James Braid on Hypnotic Meditation

Yoga & the Origin of Hypnotism:

James Braid on Hypnotic Meditation

Copyright © Donald Robertson, 2009.  All rights reserved.

Mental equanimity may be attained by regulating the exhalation and restraint of the breath.  Or the wayward mind may be pacified by focusing attention upon a single object. […] Alternatively, one can meditate by focusing attention upon the experience of dreaming, or the state of dreamless sleep [yoga nidra]. – Patañjali, Yoga Sutras, c. 250 B.C., § 1.34-38

The development of hypnotism, as opposed to Mesmerism, in the middle of the 19th century, involved a number of comparisons made with Oriental meditation techniques such as Hindu yoga.  James Braid saw the similarities between the effects of meditation and hypnotism, both psychological and physiological, as providing indirect support for his claim that they were produced by the mind and behaviour of the subject rather than by “animal magnetism” or any special power of the operator, as the Mesmerists had formerly maintained.  Though Braid himself had access to very limited information about eastern meditation practices, he perceived a close analogy with self-hypnosis which appears to have influenced the early development of hypnotherapy theory and practice.

In his book Magic, Witchcraft, Animal Magnetism, etc. (1852), James Braid, the founding father of hypnotherapy, defined hypnotism as a state of focused attention upon a single idea or mental image.

I feel pretty confident that whoever will undertake the investigation of hypnotic phenomena with a candid mind, and untrammelled by any previous prejudices in favour of the mystical and transcendental, may very soon satisfy himself that the real origin and essence of the hypnotic condition, is the induction of a habit of abstraction or mental concentration, in which, as in reverie or spontaneous abstraction, the powers of the mind are so much engrossed with a single idea or train of thought, as, for the nonce, to render the individual unconscious of, or indifferently conscious to, all other ideas, impressions, or trains of thought.  The hypnotic sleep, therefore, is the very antithesis or opposite mental and physical condition to that which precedes and accompanies common sleep; for the latter arises from a diffusive state of mind, or complete loss of power of fixing the attention, with suspension of voluntary power. (Braid, 1852)

As Braid was eager to clarify, although the Greek word hypnos does mean “sleep”, in his view hypnosis was fundamentally a state of conscious attention, virtually the opposite of normal sleep.  Moreover, Braid quotes the following colourful account from a book written by one of his own subjects, the doctor and author J. J. G. Wilkinson,

The atom of sleep is diffusion; the mind and body are dissolved in unconsciousness; they go off into nothing, through the fine powder of infinite variety, and die of no attention; common sleep is impersonal.  The unit of hypnotism is intense attention, abstraction – the personal ego pushed to nonentity. […] Patients can produce the hypnotic state upon themselves, without a second party; although a second will often strengthen the result by his acts or presence, just as one who stood by and told you that you were to succeed in a certain work would nerve your arm with fresh confidence.  (Wilkinson, 1851)

Hence, this is one of the earliest reports by a hypnotised subject reflecting upon their own experience, having actually undergone hypnotisation.

Braid explains that a great many effects may be induced in this “state of mental concentration”, by means of spontaneous ideas or those suggested by the hypnotist.  Again, he illustrates this with a quotation from Wilkinson’s own account after being hypnotised,

The preliminary state (of hypnotism) is that of abstraction, and this abstraction is the logical premise of what follows.  Abstraction tends to become more and more abstract, narrower and narrower; it tends to unity, and afterwards to nullity.  There, then, the patient is, at the summit of attention, with no object left – a mere statue of attention – a listening, expectant life – a perfectly undistracted faculty, dreaming of a lessening and lessening mathematical point, the end of his mind sharpened away to nothing.  What happens?  Any sensation that appeals is met by this brilliant attention, and receives its diamond glare, being perceived with a force of leisure of which our distracted life affords only the rudiments.  External influences are sensated, sympathized with, to an extraordinary degree, harmonious music sways the body into graces the most affecting; discords jar it as though they would tear it limb from limb; cold and heat are perceived with equal exultation, so also smells and touches.  In short, the whole man appears to be given to each perception, the body trembles like down with the wafts of the atmosphere, the world plays upon it as upon a spiritual instrument finely attuned. (Wilkinson, 1851)

