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Common steps and sub-activities

James Braid method

The following description has been extracted from James Braid’s book  Neurypnology: or the Rationale of Nervous Sleep

I now proceed to detail the mode which I practise for inducing the phenomena. Take any bright object (I generally use my lancet case) between the thumb and fore and middle fingers of the left hand; hold it from about eight to fifteen inches from the eyes, at such position above the forehead is may be necessary to produce the greatest possible strain upon the eyes and eyelids, and enable the patient to maintain a steady fixed stare at the object.

[Footnote: At an early period of my investigations, I caused the patients to look at a cork bound on the forehead. This was a very efficient plan with those who had the power of converging the eyes so as to keep them both steadily directed on the object. I very soon found, however, that there were many who could not keep both eyes steadily fixed on so near an object, and that the result was, that such patients did not become hypnotised. To obviate this, I caused them to look at a more distant point, which, although scarcely so rapid and intense in its effects, succeeds more generally than the other, and is therefore what I now adopt and recommend.]

The patient must be made to understand that he is to keep the eyes steadily fixed on the object, and the mind riveted on the idea of that one object. It will be observed, that owing to the consensual adjustment of the eyes, the pupils will be at first contracted : they will shortly begin to dilate, and after they have done so to a considerable extent, and have assumed a wavy motion, if the fore and middle fingers of the right hand, extended and a little separated, are carried from the object towards the eyes, most probably the eyelids will close involuntarily, with a vibratory motion. If this is not the case, or the patient allows the eyeballs to move, desire him to begin anew, giving him to understand that he is to allow the eyelids to close when the fingers are again carried towards the eyes, but that the eyeballs must be kept fixed , in the same position, and the mind riveted to the one idea of the object held above the eyes.

After ten or fifteen seconds have elapsed, by gently elevating the arms and legs, it will be found that the patient has a disposition to retain them in the situation in which they have been placed, if he is intensely affected.

If this is not the case, in a soft tone of voice desire him to retain the limbs in the extended position, and thus the pulse will speedily become greatly accelerated, and the limbs, in process of time, will become quite rigid and involuntarily fixed. It will also be found, that all the organs of special sense, excepting sight, including heat and cold, and muscular motion, or resistance, and certain mental faculties, are at first prodigiously exalted, such as happens with regard to the primary effects of opium, wine, and spirits. After a certain point, however, this exaltation of function is followed by a state of depression, far greater than the torpor of natural sleep.

[Footnote: I wish to direct especial attention to this circumstance, as from overlooking the fact of the first stage of this artificial hypnotism being one of excitement, with the possession of consciousness and docility, many imagine they are not affected, whilst the acceleration of pulse, peculiar expression of countenance, and other characteristic symptoms, prove the existence of the condition beyond the possibility of a doubt, to all who understand the subject. I consider it very imprudent to carry it to the ulterior stage, or that of torpor, at a first trial. Moreover, there is great difference in the susceptibility to the neuro-hypnotic impression, some arriving at the state of rigidity and insensibility in a few minutes, whilst others may readily pass into the primary stage, but can scarcely be brought into the ulterior, or rigid and torpid state. It is also most important to note, that many instances of remarkable and permanent cures have occurred, where it has never been carried beyond the state of consciousness.]

At first I required the patients to look at an object until the eyelids closed of themselves, involuntarily. I found, however, that in many eases this was followed by pain in the globes of the eyes, and slight inflammation of the conjunctival membrane. In order to avoid this, I now close the eyelids, when the impression on the pupil already referred to has taken place, because I find that the beneficial phenomena follow this method, provided the eyeballs are kept fixed, and thus, too, the unpleasant feelings in the globes of the eyes will be prevented. Were the object to produce astonishment in the person operated on, by finding himself unable to open his eyes, the former method is the better; as the eyes once closed it is generally impossible for him to open them; whereas they may be opened for a considerable time after being closed in the other mode I now recommend. However, for curative purposes, I prefer the plan which leaves no pain in the globes of the eyes.

In fine, from a careful analysis of the whole of my experiments, which have been very numerous, I have been led to the following conclusion :- That it is a law in the animal economy, that by a continued fixation of the mental and visual eye, on any object which is not of itself of an exciting nature, with absolute repose of body, and general quietude, they become wearied; and, provided the patients rather favour than resist the feeling of stupor of  which they will soon experience the tendency to creep upon them, during such experiments, a state of somnolency is induced, accompanied with that condition of the brain and nervous system generally, which renders the patient liable to be affected, according to the mode of manipulating, so as to exhibit the hypnotic phenomena. As the experiment succeeds with the blind, I consider it not so much the optic, as the sentient, motor, and sympathetic nerves, and the mind through which the impression is made

A patient may be hypnotised by keeping the eyes fixed in any direction. It occurs most slowly and feebly when the eyes are directed straight forward, and most rapidly and intensely when they can be maintained in the position of a double internal and upward squint.

