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The Benefits of Hypnosis and Imagery in Athletes

Monday, February 04, 2008 by: Steve G. Jones, Ed.S.
Tags: hypnosis, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) I recently met a friend, John, for lunch and I hadn't seen him in awhile so we caught up on what was going on in each other's lives. He mentioned that he recently signed up to race in a marathon and he was one month into his training. I thought that this was amazing because running has never been my thing and I have so much respect for people who commit so much time and effort into their goals. I asked him how his training was going. He said it was going well so far, but since he was only one month into his training, he hadn't been on any really long or hard runs yet.

John explained to me that he had signed up for a marathon a few years ago and two months into his training he lost all motivation and had some injuries that he couldn't shake. I said some encouraging words to him and I also told him that hypnotherapy might help him with motivation and pain control during his runs and his training. As we ended our lunch, I wished John well and told him that I hoped he wouldn't need hypnotherapy, but I was willing to help him if he needed it.

Over the years I have helped many athletes from body builders and gymnasts to major league baseball players. Even though their individual sports are very different, they all have similar issues to overcome. In almost all the athletes I have seen, there has been some sort of barrier or force keeping them from reaching their true potential. They often believe that they can be better, stronger, or faster in their sport, but they aren't quite sure how to get there. Hypnotherapy is a great tool because it allows the athlete to bypass the challenges they have in order to ultimately reach their goal. It also allows them to focus in on their goals and see themselves actually accomplishing what they have set out to do.

In an article in the California Association for Counseling and Development (CACD) Journal, published in 1994, studies were performed using imagery with athletes under hypnosis. The study approached using hypnosis in sports along with relaxation and stress reduction, pain management, and performance enhancement.

While using hypnosis for relaxation and stress reduction purposes, one study found that there are three main causes for anxiety in athletes. The first cause of stress is the fundamental nature of sports, which is competition. Competition in sports causes anxiety in athletes. Second, the stress of comparing performance to those you are competing against. And third, the pressure that athletes put on themselves to perform.

The article points out that by using progressive muscle relaxation, for example relaxing all the muscles from your head down to your toes, athletes were able to relax and focus on their abilities and not their stress. Also, the study recommended that hypnotherapists try to figure out whether the athlete is naturally a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic person. Using imagery in a way that most appeals to the athlete, resulted in more powerful realization of goals. In other words, the athlete was able to best imagine their goal when using the imagery method that they found to be most powerful, either visual, auditory, or kinesthetic.

The article points out that there are many types of hypnosis methods that help athletes cope with pain. They include: dissociation, distraction, time distortion, anesthesia, and relaxation. Dissociation helps sports athletes to dissociate themselves from the pain. Distraction allows the athlete to focus their attention on something positive rather than on the pain. Time distortion allows the athlete to shorten the amount of time that they perceive the pain. The anesthesia method helps to alleviate the pain. Lastly, relaxation techniques are used to help athletes cope with pain. Different studies performed found these methods to work on various athletes. Keep in mind that these techniques, including anesthesia, are all accomplished without the use of drugs.

The method of imagery used in the study to promote performance enhancement has been shown to be very beneficial for the athlete. Before competition, the athlete is taught to close their eyes and really focus on their goal. They picture themselves accomplishing their goal and when they are able to imagine it, they attempt this goal. This method is referred to as "psyching up." This "psyching up" technique is found to be most successful when short bursts of energy are needed such as a defensive football player tackling his opponent or a weight-lifter. Imagery has also been shown to prepare the athlete for competition. In the study, there was a direct correlation between success of the athlete using the imagery method and the athlete's experience and commitment to the sport.

A few weeks after I had lunch with my friend John, he gave me a call and he felt like hypnotherapy could help him. He came in for a session and we discussed the problems he was having. I helped him realize that all he needed was a boost of confidence and motivation. I had him visualize running the marathon. I had him visualize himself at different mile markers feeling great and confident. I had him picture himself crossing the finish line. John was a very auditory person, so as he was crossing the finish line, I had him imagine the crowd cheering and clapping for him. John realized that by actually visualizing his goal, it gave him enough motivation and confidence to get through his training and ultimately complete the marathon.


California Association for Counseling and Development Journal, v14 p65-67 1994.

About the author

Steve G. Jones, Ed.S. has been practicing hypnotherapy since the 1980s. He is the author of 22 books on Hypnotherapy. Steve is a member of the National Guild of Hypnotists, American Board of Hypnotherapy, president of the American Alliance of Hypnotists, on the board of directors of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Lung Association, and director of the Steve G. Jones School of Clinical Hypnotherapy.
Steve G. Jones, Ed.S. is a board certified Clinical Hypnotherapist. He has a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Florida (1994), a master's degree in education from Armstrong Atlantic State University (2007), and is currently working on a doctorate in education, Ed.D., at Georgia Southern University. Learn more at:

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