However, Braid qualifies Wilkinson’s account slightly by adding,

The above is a beautiful description painted in elegant and most felicitous language, of the phenomena manifested by a certain class of patients, and at a certain stage of the sleep; but at another stage the very opposite state manifests itself: for the abstraction may be so intense as to render the patient unconscious even of inflictions the most severe; and the muscles may be locked in immovable, cataleptic rigidity, or dissolved in the most entire passive flaccidity according to predominant ideas or impressions on the senses, which immediately preceded the full intensity of the all-absorbing abstraction.

As is the case in reverie or abstraction, so also is it in the hypnotic state – there are different degrees of mental concentration; so that from some of them, the patient may be aroused by the slightest impression – whilst in other stages, he can only be influenced by very powerful impressions on the organs of sense.  Moreover, in the hypnotic condition, as in the state of reverie or abstraction, the subject may be so partially engrossed in his train of thought as to be susceptible of receiving suggestions from others – through words spoken or movements made in his presence – which shall involuntarily or unconsciously change his current of thought and action, without entirely dissipating his condition of mental abstraction. (Braid, 1852)

So how does this state of heightened mental concentration relate to the practice of meditation?  Ornstein’s survey of meditation practices, in The Psychology of Consciousness (1977), concluded,

The common element in these diverse practices seems to be the active restriction of awareness to a single, unchanging process and the withdrawal of attention from ordinary thought.  It does not seem to matter which actual physical practice is followed; whether one symbol or another is employed; whether the visual system is used or body movements repeated; whether the awareness is focused on a limb or on a sound or on a word or on a prayer. […] The instructions for meditation are always consistent with this surmise: one is instructed always to rid awareness of any thought save the object of meditation, to shut oneself off from the main flow of ongoing external activity and to pay attention only to the object or process of meditation.  Almost any process or object seems usable and has probably been used.  (Ornstein, 1977: 171-172).

The analogy with hypnotism is obvious.  However, Braid only became acquainted with literature describing oriental meditation techniques around 1844, three years after his discovery of hypnotism, and a year after publishing his best-known book on hypnosis, Neurypnology (1843).  He first discusses the relationship between hypnotism and meditation in some detail in a lengthy serialised article, published in The Medical Times between 1844 and 1845, entitled “Magic, Mesmerism, Hypnotism, etc., Historically & Physiologically Considered.”

Braid seized upon the similarity between certain yogic meditation techniques and his own method of hypnotism as evidence in favour of his theory and against that of Mesmer.  He rightly pointed out that most traditional accounts of Oriental meditation resemble self-induced hypnosis, without the aid of another person.  The Mesmerists, who claimed that the effects they produced were due to a magnetic force channelled from the body of the operator into that of the subject, found it awkward, though arguably not impossible, to explain self-hypnosis in such terms.  Braid, who objected that the effects of Mesmerism were due to focused attention, expectation, imagination, etc., could easily account for self-hypnosis, or the existence of similar experiences in solitary meditation.  Indeed, though it was left to later hypnotists to introduce this phrase, Braid appears to argue that all hypnosis is essentially self-hypnosis.  This emphasis upon what he calls the “subjective” nature of hypnotism is central to Braid’s attack on Mesmerism.  However, once he discovered these apparent parallels with eastern meditation techniques, Braid began to consistently assert that hypnotism was more closely related to them than to animal magnetism.

