"A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly… If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely."
If you've read Roald Dahl, you may remember these words of wisdom from The Twits. They may come from a children's book, but as simple as the idea seems, there is some truth and science behind it.
"When we love ourselves, we exude an energy that other people pick up on and are very drawn to," says clinical hypnotherapist and holistic life coach Caroline Cranshaw, who counts models and media personalities among her clients.
"Confident people smile, make eye contact and speak with warmth and sincerity, and we're more inclined to like these people who seem to like us – a concept referred to as the reciprocity effect."
Our attraction to confident people doesn't stop there. When we feel happy and content with ourselves, we can also produce feel-good chemicals that give us a healthy glow, and we're also more inclined to make positive choices relating to our appearance, such as dressing well or fueling our bodies with nourishing food. So how do we tap into this inside-out beauty?
Hypnosis has been hailed for its transformative abilities since early civilisation. In ancient Egypt and Greece, 'sleep temples' used trance-like states as a therapeutic tool. Today's proponents believe hypnotherapy helps rewire the brain and change damaging behaviours by creating new neural networks through neuroplasticity – the brain's ability to adapt and change.
By way of an easy explanation, Cranshaw likens the mind to a computer running various programs that elicit automatic reactions to our environment based on previously recorded responses in our subconscious mind. Because our subconscious mind works without the control of the conscious mind, we tend to respond to situations without thinking and in ways we may not necessarily want to.
"We can have many blocking beliefs at a subconscious level that, for example, stop us feeling attractive, even if people tell us we're beautiful all the time," says Cranshaw.
At her Auckland clinic, Cranshaw uses a combination of hypnotherapy, coaching and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) to teach clients how to control their reactions and change their beliefs (you can expect to pay $250 for the initial session, then $220 for follow-ups). Cranshaw records the sessions so clients can practise her visualisation techniques at home, and finds that although most people get a good result the first time, some return for subsequent appointments to address other aspects of their lives.
Self-styled modern hypnotist and wellness expert Morgan Yakus gives her clients NLP tools and interruption techniques, and teaches self-hypnosis to help them to, among other things, increase their confidence in themselves. She's based in New York and Los Angeles but often consults via video, so I booked in for a US$175 ($250) Skype session.
Feeling relaxed and comfortable in my living room, I listened as she explained what the consultation would involve, and we talked for more than half an hour about my concerns. Then it was time to lean back on my couch and allow her to guide me through a hypnosis session for a further half-hour. Although I feared the unexpected, I was relieved to find I was still in control.
"It's not at all like what you've seen in the movies or on TV," says Yakus. "You don't go 'under' or 'out', but rather into a relaxed state that brings clarity and the possibility to have an experience in a new way, seeing more options and therefore creating the outcome you desire."
I learn that hypnosis is a state of heightened focus that's so natural we experience it every day. It's that moment of calm just before we go to sleep and as we wake up. Even during the day, we can go into trance-like states, for example when we zone out on our phone or drive home on autopilot.
During our session, Yakus prompted me to picture myself in situations where I feel the least beautiful, then reimagine myself feeling calm and assured in these scenarios. It soon became clear that these situations don't need to be stressful but can be an opportunity to make myself more open to connecting with others and therefore appear more attractive and approachable. It was a weight off my shoulders.
"When you feel calm, relaxed and excited about your life, you can look and feel much younger than you are," says Yakus, who has seen clients change their health and skin issues by altering the chemicals in their body through finding a sense of calm and happiness, and using strategies to deal with aspects of their life that are having a negative impact, such as poor eating habits.
"Hypnotherapy can help with anything that makes stress worse," says Auckland clinical hypnotherapist and holistic health practitioner Gloria Seaman. Due to our emotional connection to and dependency on food, weight management is one of the most complex topics she deals with, but can also be the most rewarding. "When I work with my clients in a weight-management session, it's never just about the weight. With the help of hypnosis, we can unravel the underlying issue."
Some clients may need to take a deep dive into the reasons why they think or behave the way they do; others need more straightforward help with motivation and strategies. Seaman's sessions start from $120. Using hypnotherapy and holistic techniques, including reiki, she helps her clients to better care for themselves and, in a sentiment similar to Roald Dahl's, find "the light within that shines through you".
"The beauty of this type of therapy is that the client walks away feeling better and empowered because they've learned a lifelong skill to use whenever they need to," says Seaman. "They know how to use their mind in an effective, powerful and gentle way."