I Went to a Hypnotist to Force Myself to Exercise | 22 Words

On the morning I woke up to see a hypnotherapist for the first time, I went to the gym for an agonizing 25 whole minutes and carefully avoided indulging in any caffeinated beverages, as instructed.

But before I get into all that, let’s rewind.

I decided to book my session because I’ve always had a problem with exercise and body image. I’ve looked at exercise as torture for the last 20 years, dreading it every morning and alternating between years of regular workouts and months (OK, also years) of no physical activity whatsoever.

Here's the true story of how I found myself in a hypnotherapist's office in an effort to tackle these issues and how it ended up changing my life forever.

I found my hypnotherapist like you find anything these days – on Yelp.

The expert team had several dozens of five-star reviews, helping patients with everything from passing the bar exam to quitting smoking.

Lately, my issues with exercise have been compounded with poor body image, horrendously negative self-talk, and an unhealthy relationship with food. 

I’ve tried everything from traditional therapy to medically supervised diets, Jenny Craig, personal trainers, boot camps, and more to overcome these issues...so I figured, why not hypnosis?

You might be thinking – wait, you said you exercised this morning, so what’s your deal?

Yes, I exercised this morning with 15 minutes of cardio and five minutes of weight training, hating it the entire time and wishing it was over, barely breaking a sweat as I stared at my body in the mirror trying not to cry. I know (with or without a hypnotherapist) that in order to be a happier, healthier, and fitter person, I need to shift this outlook.

I called the hypnotherapy office a few days before my appointment and, to my surprise, my hypnotist Alex (name changed for privacy) answered right away.

Hesitant to open up to a man about these issues, I cautiously explained that my goal with hypnotherapy is to change my perspective on exercise and convince myself that it’s a blessing and a privilege to be able to move my body. I told him I also wanted to reduce hateful self-talk and be easier on myself, and have a better relationship to food (more specifically, to sugar).

After a 10-minute rant, I sheepishly paused to ask “Do you think a woman would be better suited to be my hypnotherapist for this session?"

He said he’d be happy to let his female partner take over, but that he felt comfortable with the task. After scheduling my first appointment, I figured...if this doesn’t work, the only thing I’ll be out is the few hundred dollar fee, and maybe I’ll walk away with an interesting story to tell at the next Bachelor-watching party I attend.

People who found out I was doing this asked me if I “think I will be easily hypnotized."

My Mom said she expected I’d go under easily, since I’m so in-my-own-head all the time.

But I worried that going into a hypnotic state might be challenging, as I don’t like letting go of control.

My biggest fear was that, after all of this, I might be un-hypnotizable.

On my drive to the appointment, around noon on a Saturday, I expected that my experience would feel somewhat like a regular talk therapy session, likely with a chaise lounge and a noise-machine for privacy.

I knew that it was going to be two hours long, with one hour for the consultation and the second hour dedicated to the actual hypnotherapy session (which I was told will be recorded for me to listen to as I fall asleep in the days following).

As I happily parked my car in the free lot, I grabbed socks and a sweater (on an 83° day in Southern California) as Alex mentioned I might get chilly as I was being hypnotized.

The offices were shared with a couple of other businesses and had a distinct “I haven’t been updated since 1994" kind of vibe with dull carpeting, a medium-sized fish tank, and dim lighting. I went inside his office which was minimally furnished with Lay-Z boy chair, a desk with a microphone, and a large plastic bin full of 100s of cigarette packs - a nice representation of the success he’s had helping people quit smoking. That immediately gave me hope.

Alex was a friendly guy in his late 50s, with a black long sleeve shirt, brown plaid blazer, and a small necklace with a metal medallion.

I noticed he wasn’t wearing any shoes... but he did wear socks. The first 45 minutes felt like your traditional “get to know you" consultation the first time you see a new therapist. We talked about why I was there, a little bit about my childhood, etc.

Within the first few minutes he (accurately) observed “You are really hard on yourself" and shortly after, he preached the benefits of, of all things, a plant-based diet.

Despite being a little agitated with a hypnotherapist giving me diet advice, I said I was open to it and he gave me a book on the subject. I immediately thought of that scene in Cruel Intentions where Sebastian’s therapist secretly charges him for a book given to him during their session and made a mental note to investigate that later.

We continued to chat about my relationship with food and how I felt like my daily anxiety was a result of my unhappiness with my body and weight.

Alex said he wanted us to focus on finding an inner calmness for our first session that would make me less tense overall and decrease unhealthy thoughts. I pushed back a bit, emphasizing that I really wanted to use this session to improve my outlook specifically on exercise and body image, not just general wellness.

About 45 minutes into our chat, we started the hypnotism.

I was told that he’d be recording the session and speaking directly into the microphone, so the experience would be heard best while wearing headphones. I reclined in the Lay-Z Boy chair as Alex carefully placed three long pillows underneath my legs, with two teensy pillows for under my palms and a lavender-scented pillow to cover my eyes.

I was covered with a light blanket and, lastly, given the headphones to hear his voice.

The hypnotism started with the sound of faint chanting and a fast ticking that got slightly slower as the time passed. “You are protected and looked after now, so you can begin to relax," said Alex.

I immediately noticed that Alex’s voice sounded completely different in my headphones than it did during the first hour of our meeting.