Inasmuch as patients can throw themselves into the nervous sleep, and manifest all the usual phenomena of Mesmerism, through their own unaided efforts, as I have so repeatedly proved by causing them to maintain a steady fixed gaze at any point, concentrating their whole mental energies on the idea of the object looked at; or that the same may arise by the patient looking at the point of his own finger, or as the Magi of Persia and Yogi of India have practised for the last 2,400 years, for religious purposes, throwing themselves into their ecstatic trances by each maintaining a steady fixed gaze at the tip of his own nose; it is obvious that there is no need for an exoteric influence to produce the phenomena of Mesmerism.  […]  The great object in all these processes is to induce a habit of abstraction or concentration of attention, in which the subject is entirely absorbed with one idea, or train of ideas, whilst he is unconscious of, or indifferently conscious to, every other object, purpose, or action.  (Braid, 1846)

Braid’s interest in meditation really developed when he was introduced to the Dabistān-i Mazāhib, the “School of Religions”, an ancient Persian text describing a variety of Oriental religious practices.

Last May [1843], a gentleman residing in Edinburgh, personally unknown to me, who had long resided in India, favoured me with a letter expressing his approbation of the views which I had published on the nature and causes of hypnotic and mesmeric phenomena.  In corroboration of my views, he referred to what he had previously witnessed in oriental regions, and recommended me to look into the “Dabistan,” a book lately published, for additional proof to the same effect.  On much recommendation I immediately sent for a copy of the “Dabistan”, in which I found many statements corroborative of the fact, that the eastern saints are all self-hypnotisers, adopting means essentially the same as those which I had recommended for similar purposes. (Braid, 1844)

However, Braid felt that the effects of yogic meditation, like those of Mesmerism, were better explained in terms of established psychological and physiological principles.

Whilst there is this remarkable coincidence, however, between my own views and theirs, as to the modes of inducing the sleep, and some of the phenomena, in the sequel it will be found that our theoretical views as to the nature and cause of the subsequent and ulterior phenomena, are “wide as the poles asunder.” (Braid, 1844)

Braid believed that a form of meditation, resembling his self-hypnosis, may have originally developed in ancient Persia among the religious practices of the Zoroastrian Magi, later travelling to India where it formed the basis of Hindu yoga, and being carried westward to the Graeco-Roman world, by sages such as Pythagoras of Samos, in the sixth century B.C.[1]

So far as can be traced, the Magi of Persia were the first who, by artificial contrivance, for religious purposes, threw themselves into a state of self-hypnotism, or ecstatic trance.  That for the accomplishment of this, they resorted to means essentially the same as those which observation and experience had led me to adopt for the like purposes – and that without any knowledge on my part of their notions or practice – namely, by fixing the sight and thoughts on an object, and suppressing the respiration. (Braid, 1844)

Braid’s own method, at this stage, also consisted of asking clients to fix their gaze and attention on a single point, while gradually “suppressing” or “restraining” their breathing, a point frequently overlooked by later hypnotists.  This approach had simply evolved from his own experiments with hypnotism, and attempts to provide a more rational explanation for Mesmerism.

From a very early period of my attention to the subject, I observed the greater difficulty of hypnotising patients who breathed quickly, and therefore desired them to suppress their respiration. (Braid, 1844)

Once this state of focused attention had been induced it could either be carried on toward a condition resembling sleep or else attention could be transferred onto a single dominant idea for therapeutic purposes.

Thus, by exciting, and allowing it time to develop itself, any function or emotion which it is desirable to arouse into greater activity; by keeping it in the state of activity, up to the moment of awaking the patient; the impression will be carried into that state, as certainly as a person may be affected the following day by an impressive dream of the previous night. (Braid, 1844)

Braid saw a striking parallel between his own method of inducing hypnotism and certain methods of meditation described in the ancient oriental texts he had stumbled across.  In his book The Power of the Mind (1846) Braid writes of the meditation techniques used in ancient yoga, “The great object in all these processes is to induce a habit of abstraction or concentration of attention, in which the subject is entirely absorbed with one idea, or train of ideas, whilst he is unconscious of, or indifferently conscious to, every other object, purpose, or action.”

