The Sunnen Trance Scale for Hypnosis, Self-Hypnosis, and Meditation

March 2001

by G.V. Sunnen M. D.


In recent years, disciplines of the mind which center upon special mental conditions to achieve therapeutic gains have seen steady expansion. Hypnosis, self-hypnosis, and meditation are all associated with special mental states which facilitate positive personal changes and connect with higher dimensions of the psyche.

Medical hypnosis is increasingly recognized as a powerful healing modality with applications in all fields of medicine. It is utilized to modulate pain, temper side effects of medications, and to accelerate convalescence. Medical hypnosis has proven itself in its ability to prepare patients for surgery, special procedures, and childbirth, by neutralizing anxiety and by instilling affirmative healing imagery. Because of the fact that hypnosis allows the mind to penetrate into the far reaches of the autonomic nervous system, investigations are under way to determine its potential to positively influence the mechanisms of disease.

Self-hypnosis is a mental skill enabling the individual to self-guide into a trance. In this practice, instructions are self-administered in order to orient the mind into new experiences of awareness. In self-hypnosis, one part of the mind exercises its executive prerogatives to direct the mind's other dimensions to travel in self- suggested directions. Self-given affirmations progressively coax the mind to new levels of physical and mental relaxation.

Meditation is a term given to numerous practices designed to bring about harmonious control of the physical self and the mind. Most forms of meditation draw upon the process or relaxed focused attention. Meditative practices vary widely according to the discipline which spawned them. Focusing upon the flow of breathing in a context of active contemplation is a central meditative method.

Hypnosis, self-hypnosis, and meditation, all have the capacity to reach special states of the mind which center upon relaxation. Indeed, hypnosis may be called the most potent non-pharmacological relaxant known to science. However, relaxation in this context signifies more than the common notion of muscular repose. Relaxation may start at the level of the neuromuscular system, but moves inwardly to involve the autonomic nervous system, perception, cognition, the domain of emotions, and from there, the yet poorly charted highest realms of the psyche. Each of these dimensions of relaxation is accompanied be experiential changes which are delineated in the Scale.

Hypnosis, self-hypnosis, and meditation may seem like separate entities. On closer look and in their long term practice, however, they are found to share common principles. Most importantly, they all can bring to light the fruits of greater self-comprehension, relaxed self-control, existential centeredness, and spiritual blossoming.

In the context of a practice that has extended over 20 years and has passed the mark of 500 individuals treated with hypnosis, self-hypnosis, and meditation, it was thought that the creation of a scale could facilitate therapeutic progress in several ways. The opportunity to evaluate one's evolution into the art of producing trance is valuable in terms of stimulating motivation and documenting the attainment of mastery. Furthermore, the items in the scale serve to kindle awareness of trance territories that hitherto may have been overlooked.

This scale is based upon the subjective experiences of over 500 individuals who have experienced trance. Experiences during trance states may vary widely from one individual to the next, and within the same individual in the progression of training. By no means do the experiences included in the Scale provide an exhaustive repertory of all varieties of trance phenomena humans are capable of attaining. Instead, clusters of experiences have been grouped in statistical fashion, with preference lent to those which have been observed to favor the realization of more profound trance dimensions.

The Scale is composed of 20 subscales, each of which is graded from (0) to (5). The goal, on the whole, is not to reach 100. Rather, it is to gauge one's progress over time. It is usually self administered a short time after a trance experience. The experimenter, once having exited from the trance, retroactively recaptures the elements of the trance and grades them according to the Scale. (0) is indicative of no appreciable change from one's usual waking state, while a reading of (5) represents a maximal change in that subscale. Nevertheless, a total score may be calculated, which may then be depicted in graph form.

Progression in every subscale is not necessary for the achievement of trance. Frequently, only a limited number of subscales are implicated in the trance experience; and those are the ones that the experimenter may choose to focus upon and develop. It must be remembered that trances, like fingerprints, manifest themselves in unique ways in every individual. The very highest manifestations of trance, however, may prove to be universal in their expression.

The following experiences are referable to sensations usually associated with the physical body. They include modifications of individual sensory modalities, but as trance depth progresses, they tend to involve global bodily experiences.