I tried not to laugh at the “hypnotist voice" I was hearing – a more nasal version of his speaking voice where the last letter of every word was dropped. I wondered if he hates the way he sounds on these recordings just like everybody else does when they hear their own voicemail recording.

What followed reminded me of a yoga session.

I was instructed to relax my jaw and make space between my upper and lower teeth. I was then told to relax my scalp, my neck, my shoulders, back, and arms, etc. I was sitting in total peace and darkness but unfortunately, rather than feeling relaxed, I immediately felt anxious and annoyed as I don’t typically like yoga, meditation, or being forced to sit still.

As the time passed, I kept thinking about how and when Alex was going to incorporate exercise and eating into the session and found it difficult to feel calm.

I remembered Alex telling me that I could “choose to listen with my conscious mind or ignore [him] and let my subconscious listen." I’m not sure which I was doing. I wondered how much time was passing without us getting to my goals.

Finally, after being told to “be aware of my chin and feel my whole face so soft and relaxed," Alex started talking about how my belly should be relaxed too, and how the stomach is sometimes called the second brain.

“The mind knows what the body feels... and the body feels what the mind knows," he repeated. I liked the idea of treating my body/stomach as a second brain and felt satisfied with this point.

As he moved to direct me to relax my legs, he talked about exercise and prompted me to enjoy hiking in the morning, to enjoy feeling how my legs move, “each and every muscle," and so on.

He repeated phrases like “It is the natural thing to do" and “It feels so good." YES, I thought. THIS is why I'm here.  At some point, and I can’t even believe I’m writing this, I lost track of the anxious feelings I was experiencing and started losing the sensation of my physical body, and instead, feeling that my head was just floating in space. I was still aware of everything Alex was saying and didn’t get the impression that I was in a hypnotic state, but the noticeable absence of my feeling body was strange, to say the least.

This was unfortunately short-lived, as the next thing I remember feeling was a desire to get up and move around.

I tried to shake this off and continue to focus on the words Alex was saying: “Be aware of your heart, and [feel] love and compassion for yourself." He calmly told me “you are the source, and you are happy for no reason, just because you are." I thought to myself… Man, wouldn’t THAT be amazing!

Towards the end of our session, Alex instructed me to “take some time in the stillness" for my “healing to continue" and his voice dropped off of the recording.

I endured a few more minutes of silence and the recorded "om" chanting before my session was over. With three chimes of a bell, I was told to slowly wake up. As I came out of hypnosis, I slowly moved my fingers and toes, stretching my body and taking off my eye pillow. Even the dim light in the room felt so shocking to my senses; I started to question whether I was as ‘conscious’ as I thought during the experience.

I told Alex I was surprised that I felt so awake the entire time, but thanked him for the session and hoped it would serve me well.

He instructed me to listen to the recording every night before bed for the first few weeks and to report back on my progress. Walking out, I felt grateful for the experience and so damn hungry.

The day after my session, I woke up at 8 AM and sadly was not forever changed.

I felt no different than I have every day of my thirties: Tired and slightly annoyed with the universe for getting me out of bed. I did not work out or go on a hike, but I did feel compelled to make healthy eating choices and had to move about 900 lbs of gravel as part of a home improvement project, which I would definitely categorize as physical activity.

I noticed that I felt a bit out of it all day, and was even having trouble remembering certain words, which is pretty unusual for me.

I went to sleep that evening listening to Alex’s recording, chewing on a melatonin gummy and using the lavender eye pillow he gifted me. The next day, I set an ambitious goal of a 6:45 AM wakeup and ended up getting out of bed an hour late.

Without enough time to go to the gym before work, I surprised myself by putting on my workout gear.

I headed out the door to walk up and down the hills of my neighborhood as I listed to a Goop podcast. Typically with a melatonin hangover, I’d avoid this kind of morning workout, but I was excited to think it could be a result of my session! Around lunchtime I managed to shovel approximately 37 pounds of pastrami and sauerkraut into my mouth in between meetings, successfully failing at Day 2 of a plant-based diet and questioning if my session with Alex would actually change anything at all.

On day 4, I chose a plant-based lunch and amazed myself!

I’m back on track, I thought. In the days that followed, I continued to eat healthier than usual but also repeatedly woke up too late to exercise and disappointed in myself. The real challenge came a couple of weeks after my hypnotherapy session when I had to go on a trip to Asia, a culinary destination I knew it would be incredibly exciting to explore.

I was fearful of being too tired from traveling to exercise and questioning how I would ever avoid all the delicious meaty, fatty street foods.

To keep myself on track with what my hypnotherapy session aimed to improve, I walked over 10,000 steps every day and got immense satisfaction from that commitment.

A couple of days into my trip was when the strangest thing happened to me that I can only assume was a result of my session.

After 31 years of almost always being a burger-and-steak-loving carnivore, I started feeling incredibly repulsed by meat.

My God, what is happening to me?! Am I a health influencer now?

I had been spending a lot of time interacting with animals on the trip, and whether it was their sweet innocent eyes peering into my soul to forever remove my meat-eating desires or my hypnotherapist’s suggestion of a plant-based diet seeping deep into my subconscious, I can't say for sure.

All I know is that about a month after my session, I can't see myself buying meat the grocery store or ordering a filet any time soon.

Now that I've had time to process this whole experience, I know that I didn't become the bikini body fitness queen of my dreams but I was left with a recording that almost always helps me fall asleep right away and a new outlook on the way I eat. And that’s worth every penny!