By the term “abstraction”, which he frequently employs, Braid and his contemporaries simply meant a state of mental concentration in which the attention is given to a single idea or train of thought to the exclusion of others.  We might substitute the phrases “selective awareness”, “focused attention”, or “mental absorption.”  Braid’s “abstraction” has two faces, involving both attention to certain ideas and inattention to others, i.e., a kind of dissociation from any potential distractions.  Braid does not use the term “meditation” himself, but he does quote from another author who does, and Braid equates this account of yogic meditation with his own concepts of hypnotism and mental abstraction.  So we can probably say that Braid saw “meditation” and “mental abstraction” as very similar, if not identical, concepts.

Braid originally studied the effect of fixing the attention upon the gaze of another person, a practice common in Mesmerism.  He then demonstrated that staring upon an inanimate object had the same effect, to which end he employed the top of a bottle, a cork strapped to the subject’s forehead, a chandelier, the tip of the subject’s own finger, his lancet case, and various ornaments and arbitrary objects.  Braid mentions that the yogis of India are frequently described as fixing their gaze upon a part of their body such as the tip of their own nose, the centre of their forehead, or their navel.  However, Braid recognised that physical fixation of the gaze was not essential, and that the words of a simple rhyme (like an Indian mantra) or the mental image of a bright star could serve a similar purpose as the object of mental fixation for inducing hypnotism.  More or less anything, in fact, can be used as the object of concentration if the aim is to pacify the mind by contemplation of something monotonous, or even to induce a state of sleep.

All that is required for this is simply to place himself in a comfortable posture in bed, and then to close the eyelids, and turn up the eyeballs gently, as if looking at a distant object, such as an imaginary star, situated somewhat above and behind the forehead, giving the whole concentrated attention of the mind to the idea of maintaining a steady view of the star, and breathing softly, as if in profound attention, the mind at the same time yielding to the idea that sleep will ensue, and to the tendency to somnolence which will creep upon him whilst engaged in this act of fixed attention.  Or it may be done with still more success, in certain individuals, by their placing some small, bright object in a similar aspect with a distant light falling thereon, the party looking at the object with open eyes, fixed attention, and suppressed [i.e., relaxed] respiration.  Other modes of producing a state of mental concentration directed to some unexciting and empty thing, and thus shutting out the influence of other sensible impressions, may also prove successful for inducing calm sleep, by monotonising the mind – just as we see effected in the case of children, who are sent to sleep by rocking, patting, or gentle rubbing, or monotonous, unexciting lullabies – but none are so speedy and certain in their effects, with patients generally, as the modes which I have briefly explained.  Mr. Walker’s method of procuring “sleep at will”, by desiring the patient to maintain a fixed act of attention, by imagining himself watching his breath issuing slowly from his nostrils, after having placed his body in a comfortable position in bed – and which was first published to the world by Dr. Binns, a few years ago – is essentially the same as my own method, which I had promulgated some time prior to the publication of the first edition of Dr. Binns’s work on sleep. (Braid, 1852)

Braid thought that the tranquilising effect of focusing the gaze, or attention, upon a single monotonous object could, with practice, be carried so far as to induce a hypnotic “coma” state resembling the physiological condition of hibernating animals.  He was particularly intrigued by various stories reported by British colonialists in India regarding the supposed burial alive of fakirs, who could apparently slow down their physiological functioning to the brink of death for many days in order to be resuscitated at a later date.  Braid later published a short book entitled Observations on Trance or Human Hybernation (1850) discussing this alleged phenomenon in some detail.

Braid interpreted the effects of both hypnotism and meditation from a sceptical or “common sense” perspective, rejecting any supernatural claims and preferring to try a “psycho-physiological” interpretation first of all.

