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Mystic masseurs of the mind

It had been a year since his divorce, but Darayash Gocal still felt pangs of guilt about the whole messy affair. “I tried to put the past behind me, but could not,” recalls Gocal, a 33-year-old Mumbai-based event manager.

So Gocal decided to face his past — head-on. He signed up for a hypnotherapy and past life regression therapy (PLRT) session at Mumbai’s Light of Life Institute. “With therapy, he was able to release all his guilt,” says Jyotika Chibber, founder, Light of Life Institute.

“I viewed six past lives and a future one. I found answers to all my anxieties,” claims Gocal. In one life, Gocal says he saw himself working in a tea garden with his mother. When a snake bit his mother, he sank into depression. And space scientists can chew on this — in yet another past life Gocal saw himself living on another planet. “Two planets were colliding and I was supervising a mass evacuation of my species,” he says. Gocal has been undergoing PLRT sessions for two years now — for which he pays Rs 1,500 per session.

Rationalists may scoff at Gocal and his ilk — those who swear by therapies such as past life regression and claim that they can cure a multitude of maladies. But the fact is that from PLRT to hypnosis, from spirit release therapy to ghost hunting workshops, alternative therapies that verge on the paranormal are the hottest selling treatments in India today.

Just take a look at Jyotika Chibber’s work week. “I see 20 clients a week and work till 10 pm every day,” says Chibber. She claims that her client list includes industrialists, executives, professors, doctors and engineers and that she’s cured problems ranging from Alzheimer’s, hyperthyroidism, osteoarthritis to insomnia and aggression.

In an angst-ridden urban world, the market for alternative healing is multiplying rapidly, say psychologists. “Urban India is undergoing rapid social change. Young people are looking for moorings to make life stable,” says Dayal Mirchandani, co-founder, Behavioural Science Foundation, Mumbai. He adds that a generation ago, religion acted as a social anchor. “But this is an age of quick money, quick religion. So the youth look for magical methods to resolve issues,” adds Mirchandani.

Agrees Ajit Bhide, head of department, psychiatry, St Martha’s Hospital, Bangalore. “Young people want immediate solutions which traditional psychology doesn't give. So hypnosis — which is a one-session-wonder treatment — is a hit,” he says.

Even those in non-metro cities are cashing in on the trend. Y. Sreehari, who runs a hypnotherapy clinic in Vishakhapatnam, says he treats 30 patients a day. “People come to me with problems like anxiety, tension, depression and phobias. My hands are full with work,” he says.

Alternative therapies are not only popular with patients. With the boom in this field, many people are also lining up to become practitioners of alternative therapies. Yuvraj Kapadia, CEO, California Hypnosis Institute of India (CHII), Mumbai, says the number of people training in clinical hypnotherapy and PLRT at the institute have grown three-fold in the last one year. “I trained 170 students last year and 570 this year. Like the software job boom, hypnotherapy and past life regression has become the hot new career option,” claims Kapadia.

Training in time travel does not come cheap, though. Students need to cough up Rs 65,000 for the three-level course at CHII.

Some choose to study hypnosis and PLR at CHII for self-cure. Mumbai-based hotel management graduate Aadheer Warriar says he learnt hypnosis to stay positive. “I practise hypnosis when I feel stressed. It helps me to stay confident,” he says. Kapadia feels that people like Warriar represent the archetypal urban Indian struggling to cope with growing stress levels. “As stress levels rise, people are looking for self-help tools like hypnosis, reiki and yoga,” he says.

Even sportspersons are turning to these therapies to achieve a sense of well being and calm. Pradeep Aggarwal, who set up the Institute of Mind Control and Development, in Hyderabad in 1994, uses hypnotherapy to help sportspersons improve their performance. He has worked with cricketers, squash players, boxers, footballers, weight lifters and golfers. “Hypnotherapy helps sportspersons focus better,” says Aggarwal, who is currently conducting workshops for power lifters in Jaipur.

