These are all states of consciousness or awareness, as are the states of sleep and every-day, walking-around wakefulness. These three, however, share a number of similarities that sleep and wakefulness only display in certain instances, and usually not to the same extent:
Metabolism drops significantly.
Brain wave activity changes to alpha.
The body becomes deeply relaxed.
The senses become more heightened or alert.
Certain chemicals are released.
We become more receptive and responsive to suggestion.
They each provide an unusually pleasant experience, i.e. subjects report feeling very relaxed, calm, and peaceful -- hence, the terms, Hypnojunkies and Meditjunkies -- they just love the experience.
How do these states differ, one from the other?
Hypnosis is more active and usually involves an agenda, e.g. overcoming a fear, extinguishing a habit, loosing weight, improving athletic performance, etc.
Meditation is more passive and the subject usually meditates patiently, enjoying the experience and allowing the benefits to materialize.
Meditation can also have the agenda of moving towards a state where no thought is present. It is a point of transcending thought, and thus the term, Transcendental Meditation. This is rarely achieved for any lengthy period, and when it is, people report a flash of "enlightenment," a "moment of bliss," a "touch of the divine", etc.
What is Self-Hypnosis and how does it fit in here?
First, as the name implies, the practitioner induces the trance state him or herself.
To get to that state, the subject may use methods that are from the traditions of meditation or from the playbook of the hypnotist.
Once in that state, the person does his or her "work," such as affirm a desired trait (e.g. self-confidence) or intend a condition (e.g. health).
In my opinion, self-hypnosis is not as effective as hypnosis for getting the "work" done because the person in that state has diminished analytical ability and cannot be both the subject and the therapist/facilitator at the same time. Its still very beneficial but its much like trying to be the player and the coach in mid-game, each having their unique perspective.
In each of these states, as I indicated above, we become more receptive and responsive to suggestion. How does that happen?
Real answer: We dont fully know.
What seems to be happening, however, is that the unconscious part of the mind comes to the fore and the conscious portion drifts away, taking much of our analysis, evaluation, and judgement with it. The mind becomes very allowing.
This unconscious part of our mind is the greater part. It takes care of all the bodily functions that we are not conscious of, e.g. chemical release, blood flow, immune system, etc.
As well, it knows more than we are consciously aware of (some say it knows everything), and it can remember and recall everything that has ever happened to us.
The unconscious mind seems to be much like a ten-year-old. It takes everything suggested to it literally and it cannot easily distinguish between imagination and reality. This is where the hypnotist or hypnotherapist can make suggestions that help people move from where they are to where they want to be, and sometimes, the speed with which this happens can be truly amazing.
I may have raised more questions than I have answered here, at least I hope so. And, in subsequent articles, I will present some additional ideas on the unconscious mind (some quite metaphysical) and I do want to display some of the many mental and physical benefits that are gained from a regular practice of meditation, so stay tuned