I have seen no reason to believe, that either hypnotism or mesmerism adds a single new faculty, either mental or physical, to the subject; but, by their influence, we acquire the power of throwing them into new ratios, and producing very different results from the normal condition, by exciting or depressing natural functions, in an extraordinary degree.  This is accomplished chiefly through the law of concentration, aided by the state of the respiration and circulation; increasing or diminishing the force and velocity of the circulation, as well as by altering the quality of the blood, by rendering it either more or less arterialised [i.e., oxygenated] than in the normal condition, and consequently capable of exciting or depressing function in a corresponding degree.  There is no difficulty in demonstrating that we have the power of doing this, to the satisfaction of any intelligent and unprejudiced person. (Braid, 1844)

Braid’s theory of hypnotism held that by focusing the attention upon a repetitive idea or unexciting object a state resembling profound sleep could be induced, or that the opposite state, of nervous tension could be induced by focusing attention upon the idea of doing so.  Moreover, any number of psychological or physiological changes could be induced by shifting the attention onto specific “dominant ideas” or mental images, which we would now call “autosuggestion.”  Indeed, whereas the Mesmerists had relatively neglected the solitary use of such methods, in Observations on Trance (1850), following his discussion of the trances of the Indian fakirs, Braid provides an account of his own use of self-hypnosis to overcome rheumatic pain.

It is commonly said that seeing is believing, but feeling is the very truth.  I shall, therefore, give the result of my experience of hypnotism in my own person.  In the middle of September, 1844, I suffered from a most severe attack of rheumatism, implicating the left side of the neck and chest, and the left arm.  At first the pain was moderately severe, and I took some medicine to remove it; but, instead of this, it became more and more violent, and had tormented me for three days, and was so excruciating, that it entirely deprived me of sleep for three nights successively, and on the last of the three nights I could not remain in any one posture for five minutes, from the severity of the pain.  On the forenoon of the next day, whilst visiting my patients, every jolt of the carriage I could only compare to several sharp instruments being thrust through my shoulder, neck, and chest.  A full inspiration was attended with stabbing pain, such as is experienced in pleurisy.  When I returned home for dinner I could neither turn my head, lift my arm, nor draw a breath, without suffering extreme pain.  In this condition I resolved to try the effects of hypnotism.  I requested two friends, who were present, and who both understood the system, to watch the effects, and arouse me when I had passed sufficiently into the condition; and, with their assurance that they would give strict attention to their charge, I sat down and hypnotised myself, extending the extremities.  At the expiration of nine minutes they aroused me, and, to my agreeable surprise, I was quite free from pain, being able to move in any way with perfect ease.  I say agreeably surprised, on this account; I had seen like results with many patients; but it is one thing to hear of pain, and another to feel it.  My suffering was so exquisite that I could not imagine anyone else ever suffered so intensely as myself on that occasion; and, therefore, I merely expected a mitigation, so that I was truly agreeably surprised to find myself quite free from pain.  I continued quite easy all the afternoon, slept comfortably all night, and the following morning felt a little stiffness, but no pain.  A week thereafter I had a slight return, which I removed by hypnotising myself once more; and I have remained quite free from rheumatism ever since, now nearly six years.  Was there the slightest room to doubt the value and efficacy of hypnotism in this case?

However, Braid was emphatic that hypnotism was essentially an extension of ordinary psychological and physiological functioning.  In particular, the effect of focused attention upon a dominant idea is merely a means of amplifying the familiar effects of suggestion and mental association which we observe in everyday life.

To a certain extent, this fact of excited attention, altering function, is realised even in the waking condition, as is manifest by the rush of milk to the breast of the nurse on seeing, hearing, or even thinking of her child; the flow of saliva, from the sight, or smell, or thought of savoury food; and the tendency to perform other functions, from mental impressions, associated with them, arising in the mind, by whatever means excited. […] Hypnotism merely enables us to control and direct the natural functions, either exciting or depressing them, as required, with more certainty and intensity than in the normal waking condition.

I might further illustrate the power of the mind in influencing function: by shedding tears from grief; blushing from shame; pallor and palpitation from fear; fainting from disagreeable sights, odours, or even the thoughts of such; the effects of painful intelligence [i.e., unpleasant information], in instantly destroying the keenest appetite; excessive joy, or sorrow, or anger, suddenly producing most grave diseases, mental or physical, or even death. (Braid, 1844)

Braid had argued that the real physical and mental effects of “bread pills” and other placebo therapies, including homeopathy, were also due to expectation and dominant ideas.