Global Physical Relaxation: This is a subjective evaluation of global bodily relaxation. Relaxation, as an all-encompassing dimension involving all levels of body and mind, has no boundaries.
  1. Perceptible relaxation of at least one part of the body i.e., the shoulders, back, arms, legs.
  2. Mild relaxation of the entire body.
  3. Substantial widespread relaxation.
  4. Intense global relaxation. A reading of
  5. is paired with a statement such as, "I have never been so relaxed in my entire life.":

Body Deceleration. The body slows down and physical tranquility expresses itself in progressive disinclination to move and to speak. There is a gradual gravitation of the body to stillness.
  1. Barely perceptible slowdown of breathing and heart rate.
  2. Marked slowdown of breathing and heart rate.
  3. Entire body feels decelerated.
  4. Comfortable immobility.
  5. Profound stillness in the context of relaxation:

Heaviness/Buoyancy. Initially, there may be feelings of either heaviness, or of lightness (buoyancy). As trance progresses, lightness, the sensation of floating, usually takes precedence.
  1. Barely perceptible sensation of heaviness or lightness in arms and/or legs.
  2. Lightness or heaviness extends to entire body.
  3. Merging of heaviness and lightness into a novel sensation.
  4. Floating, weightless sensation.
  5. Sensation of airborne drifting or flying while staying still:

Breathing Awareness. The feelings linked to breathing are progressively intensified.
  1. Perceptible mental connection with muscles involved with breathing.
  2. Sensation of the air touching the inside of the lungs.
  3. Feelings of progressive blending with the lungs.
  4. Sensation of intense merging with the flow and rhythmicity of breathing.
  5. Feelings of energy flowing in the body with each breath:

Body Volume: Body volume is the experience of the volume that the body occupies in space. Eyes closed, in the normal waking state, this volume has a certain constancy. In trance, enlargement of this volume is experienced.
  1. Awareness of body volume.
  2. Perceptible expansion of body volume.
  3. Continued expansion with awareness of connection between breathing and body volume.
  4. Body volume occupies the space of the surrounding room.
  5. The boundaries of the body feel like they extend beyond surrounding physical confines:

Body Configuration: The representation of the shape of the body usually undergoes transformation during trance. In the normal waking state, eyes closed, the shape of the body is well delineated in the mind's eye. In trance, parts merge. Arms, legs, thorax, abdomen, and head become fused.
  1. Awareness of one's body configuration.
  2. Arms are felt in their entirety rather than in their separate elements. Emergence of sensations of blending of the hand, elbow, shoulder, and arm musculature into a unified whole.
  3. Blending of arms and legs. Beginning merging of the extremities with the rest of the body.
  4. Simultaneous awareness of the entire body, inside and out.
  5. The body, totally unified in awareness, feels like a sphere:

Temperature: Within trance, often in response to one's predilection, feelings of warmth or coolness emerge. The experience is somewhat different from the application of a heating pad or an ice pack. Warmth, as is freshness, is experienced as "psychic heat", or as "psychic coolness". Either dimension may accompany progressive trance.
  1. Perceptible heat or coolness in one arm.
  2. Heat or coolness in both arms.
  3. Heat or coolness in both arms and legs.
  4. Entire body, notable sensations of coolness, or warmth.
  5. Merging of warmth and coolness to produce a novel sensation in entire body:

Organ Awareness: This dimension of trance is an extension of the breathing awareness mentioned above. This awareness diffuses into all bodily spaces, and extends to organ systems and their workings.
  1. Awareness of lungs.
  2. Added awareness of heart region.
  3. Added awareness of abdominal region.
  4. Awareness of other structures or organ systems: sexual organs, the spinal cord, structures inside of head.
  5. Experience of ease of mental travel to any of the body's organ system:

The following experiences refer to perceptions usually associated with cognitive dimensions of the mind. The mind's output of language relaxes. The flow of words ebbs. The tides of the emotions grow quieter, then attain stillness. In deep trance, there is a pervasive sense of harmony which is perceived as independent of thoughts, emotions, and mood.

