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In the hypnotist's chair

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I shifted in the cheap wooden auditorium seat.

It was 2006 and I was a senior in high school.

A hypnotist was brought in as an end-of-the-night show for prom.

I squinted my eyes and tapped my foot as the man on stage spoke in a soft, easy voice.

“Come on, work,” I remember thinking to myself. My eyelids grew tense and I let out a deep sigh.

The hypnotist asked all those under his trance to rise. I was left in my chair.

That was my first experience with hypnotism. And it was a failure.

Jump ahead seven years to the present.

I haven’t given hypnotism more than a skeptical thought.

I’ve heard all the rumors, and frankly I believed some of them.

You lose complete control of yourself. The hypnotist will make you bark like a dog or walk around like a duck. It’s witchcraft.

So what better way to find out if they were true than to throw myself right in.

Brainerd hypnotist Karie Svoboda agreed to put me under.

I walked in Svoboda’s small, olive-colored Brainerd office.

Soft music came from the computer, a mix crafted especially for hypnotism. The fluorescent lights were low, about half of the bulbs were taken out by Svoboda to better set the mood. A cloud of a chair, or the “healing chair” as Svoboda calls it, sat near a maroon drape-covered window. Water trickled from a mini fountain.

Everything seemed normal so far. There were no books of black magic on the shelves. No black robe; Svoboda wore jeans, tennis shoes and a floral patterned shirt. Photos of her 9-year-old daughter and family members hung on a clipboard above her desk.

Today, Svoboda would be doing a stress session with me. That is, if my conscious mind would allow her.

The pesky conscious mind, the one thing that could prevent me from a stress-free life.

The conscious mind, Svoboda explained, keeps the subconscious part safe from being opened up. That’s where things like childhood thoughts, bad habits and memories of past lives (if you believe in that sort of thing) are stored.

I leaned back in the cloud, I mean the healing chair, and pulled a blue fleece blanket across my lap.

Her first request of me was to imagine myself in calm place. That was easy: walking through the woods in the Brainerd lakes area. Those trees caught my attention when I first visited more than a year ago. They were what made me fall in love with central Minnesota.

Count down from five, she said, taking deep breaths with each number.

I gripped blanket in my lap.

“Five, four, three, two, one,” I repeated in my head.

Another round of counting down, this time mentally allowing my eyelids to become relaxed.

Nothing could bother me, Svoboda said softly.

Imagine a chalk board, she told me. My mind went back to the dusty green boards I always dreaded being called up to in elementary school. Back then, I was charged with coming up with an answer to some impossible math problem. Today, however, I was just writing the numbers she called out.

A giant number five in white chalk, then a four in yellow, three in pink, two in purple and one in blue.

Svoboda then brought me back to the trail I was hiking on earlier. I came across a small creek. A smile inched across my face as the icy water touched my finger tips. The water was cold. Very cold.

The smile was there in real life, too, which I found out later after I watched the video of my hypnotism.

I don’t remember the whole session, which apparently lasted 30 minutes and not the five minutes I thought.

That’s typical, Svoboda explained. Some people remember everything, while some can just piece together a few things.

Svoboda counted me down and brought me out of the trance.

My eyelids lifted without any thought. My hands and feet were heavy. It was like I had woken up from a long, deep sleep.

Keep using the counting back from five concept when stress comes up, Svoboda said. That will bring me back to the de-stressing techniques she led me through in our session.

The session was like a trance. It was a weird state of not really being in the room, but I still knew what was happening.

And I felt at peace when it was over. I was happy and nothing bothered me.

So I headed back to the newsroom, and was greeted by my cluster of Post-it note to-do lists glued across my desk and a red voicemail light.

Five, four, three, two, one.

JESSICA LARSEN may be reached at or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at