It is on this very principle, of over-exerting the attention, by keeping it riveted to one subject or idea which is not of itself of an exciting nature, and, over-exercising one set of muscles, and the state of the strained eyes, with the suppressed respiration, and general repose, which attend such experiments, which excites in the brain and whole nervous system that peculiar state which I call Hypnotism, or nervous sleep.

Whenever I observe the breathing very much oppressed, the face greatly flushed, the rigidity excessive, or the action of the heart very quick and tumultuous, I instantly arouse the patient, which I have always readily and speedily succeeded in doing by a clap of the hands, an abrupt shock on the arm or leg by striking them sharply with the flat hand, pressure and friction over the eyelids, and by a current of air wafted against the face. I have never failed by these means to restore my patients very speedily.

I feel convinced hypnotism is not only a valuable, but also a perfectly safe remedy for many complaints, if judiciously used; still it ought not to be trifled with by ignorant persons for the mere sake of gratifying idle curiosity. In all cases of apoplectic tendency, or where there is aneurysm, or serious organic disease of the heart, it ought not to be resorted to, excepting with the precaution, that it may be in the mode calculated to depress the force and frequency of the heart's action.

The first symptoms after the induction of the hypnotic state, and extending the limbs, are those of extreme excitement of all the organs of sense, sight excepted. I have ascertained by accurate measurement, that the hearing is about twelve times more acute than in the natural condition. Thus a patient who could not hear the tick of a watch beyond 3 feet when awake, could do so when hypnotised at the distance of 35 feet, and walk to it in a direct line, without difficulty or hesitation.

Smell is in like manner, wonderfully exalted ; one patient has been able to trace a rose through the air when held 46 feet from her.

The tactual sensibility is so great, that the slightest touch is felt, and will call into action corresponding muscles, which will also be found to exert a most inordinate power. The sense of heat, cold, and resistance, are also exalted to that degree, as to enable the patient to feel anything without actual contact, in some cases at a considerable distance, (18 or 20 inches) if the temperature is very different from that of the body ; and some will feel a breath of air from the lips, or the blast of a pair of bellows, at the distance of 50, or even 90 feet, and bend from it, and, by making a back current, as by waving the hand or a fan, will move in the opposite direction.

The patient has a tendency to approach to, or recede from impressions, according as they are agreeable or disagreeable, either in quality or intensity. Thus, they will approach to soft sounds, but they will recede from loud sounds, however harmonious. A discord, such as two semi-tones sounded at same time, however soft, will cause a sensitive patient to shudder and recede when hypnotised, although ignorant of music, and not at all disagreeably affected by such discord when awake.

By allowing a little time to elapse, and the patient to be in a state of quietude, he will lapse into the opposite extreme, of rigidity and torpor of all the senses, so that he will not hear the loudest noise, nor smell the most fragrant or pungent odour ; nor feel what is either hot or cold, although not only approximated to, but brought into actual contact with, the skin. He may now be pricked, or pinched, or maimed, without evincing the slightest symptom of pain or sensibility, and the limbs will remain rigidly fixed.

At this stage a puff of wind directed against any organ instantaneously rouses it to inordinate sensibility, and the rigid muscles to a state of mobility. Thus, the patient may be unconscious of the loudest noise, but by simply causing a current of air to come against the ear, a very moderate noise will instantly be heard so intensely as to make the patient start and shiver violently, although the whole body had immediately before been rigidly cataleptiform. A rose, valerian, or asafoetida, or strongest liquor ammonioe, may have been held close under the nostrils without being perceived, but a puff of wind directed against the nostrils will instantly rouse the sense so much, that supposing the rose had been carried 46 feet distant, the patient has instantly set off in pursuit of it ; and even whilst the eyes were bandaged, reached it as certainly as a dog traces out game ; but, as respects valerian or asafoetida, will rush from the unpleasant smell, with the greatest haste. The same with the sense of touch.

The remarkable fact that the whole senses may have been in the state of profound torpor, and the body in a state of rigidity, and yet by very gentle pressure over the eyeballs, the patient shall be instantly roused to the waking condition, as regards all the senses, and mobility of the head and neck, in short to all parts supplied by nerves originating above the origin of the fifth pair, and those inosculating with them, and will not be affected by simple mechanical appliance to other organs of sense, is a striking proof that there exists some remarkable connection between the state of the eyes, and condition of the brain and spinal cord during the hypnotic state.

A puff of air, or gentle pressure against ONE eye will restore sight to that eye, and sense and mobility to one half of the body - the same side as the eye operated on - but will leave the other eye insensible, and the other half of the body rigid and torpid as before. Neither hearing nor smell, however, are restored in this case to either side. Thus, by one mode of acting through the eye, we reduce the patient to a state of hemiplegia, by the other to that of paraplegia, as regards both sense and motion. In many cases, when the patient has been hypnotised by looking sideways, this gives a tendency to the body to turn round in that direction when asleep.

There is another most remarkable circumstance, that whilst the patient is in the state of torpor and rigidity, we may pass powerful shocks of the galvanic battery through the arms, so as to cause violent contortions of them, without his evincing the slightest symptom of perceiving the shocks, either by movement of the head or neck, or expression of the countenance.