In this anxiety-ridden time, tightly wound New Yorkers are turning to healing practices more commonly associated with New Age-y desert retreats than with the city that never sleeps. But a new crop of hypnotherapists — who dispel outdated notions of witch doctors and carnival tricks — say business is booming.
“Hypnosis has nothing to do with this magical malarkey that you’ve seen in the past or in movies,” says Manjit Devgun, a corporate mind coach whose clients include executives from companies like Chanel, the New York Times, Gates Ventures and Squarespace.
In a typical session, Devgun gets her client comfortable either laying down or sitting in a soft chair, sometimes with a blanket. She’ll lead them through deep breathing and visualization exercises.
“I’ll ask them to take in the environment and then close their eyes, noting that they are safe and are in control of their mind journey, and that they can open their eyes at any time they wish,” she says. “I’ll then ask things like ‘What does it feel like when you‘ve already conquered your presentation?’ I take people through times in their lives when their subconscious mind shows them they’ve been successful.”
In December 2020, Devgun — a former Chanel fashion advisor who grew up learning about yoga and reiki in her traditional Sikh family — launched her eponymous app, Manjit. It’s filled with breathing and meditation exercises meant to help with everything from energy and motivation to sleep and empathy.
She says that in the past six months, the majority of her clients have switched from wanting meditation sessions to requesting hypnosis.
“In hypnosis, you can repattern your way of thinking. When you do this continuously, you start to change the way you feel from a subconscious level. That’s really what hypnosis is about: repatterning the brain in a way that feels safe and secure.” (Her in-person sessions start at $175 per hour.)
And it couldn’t come at a better time, according to Nicole Hernandez, a “resident healer” at the Four Seasons Hotel Downtown New York. She explains that the pandemic forced many formerly kinetic New Yorkers to slow down — a novel stillness that can create discomfort.
Hernandez previously worked in public relations and marketing and was admittedly “totally dismissive” several years ago when a colleague suggested hypnosis could improve her own crippling anxiety, which had led to hair loss and severe stomach pains.
“I thought it was such a granola, ‘woo-woo’ thing,” she says.
To her surprise, hypnotherapy helped Hernandez regain her health. She cites studies by Dr. David Spiegel, medical director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, establishing links between hypnosis and pain management.
Hernandez now offers sessions that mix spirituality, guided breathing and homework assignments like journaling, all with the goal of getting her clients to retrain potentially destructive or limiting thought patterns. She typically encourages a minimum of three sessions ($285 per hour at the Four Seasons Downtown).
“The goal is to create a point of focus, and from there it’s really about guiding through imagery to help activate the parasympathetic nervous system and allow themselves to create a space for profound insight to surface from their subconscious,” she explains.
The pandemic, Hernandez says, has spurred requests for her services, with her web traffic going from about 70 visits per month in March 2020 to nearly 500 visits last month. Many of her clients are women working in tech and finance.
“It’s important to be able to appreciate all parts of ourselves, not just the socially championed ones, and to embrace the comedy of our lives,” she says. “A lot of us lost our sense of self as children, when we were told we had to be a certain way. Hopefully we get out of the box that’s been created for us.”
Indeed, Devgun says when it’s done correctly, hypnosis reinforces her clients’ often dormant sense of self.
“I teach people how to breathe, just reminding them of what we all already know: We all want to be loved, we all want to be seen and to be truthful to our individual path,” she says, adding that offering compassion and encouraging her clients’ eventual autonomy is essential to her work.
“Meditation has become very reductive, very ‘Let’s reduce stress so we can make lots of money,’ ” she reflects. “But it’s really rooted in showing up as the best version of yourself, as a kinder, more compassionate person, enlightening yourself, so you can help others.”