Environment's Distancing. The perception of the environment ës presence usually constantly in attendance in consciousness, recedes. The mind's investment of energy into its surroundings is redirected unto itself.
  1. The feeling of direct connection with the environment relaxes
  2. Beginning autonomy from surroundings is experienced.
  3. Surroundings feel substantially removed from attentiveness.
  4. Surroundings take up a minimal portion of awareness.
  5. Surroundings feel nonexistent and devoid of relevance:

Language Flow. The mind's usual spontaneous generation of words, thoughts, and stream of memories relaxes.
  1. Increased awareness of individual words as they are expressed in their mental form.
  2. At times, increased word flow; most often, perceptibly lower word output.
  3. Diminution of word output and of sentence formation, with presence of truncated grammar
  4. Awareness markedly withdrawn from language.
  5. Complete word silence in the context of profound peacefulness, with the perception of "My identity exists apart from my thoughts":

Sense of Time Flow. The sense of time elapsing is relaxed in trance.
  1. Perceptible lapses in the experience of the continuity of time.
  2. At times, initial increased awareness of time passing, most often followed by decrease, with periods of absent time.
  3. Marked decrease in time awareness with frequent periods of silent or absent time.
  4. Sensation of time standing still.
  5. Sensation of the irrelevance of time passing, in the context of feeling enlightened by this new perception:

Emotions/Mood: Emotions undergo relaxation in trance. Their intensity wanes, and emotional quietude emerges. In the most profound trance the experiencing mind separates itself from emotions. Mood, the ongoing background emotional tone, approaches, then attains a peaceful neutrality.
  1. At times, initial increase in awareness of pre-trance emotional residues; most often, lowering of emotional intensity.
  2. Perceptible softening of emotional tone.
  3. Marked emotional stillness with emerging feelings of harmony.
  4. Pervasive neutrality of mood with serenity.
  5. Disconnection of awareness from emotions and mood, with the feeling that "My identity is separate from my emotions ":

Imagery/Sounds/Colors. This subscale measures the mind's potential for the creation of imagery, which is intensified in trance.
  1. Awareness of eyes-closed visual inner space and/or of auditory space.
  2. Awareness of visual images, dream sequences, sounds, or even music is slightly kindled.
  3. Images begin to appear as they may do in dreams.
  4. Ability to hold images or sounds in the mind begins. Merging of colors and sounds to obtain novel amalgamations.
  5. Images and sounds experienced contain a notion of universal significance:

The following experiences refer to perceptions belonging to what may be called the highest levels of human consciousness. These experiences are described as transcendental and spiritual. Because descriptive terms to denote these complex experiences are often unavailable in our language, the experimenter is asked to intuitively grade the intensity of their manifestation on a scale of (0) to (5).

Energy/Force: Progression into trance often leads to experiences of feelings of energy. Energy is often described as currents, waves, or vibrations coursing through the body. Descriptive terms include feelings of personal power, force, and vitality. In the maximal range of this subscale, the feeling of mental energy reaches concentrated intensity:

Locus of Self. The experiencing of one's self borrows from several dimensions, some physical, some psychological, others spiritual. This subscale gauges the feeling of self in relation to personality as an entity which has a highly individual meaning. In trance, the personal attachment to one's personality relaxes, sometimes profoundly. In the most intense manifestation of this scale, it may be stated "My personality has a relationship to me, but it is not me":

Clarity/Knowledge: In this progression the central feature is a feeling of clarity of understanding. At first there is the experience of the feeling of self knowledge. This feeling of knowing oneself is independent of logic or outward fact. The progression continues to feelings of knowing the world. At the most intense level of this subscale, conundrums or koans such as "Has the universe always existed?" become understandable:

Happiness/Joy: Happiness and joy, as feelings, do not require logical reasons for their existence. Nor do they require the process of thinking in order to be expressed. This progression begins with feelings of enthusiasm for life, optimism, and evolves gradually to joyfulness and elation:

Empathy/Love: This dimension of trance begins with feelings of affection, compassion, and empathy with humankind, and ultimately, to feelings of love for all life:

Peacefulness: This progression begins with feelings of calm, evolving to include experiences of tranquility, serenity, and ultimately, to profound feelings of peacefulness:

Oneness/Unity: The sense of oneself, in the waking state, includes the experiencing of separateness from society and from the world at large. With trance progression, this feeling of separateness recedes. Feelings of unification or amalgamation take its place. The usual perspective of self-centering gives way to feelings of oneness and unity with and within all of life:

Readers are invited to send their commentaries regarding this scale. Personal reports related to the experiencing of any one of the dimensions of trance as outlined above, or any others, are most welcomed. This scale is in progress and is open to ongoing evaluation and modification. It will be modified according to the feedback given to it.

Participants are invited to send their suggestions and comments to the following:

FAX 212-679-8008

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