Steve sat staring into space as he leaned back in the armchair in front of me.
For a full hour he’d been nervously animated as he spilled out the anxious machinations of his mind, desperate that I should I see how bad things had been for him, how much he hurt all over.
He didn’t need to say anything though. The angry painful rash across his skin spoke volumes.
But now, like the sudden appearance of gentle sunlight through darkly overcast skies, something had changed.
And it had little to do with me. He looked all but ready to close his eyes.
If you are interested in how the mind and body heal, you may already know about ultradian rhythms, but if you don’t, here goes…
Your 90 minute healing cycle
You sleep at night and are awake during the day (I’m hoping). This is the ‘circadian rhythm’ – happening once every 24 hours. And there are many other natural rhythms, often regulated by hormones (like the menstrual cycle).
And then there are healing rhythms.
The great mind-and-body pioneer Ernest Rossi, a psychologist who studied with Dr Milton Erickson, described how every 90 to 120 minutes we all shift into an altered state of consciousness for around 20 minutes. (1)
During this time, your blood pressure decreases, your immune response is overhauled (2), and there’s a natural shift in brain hemisphere dominance (from left to right). You might start to daydream, or throw coffee down your throat, or feel like taking a break.
Modern life has us overriding these natural rhythmic cycles. Stress, caffeine, nicotine, pressures to ‘stay focussed’ – all lead us to ignore these healing rhythms at the expense of our health, our productivity and our creativity. Workaholics typically deny any need for such processes. But the fact is that the more we block and ignore these gentle but powerful rising/ebbing tides of the mind and body, the less genuinely effective we become.
Okay, so we should all chill out sometimes during the day. Now and then going with rather than fighting against your ultradian shifts will make you more, not less, productive. When you appear to be doing nothing is often when you are really doing something.When you appear to be doing nothing is often when you are really doing something.Click To Tweet
But how can we use this knowledge of ‘ultradian rhythms’ to help our clients heal?
Inner work is the key to all psychotherapeutic change
We can all utilize this natural trance-like state not just to encourage the body to do what it needs to do, but also when we are studying and learning, or when we have major decisions to make. We can use it to appeal to the quiet inner wisdom that’s so often drowned out by the blare of the 21st century.
We make emotional and physical changes on the inside. When we use progressive relaxation or meditation or hypnotic inner work, the ‘inner’ portion of the experience usually lasts around 20 minutes. This fits harmoniously with the natural ultradian cycle. And this is how we can use the natural window of opportunity that these rhythms open for us.
Steve didn’t want to ‘tune out’ when he first walked through my door. I waited for him to naturally go a little quiet, look a little abstracted – which is the first tip when raising the sails of opportunity to catch the shifting winds of the mind body system.
Tip 1: Spot when the time is right and encourage inner focus
Trying to engage our clients consciously when they are actually shifting into their ultradian downtime can result in them putting up walls, being ‘resistant’, getting tongue tied or irritable. During this natural shift they need to focus inward more. Trying to force them to focus outwardly will jar with their reality.
When you notice your client naturally looking a little glassy eyed… pausing for a little longer… breathing a little more regularly… or just staring off into space and taking a long time to answer a question, that might be the time to use their natural inner focus to do some healing work.
So how would you do that?
Tip 2: Encourage and deepen the response
If you know hypnosis, you can just shift into a more hypnotic style of communication and help your client drift into that internally focused state. No set hypnotic induction needed – just use a conversational and naturalistic approach so you don’t jar too much with the flow of the rest of the session.
For example, when we spot a likely natural ultradian shift in consciousness taking place within our client, we can simply encourage the inner focus. We don’t have to say: “I am now going to hypnotize you!” and do a formal induction. Rather we can gently encourage them with such phrases as:
“That’s right… I notice your body seems to have gotten quieter… and you don’t have to talk for a while… just notice what you’re noticing in your mind… and that might be easier if you just close your eyes for a bit and… go deeply relaxed… that’s it”
You’ll find that when you have harmonized your suggestions to go inward with their natural inner rhythm, then your inner work with them will be all the more deep and powerful.
But we can do more than this.
Tip 3: Encourage an inner search for health and problem solving
Therapy is learning. People learn from themselves and the therapist how to overcome blocks and how to understand and meet their primal needs in ways that enable them to be happier (and make others happier).
Some of this learning is conscious. We can teach our clients about the cycle of depression, thinking styles and communication skills, for example, and deepen those learnings with inner hypnotic work.
But we can also ask the enormous reservoir of wisdom that’s in the unconscious mind of every client to help them problem solve.
For example, as your client naturally drifts inward and you encourage this shift with appropriate suggestions, you might say something along these lines:
“Now as you drift inwards with the natural ebb and flow of your mind and body… and go deeply relaxed… deeper… a part of you can begin to review that problem… seeing it in a different light… that’s going to be very valuable for you… because there are all kinds of healing possibilities within you… and in a few moments… as you go deeply within… you can explore some of those possibilities… but not until your unconscious mind lets you know… how much it knows… about how to resolve this… even if your conscious mind doesn’t know it yet… will those eyes begin to close…”
Now these are pretty vague directives, but as your client enters a natural shift we can just very gently encourage it. A little later, as they enter deeper stages of hypnosis (because the natural ultradian ‘door’ had already opened all by itself), we can be more directive in encouraging solutions.
Using natural flows
Steve had come for help with a vicious and painful skin condition. He had been really agitated at first, but – when you know what to look for – his natural ultradian shift was plain to see, and I used it.
Afterwards he reported not recalling how he “got there” (into deep trance) and I put that down to the fact that I simply encouraged a very natural shift and deepened it.
He also reported spontaneously feeling a wonderful soothing sensation on his skin and said he had never felt so relaxed. He was leading such a stressful life at the time that it’s possible he just hadn’t ‘gone with’ an ultradian shift for years. His body and mind were, if he did but know it, crying out for it.
Like a sail taking the breeze, a good therapist will use the ultradian healing rhythm to help their clients heal both psychologically and even physically.
(2) See: The Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing: The New Concepts of Therapeutic Hypnosis by Ernest L Rossi PhD.
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