Braid quotes from the English missionary William Ward’s four-volume A View of the History, Literature and Religion of the Hindoos (1811)[2], and inserts his commentary upon the effects of meditation recounted by the ancient teachers of yoga.  Braid claims that these observations confirm “the fact of the Yogi being all self-hypnotisers, by inducing a state of intense abstraction, from a steady fixed gaze at an object, with a suppressed state of the respiration.”  For example, one of the applications of yogic meditation consists of evoking positive emotions to counter-act and oppose negative ones, a strategy frequently employed in modern psychotherapy.

Through meditation on the opposite of the source of power (as by meditating on benevolence revenge is destroyed), the Yogi is greatly assisted in his efforts to attain perfect victory. (Braid, 1844)

Braid argues that when a yogi enters into this state of self-hypnosis, or meditation, his expectations and associations to the state, combined with a lively imagination and focused attention, will frequently result in a variety of dramatic subjective experiences, including hallucinations easily confused with supernatural phenomena.

Now, accordingly, most of the wonders just to be transcribed, and which the Hindus take to be realities, I can very readily exhibit with many patients; but I explain them merely as vivid mental pictures, or dreams. (Braid, 1844)

The ancient Hindu sages claimed that during meditation they achieved clairvoyant powers which allowed them to see the interior of the body functioning, and built a primitive science of anatomy and physiology derived from these visions and intuitions.  Braid, quite astutely, uses this fact to illustrate how easily subjective experiences resulting from meditation or hypnotism can be mistaken.  These physical theories, for all their sophistication, were demonstrably false.  In fact, despite many sages meditating upon the concept of human anatomy over a period of three thousand years, Oriental theories were no more accurate than those developed in European countries.  William Harvey discovered the circulatory system by experimental means in 1616.  By contrast, as Braid notes, the yogic sages’ meditations had led them to conclude that the arteries were filled with air rather than blood.

What follow are a small selection of the yogic powers quoted by Braid with his comments, reducing them to subjective feelings induced by self-hypnosis.  Some of these experiences are quite fantastical and probably mere curiosities; however, others probably have legitimate applications in modern hypnotherapy when presented in the “common sense” way described by Braid.  For example,

The Yogi who has perfected himself in the three parts of samyama [i.e., yogic self-mastery and meditation] obtains a knowledge of the past and of the future;

While he accepts that these experiences seem to occur in meditation, and can be induced in self-hypnosis, Braid attributes the apparent insight into the past to “quickened memory” and enhanced foresight to “excited imagination.”

He who applies samyama to discover the thoughts of others will know the thoughts of all. […] He who applies samyama to that compassion which has respect to the miserable, will secure the friendship of all.

Braid agrees that the subjective feeling of gaining insight into others thoughts can be induced, writing “He will believe and talk as if he did so.”  Of the feeling of compassion, he writes, “The excitement of this feeling of benevolence being carried into the waking condition, as already explained.”

He who, according to these rules, meditates on the strength of the powerful, so as to identify his strength with theirs, will acquire the same.

Through mental imagery, imitation, focused attention, etc., Braid believed that people could actually increase their physical strength, albeit within more realistic bounds.  He writes, “Through this and the law of concentration, I have seen a young woman carry a man or woman in her arms as cleverly as if they had been boys or girls.”

By a similar application of samyama to the cup at the bottom of the throat, he will overcome hunger and thirst by meditating on the nerve cord, which exists a little below the throat, he will obtain a fixed and unbroken posture in the act of yoga;

As a result of belief and focused imagination, meditation or self-hypnosis may be able to suppress the feelings of hunger or thirst, or to modify one’s posture.

He who, in the same manner, meditated on the ear and its vacuum, will hear the softest and most distant sounds, as well as those uttered in the celestial regions, etc.

Braid had carried out many experiments upon the apparent increase in sensitivity induced by hypnotism, and therefore writes, “This accords with my proposition that calling attention to any organ or function will exalt the energy of the function positively, as well as excite ideas connected with such organ or function.”

