VIDEO / The trancing master: Paul McKenna mesmerises subjects with the promise of greater self-fulfilment. Serena Mackesy feels her eyelids grow heavy

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Paul McKenna is widely associated with humiliation; humiliation makes high-rating television. McKenna doesn't blow up people's swimming pools and delete their expletives, but there are probably a fair number of people around the country who would rather not have been seen doing the shimmy before the unforgiving eye of the camera. Still, no-one is forced to join the audience at a hypnotism show.

This latter-day Rasputin could make you do just about anything; he could convince the most protective mother of his probity. What he has done is to turn his gaze on the self-improvement market. He is ready to share - for the price of a video - his Easy Way to Health and Fitness with a panting public.

McKenna wants to help the world's stressed, non-orgasmic, insomniac, overweight and underconfident chain-smokers. But not if they're under 18, epileptic, undergoing psychiatric treatment or planning to operate machinery while he's doing it. These are among the warnings given prominent position both on the tapes and in the accompanying leaflets. 'Yes, m'lud, I know my learned friend's client came to harm while watching my client's tape, but he shouldn't have driven a fork-lift truck at the same time.'

Initially, Paul appears before a variety of backgrounds: red rock walls, line-drawings of the runic and hieroglyphic variety, pictures of historic chappies, phrenology heads and, in the case of Better Sex for Lovers, one of those panelled, leather-bound offices familiar to people who can afford private medicine. He gives you a quick run-down on how hypnotic trances work (by tapping in to the unconscious to release what's already there), and a rough idea of what you can expect later on: 'You will not lose consciousness; at first it will just feel like deep relaxation'. He has a disconcerting habit of pronouncing 'hypnotic' as 'hypnodic' - perhaps he has ambitions in the American market - but the man has such a soothing and powerful persona that you quickly stop minding.

Prior to the deep trance stage, the viewer is offered a lot of very familiar counsel. If one wasn't already drifting on a level of pleasant passivity one would be wondering if advice such as 'take each problem one step at a time' and 'a good sexual relationship is based on getting the everyday things right' was really worth pounds 12.99. Nothing offered in terms of patterns for living is world- shatteringly original, but the point, of course, is to give a hand to get you to do these things, not just to tell your friends to do them. Which is what the hypnotherapy element, and the deep trance, is all about.

If you've ever had sinus trouble, going into trance is a bit like that pleasant not-quite-there feeling which precedes the headache by 24 hours or so. After a quick burst of whirly psychedelia, the screen fills with cloudscapes, waves, flowers and other images generally associated with advertising and mawkish love scenes. Paul's moderated tones say encouraging things and half- discernible subliminals fade in and out (they're reproduced in the booklet lest you fret that they say things like 'tell your friends to buy this video'). You never feel that you can't go and do something else, but you have no inclination to do so.

Because the whole effect is supposed to be unconscious, it's hard to tell how far your goal has been advanced, but this is a very, very pleasant way to pass the odd half-hour, and probably a lot less bad for your health than a thump on the head. If the claims for the technique are true, a useful addition to the range might be a Remember to do the Housework and not Resent It tape. Slumped in front of Supreme Self-Confidence, I was aware that there was a film of dust about yea thick on the TV screen. But I also didn't really give a hoot.

'Paul McKenna's Easy Way to Health and Fitness' range comprises: Sleep like a Log; Successful Slimming; Positive Thinking; Control Stress; Stop Smoking Now]; Supreme Self-Confidence; Energy for Every Day; and Better Sex for Lovers, all pounds 12.99 from MIA (071- 935 9225) and selected shops

(Photograph omitted)

Comments