Research suggests that the body's brain and nervous system can't always distinguish an imagined situation from a real occurrence. This means it can tend to act on any image or verbal suggestion as if it were reality. This is the theory behind medical hypnosis, used to treat conditions from chronic pain and depression to irritable bowel syndrome. Patients are put in a state of deep relaxation and enter a state that's very susceptible to imagery. The more vivid this imagery, the greater the effect on the body. People are often depressed because they "see" their lives as hopeless and going nowhere – and this very thought changes brain patterns and cuts levels of feel-good brain chemicals. Seeing and feeling yourself as happy and positive, or succeeding at sport, sets up a new pattern in the brain – and you are more likely to experience that very effect. Relaxing by breathing slowly is very powerful too, as it allows the parasympathetic nervous system to take over. It is medically established that when this is active, the gut relaxes, improving digestion, circulation and immunity.

UNDERSTAND YOUR INNER POWER

Before using any of the suggested techniques, spend five minutes sitting peacefully and actively relaxing your body. Remember: using your mind to affect physical or psychological changes is most effective when the images are vivid. Don't just think of a mental picture; imagine emotions, smells, tastes and textures too. Be creative: if you feel pain somewhere, imagine a numbing liquid, or the pain actually leaving your body. While these exercises won't be as powerful as a professional hypnotherapy session, they can still have a palpable effect, and the more you practise them the more effective they're likely to be.

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