Braid’s reading of both the Dabistan and Ward’s account of Hindu meditation practices therefore led him to conclude, regarding the use of self-hypnosis among ancient sages,

That the extremely vivid state of their imagination, leads them to believe as reality, whatever ideas are suggested to their minds; and their extreme docility, sympathy, and imitation, induce them instantly to manifest themselves as actively engaged in the scene so vividly portrayed before their fervid imagination.

That this is accomplished chiefly through the law of concentration, and mental impression, changing physical action, according to the quantity and quality of the blood passing through any particular organ or part in a given time.

That the notion of spiritual abilities, the soul leaving the body on voyages of discovery to the uttermost parts of creation, seeing through opaque bodies, correct thought-reading, universal lucidity, and a host of omniscient and omnipotent attributes, are mere delusions – being nothing more than vivid mental pictures or dreams.

That the senses may not only be abnormally quickened, as is the case at one stage; but, at another, they may be rendered so torpid, as to be quite unimpressionable to mechanical or chemical stimuli.  That by judicious management this influence is capable of being rendered a powerful therapeutic agent, either exciting or depressing the natural functions in an extraordinary degree. (Braid, 1844)

Modern practitioners of yoga, or other forms of meditation, may find in Braid’s hypnotism a theory and practice more aligned with Western psychology and physiology.  Despite the fact that hypnotism was, from its origin, compared with yogic meditation, this analogy has been subsequently neglected and has fallen into disuse.  Modern hypnotherapy has evolved in a different direction, and is probably less similar to traditional eastern meditation techniques than Braid’s original method was.  Braid’s definition of hypnotism as a state of concentration upon a single idea (which he terms “mental abstraction” or “monoideism”) lends itself to the comparison with concentrative meditation techniques.

From traditional meditation practices, hypnotists might learn the value of teaching clients to persevere with concentration upon a single object or idea, especially an idea of therapeutic value, although the state of general tranquillity induced by means of fixed attention upon an unexciting object, such as meditation upon the tip of the nose or a point on the ceiling, may also be beneficial in many cases.  From hypnotism, on the other hand, meditation practitioners might learn more about the role of prior expectation, social imitation, mental imagery, and autosuggestion in determining the outcome of meditation techniques.

[1]Braid’s view, derived from the authors of his day, is not completely implausible.  Some ancient authors suggest that Graeco-Roman meditative techniques were derived from the gymnosophoi (naked wise men) of India and the Zoroastrians of the Middle East.  It’s likely that similar meditative practices existed in the regions in question several centuries before Braid assumes, however.

[2] I have changed the transliteration of Sanskrit terms below, quoted from Ward, to be more consistent with modern versions.


James Braid on Hypnotic Meditation — 1 Comment

  1. In 2002 my wife & I went to visit friends in Mombai. I’d said to Varnie on the phone that I wanted to hear some Indian Music & visit a Meditation Centre. Varnie arranged for her sister-in-law who was from a famous family of musicians to visit her home parent’s home & sing a hindu hymn for us. After that Varnie’s elderly mother took me with Varnie’s daughter, dressed in shorts & looking like a tomboy to go to the Raja Yoga Centre. I was shown around by an instructor, a lady in white sari with a Masters Degree in Psychotherapy who had quit working in a clinic because she said that she had brought a few clients to the centre & ‘doing raja yoga’ had been much more effective than any other approach. I was taken to the main hall which had a ‘target’ in black & white rather like the bulleye discs that hypnotists used to use. I asked about the dogma, the music, how much? & so on. None of that. The only thing to do was to sit in silence & gaze @ the diagram. I was taken to a small room with a dozen or so people seated on benches all gazing @ a smaller version of the diagram & I joined them for a while. The instructor later said that if people benefitted they were welcome to give their time or donations to the centre. My wife is Malayalee, born in Singapore & raised a Catholic. St Thomas went to South India in the first century. When Europeans ‘found’ the sea route to India they were surprised to find Christians already there.