helps them become focused and relaxed. He then performs demonstrations that involve sight, hearing and kinesthetics.
Imbus said he defines hypnosis as an altered state of consciousness and a heightened sense of focus and awareness. People can only interpret situations using the thoughts and experiences in their memories, he said, so hypnosis depends on the individual who experiences it. For example, Imbus may suggest to volunteers to picture themselves vacationing on a beach, but each volunteer will most likely interpret the scene differently.
“It’s hard to know what one person would think over another,” Imbus said. “It’s really up to their own interpretation of what that picture is in their mind and how they might respond to the suggestion.”
If a volunteer has never visited a beach, their mind will reference a scene they’ve been exposed to, such as one on TV, or create a completely different picture of a beach as compared to someone who has been to a beach, he said. Some participants may be consciously aware they are in an auditorium, but internally feel as though they are at a beach, such as imagining sand in between their toes and warm air. Others may even feel more present on the beach and be less conscious of their actual surroundings, instead envisioning further details such as splashing waves.
Some of Imbus’ routines engage other senses as well, such as sight, in which his volunteers follow his directions on what to focus on with their eyes. In many of his past shows, he has created an illusion in which he suggests to the audience that different parts of his body disappear.
If someone has a difficult time being hypnotized – perhaps because of distractions like external noise in some venues – he said he uses deepening techniques, which help participants focus and overcome external distractions. In the case of external noise, he would verbally state that the noise acts as a relaxing sound, which helps the volunteers relax and concentrate, thereby turning a distraction into an asset to the hypnosis.
“Whatever that distraction might be, I try to use that as a deepening trigger to help them relax even more by hearing that distraction or feeling it,” Imbus said. “It takes adaptability with each member on stage.”
Hypnotherapy is a different type of hypnosis than that featured in Imbus’ stage performance, and hypnotherapist Brice Le Roux, based in West Los Angeles, provides insight on the scientific aspects of hypnosis. Le Roux helps people with psychological and lifestyle challenges through treatments similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, and he works with the subconscious mind to aid patients in fighting anxiety and depression, among others. Hypnosis is used to help access the part of his patients’ minds that drives their behavior, performance and emotions, he said. Le Roux said he defines hypnosis as a heightened or hypersuggestible state of mind triggered by a profound state of relaxation.
Le Roux said everyone experiences different brain wave states throughout the day and night. When someone is in the state of hypnosis, they are in the theta brain wave state, which is an altered state of consciousness in which one is deeply relaxed but still conscious. He said one instance in which this state occurs is about five to seven minutes before someone falls asleep in which they are still conscious, but they are so relaxed they essentially stop processing their environment and become detached from it.
On the other hand, stage hypnosis is for entertainment, and Imbus’ performance is a popular tradition at True Bruin Welcome Week. Josh O’Connor, assistant director of Leadership and Involvement for Residential Life, said Imbus makes his show a communal experience for everyone in the audience.
“The reality of (Imbus’) show is that it’s community building among strangers in a very unique way,” O’Connor said. “A lot of times what we do is have (students from different dorms) interact with each other in the room, and they get to see people who get hypnotized on stage. … It brings that piece of community a little bit stronger together for them to kind of engage and get to know each other in a very unique experience.”
O’Connor said Imbus brings new routines to his show each year, which contributes to his show’s appeal to students. Imbus said the routines in his show are not scripted but spontaneous because he needs to see how his volunteers respond to the different routines. This will allow him to decide how to proceed throughout the show, especially with new additions.
“Typically how I’m going to know whether or not it’s going to be interesting or entertaining to the audience, sometimes you don’t know until you actually try it out,” Imbus said. “It has to be audience tested because you can’t practice this in front of a mirror by yourself. You have to have volunteers who are involved in a show to share the routine with.”