Videos of his hypnosis sessions on YouTube and Google are huge hits, claims Aggarwal. “My videos have got about 10,000 views,” he says.

Of course, many psychiatrists dismiss the growing popularity of PLRT as a passing fad. “PLRT was a fad in the US but is dying out now. All kinds of new age things keep coming up,” says Mirchandani.

But though people like Mirchandani may look upon hypnosis et al as just a temporary craze, for now at least, more and more people seem to be coming under the sway of these therapies. In Hyderabad, an association of doctors practising alternative therapies — the New Age Doctor’s Association (NADA) — was established last year. Currently, NADA has 1,000 members, who practise 250 different streams of alternative therapies. Among them, hypnotherapists form the largest chunk. “NADA provides a voice to doctors practising alternate therapies,” says G.R. Yughandhar, founder, NADA.

NADA has created a platform called Continued Medico Spiritual Education, in which doctors and spiritualists are invited to give talks on alternate medicines. In April next year, the association will conduct seminars in eight cities across India.

If you are wont to dismiss them as quacks, bear in mind that well-established psychologists too are cashing in on the popularity of these therapies. Sanjay Chugh, who runs a super-specialty psychiatry clinic in Delhi, incorporated past life regression therapy into his practice last year. “I was looking for a new treatment option for problems that cannot be treated by conventional methods,” says Chugh. He found PLRT “interesting and useful” and says he uses it to treat depression, phobias, panic disorders and addictions. Although Chugh doesn’t keep track of numbers, he claims the number of patients seeking PLRT has grown substantially in recent years.

Indeed, such is the craze for alternative therapies in India that New Zealand national Mark Beale chose Bangalore to set up his hypnotherapy and PLRT practice. Two years ago, two-thirds of his clients at Beale’s Evolve Hypnosis Clinic in Bangalore were interested in hypnotherapy and the rest in PLRT. “Today, two-thirds are interested in PLRT,” he says. He adds that most of his clients are IT professionals who are trying to beat stress or looking to improve their confidence levels and communication skills. Beale recently used hypnotherapy to improve the public speaking skills of an IT professional who wanted to move from a technical to a managerial role in his company.

And when it comes to alternative therapies, sometimes it’s wackier the better. In Delhi, spirit release therapist Sangeeta Gupta says that she treats five patients a week on weekdays, and many more on weekends. “I use hypnosis to speak with the spirit attached to a person,” claims Gupta. She adds that she recently treated a Gurgaon-based software engineer whose grandmother’s spirit had entered his body. Gupta charges Rs 1,500 for a one-hour therapy session.

And if spirit release therapy is not your cup of tea, maybe you could try a spot of ghost-hunting. Prabhakaran, proprietor, Karan’s Hypnosis Centre, Bangalore, will soon organise a ghost-hunting workshop. “It will help people experience the paranormal,” he says. He adds that 15 people — mostly IT professionals — have signed up for the workshop. “Most people have joined it for a thrill,” says Prabhakaran.

Spirit-stalking may be fun, but “regressing into past lives” can sometimes turn dangerous. Mirchandani knows of a case where PLRT broke up a marriage. “A husband went into a past life where he saw his wife poisoning him. It made their marriage worse and they split up,” he says.

Mirchandani believes there is nothing scientific about PLRT. “What is odd is that most people imagine themselves to be kings, queens and military generals in their past lives,” he adds.

A Mumbai-based chartered accountant, Kapil Purohit, found lumps of hair scattered on his pillow every morning. Instead of taking Vitamin E tablets, he visited CHII’s Kapadia for a past life session. Purohit “regressed” to a life where he saw that he was a Maratha general’s wife who cheated on her husband. Her husband dragged her by her hair to the king’s court where she was lashed. “Purohit’s hair fall stopped after the PLRT,” claims Kapadia.

Well, believe it or not, is all we can say.

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