Article by Tony Sokol
Eye catalepsy, it sounds a little frightening like some kind of ocular spasm, but it is actually one of the most effective ways to relax. Hypnotherapists use the eye catalepsy technique both to test trance level and to induce it. If a hypnotist asks you to close their eyes so tight that you couldn’t open them if you wanted to, that is a set up to eye catalepsy. When you try to open your eyes, the hypnotic suggestion works to keep them shut and the eyelids tremble slightly, simulating REM sleep. That tremble is a sign of hypnotic eye catalepsy.
Catalepsy is a state of prolonged rigid posture. Some people associate it with something scary because it happens in schizophrenia as well as in a hypnotic trance. If you’ve ever played the levitation game, or seen the movie The Craft, you are already aware of a naturally occurring state of hypnotic catalepsy. In the film, three fledgling witches intone the phrase “light as a feather, stiff as a board,” until it becomes a kind of mantra, lulling themselves and the fourth witch, into a very relaxed state. Before you know it, everyone in the room experiences the ease of lifting a totally immobile subject into the air with the tips of their fingers.
Hypnotic catalepsy is merely muscular rigidity. A hypnotist can suggest this effect in the arm, the eyelids, fingers or the entire body. Eye catalepsy is used to test the depth of trance, much like the test for a subject to lose numbers or the arm rigidity, or steel bar test. When the hypnotist tells the subject to stop trying to open their eyes and relax deeper, eye catalepsy becomes a very effective hypnosis technique. The David Elman hypnotic Induction includes the eye-catalepsy test for somnambulism as a way to deepen trance.
When the hypnotist sets up the stage for eye catalepsy, they tell you to press your eyes down tightly. You can envision your eyes sealing shut as if they were glued. The subject puts you awareness on your eyelids. Sometimes, the hypnotist will say that the more you try to open your eyes, the tighter they will lock closed. Though, you may not want to do that now, because you’ll miss what happens next.
When you are told to try to open your eyes, you still imagine that you can’t. This creates tension in your eyes. It is almost as if you are falling asleep. You are trying to keep your eyes open, struggling to keep them open. Eye catalepsy recreates that struggle. You fake the feeling of “I am tired. I want to open my eyes but I can’t” so your brain receives the signal and you feel tired.
Hypnotic catalepsy is used by stage and street hypnotists to convince people that they are in a state of hypnosis. It is one of the most basic features of hypnotic experience, though it also occurs outside of hypnosis through imagination and suggestion. Signs of catalepsy are indirect indicators of both formally induced and spontaneous trance.
One example of whole body hypnotic catalepsy is when stage hypnotists and magicians ask a volunteer subject to be suspended between two chairs. It is so affective the performer occasionally sits or stands on the subject’s body. Not in England, though, where the specific stage practice was banned in 1952.
A hypnotherapist can give the suggestion that a subject’s arm is as stiff and rigid as a steel bar, or as solid as concrete and the subject will not be able to bend it. Through repeated suggestions, the subject’s arm becomes comfortable locked in the position. A subject who is intensely focused on the next phase of the induction may be too engaged to realize their arm is still up in the air. It becomes unimportant. After a while, it takes too much effort to even move your arm.
Once trust is established, a hypnotist can do this non-verbally by merely picking up and holding the subject’s arm in the air. The hypnotist can also guide a person into hypnotic catalepsy through mirroring techniques. If the hypnotist stays immobile and rigid for a little while, the subject will begin to do the same.
Hypnotic catalepsy has traditionally been considered a passive response, but is now seen as an active process that requires focus on the part of the subject. Hypnotic catalepsy implies an intense internal absorption and a high degree of receptiveness to the hypnotist.
Hypnotic catalepsy is used as a deepening technique in clinical settings. When you focus on the sound of your hypnotist’s voice to the point where your body becomes too heavy to move, you are open to going deeper into the trance.
Milton Erickson and Ernest L. Rossi wrote that catalepsy occurs in “everyday trance” our daily lives in their 1981 study “Experiencing Hypnosis.” Catalepsy can occur when a person is daydreaming, self-absorbed, or enthralled by something. People can become temporarily immobilized by intense focus.
Hypnotic catalepsy can be used to help someone recover from back injuries, broken bones or other scenarios where their physical mobility is impaired. Hypnotic rigidity can be used as a therapeutic analogy, such as in cases of erectile dysfunction.
You can also use the eye catalepsy technique during self-hypnosis to help you recognize the feeling of hypnosis and to work with personal affirmations.
You can close your eyes now.