With a snap, a whim and a hint of audience participation, hypnotist and University of New Hampshire (UNH) alum Paul Ramsay entranced a packed Memorial Union Strafford Room into a night of mind-blowing fun as he led both partakers and spectators on a mental hypnotic journey on Saturday, Sept. 14.
Flanked by an introduction from Assistant Director for Student Leadership David Zamansky and a WMUR-TV camera crew, Ramsay used the 9 p.m. event to introduce and reintroduce his signature “Mind Games” to attending students. The format, according to his website, is “the world’s first TRULY interactive hypnosis show,” made possible by suggestions from the audience aided by technology. In a change from previous shows, he substituted loaned remote controls with the free educational gaming app Kahoot, where students could enter a special pin and participate in polls that would contain a series of options for Ramsay to choose from. He said he switched to Kahoot to allow for less hassle and greater participation.
Following a series of warm-ups featuring people’s hands feeling crushed by books and being stuck together as if they had stuck them in a vat of sticky glue, Ramsay hypnotized the crowd into forgetting their first names, instructing them to store it in the far-reaches of their brain where they could not easily recall it until enabled by a snap of his fingers. The hypnotist then encouraged those who truly felt they had lost their name to come onstage and be tested to see how deep into the trance they were.
After eliminating a handful of the nearly 20 contestants in his search for the best subjects, he threw the remaining 11 participants through a series of activities determined through Kahoot polls. Ultimate scenarios included a western-style duel, a fight scene inspired by HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” a bodybuilding contest and a once-in-a-lifetime concert starring the Jonas Brothers.
The night came to a true head, however, with its final act, as the audience chose a brand-new ending where Ramsay encouraged those onstage to imagine their real-life heroes and embrace feelings of bravery and the ability to overcome life’s challenges with a never-before-seen intensity.
“They’re yours, and you have the right to use them for yourself, for others, in a way that feels right to you that makes the world a better place,” Ramsay told his contestants as Hans Zimmer’s “What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?” from 2013’s “Man of Steel” roared and bellowed through the Strafford’s speakers and the participants rose to embrace a power pose to thunderous applause.
Prior to the games themselves, Ramsay took time to explain to his crowd the truth behind hypnosis, which he said allows people to use their brains in “a slightly different way.” Specifically, he said that hypnosis “shifts” one’s brainwaves by engaging different patterns and frequencies of activity, which – alongside alterations in blood flow and activity in different parts of the brain – can be measured easily today in real-time through brain-imaging systems and MRIs.
“And the reason I’m telling you this is I want you to understand, this is how your brain is built; you are naturally built for what we broadly refer to as ‘trance,’” Ramsay said. “Trance can take on all different shapes and sizes and experiences.” He went on to list daydreaming – also called a “reverie,” where one experiences a deep-enough dream-like vision that it engulfs their vision despite being wide-awake – and “highway hypnosis” – a similar phenomenon that occurs during “monotonous” driving sessions in which the person experiencing the vision drifts in-and-out of the daydream at various intervals – as examples of alternate brain activity achieved through conscious hypnosis.
Using these facts, Ramsay reminded his potential subjects that even though they would be hypnotized and performing acts seemingly beyond their control, they would be awake the entire time and aware of their surroundings and senses.
And as they took in the entirety of the presentation, participants like Brooke Healy expressed positivity toward Ramsay’s performance.
“It was really, like, surreal,” the first-year biomedical science major said. “I knew exactly what I was doing when I was doing it; I knew it was all, like, hypnosis, it was not like I was in another dimension. But it felt so real at the same time. Especially when I woke up, I felt like I took a long nap; like, I was really relaxed.”
Ramsay, who has been a certified hypnotist since 2004, told The New Hampshire that unlike most shows he has hosted at UNH in the past, this time around featured more contestants who had never been hypnotized in their life than those who had.
“So that was different in what was a good way, a fun way for me; I’m always happy to see people that I’ve hypnotized before, but I like sharing it with people [who are] new, too.”
Ramsay said that most students voted for the same options with the exception of the bodybuilding challenge, with Saturday’s show marking the first time that had been picked over the popular dance-off in two years. Regarding the ending act, he explained that he created that ending over this past summer and said that it was designed to “really give the volunteers a gift that I really think can impact their life in a positive way.”
“It’s an attempt by me to get them to discover how to change their own energy and how to change their own emotional state, and hopefully, in having that experience, understand that they can do it anytime they need to, really,” he said.
Regarding the future, which for the hypnotist consists of more weekly college shows across the country and a project called “The Fat Hypnotist” that uses his hypnosis skills to tackle body image in a positive way, Ramsay stresses that while his shows are designed to give the audience and community an hour-and-a-half of entertainment in the short-term, they are also made to make his subjects and their observers better versions of themselves for the long-term.
“I really think it’s helping people see that they can do more than they think can do,” he said. “Hypnosis gives you a way to access more of your inner resources and more of your power so you can do more than you think you can do. And so, if we can get people to do that or be led to think about that through having fun, that’s great; but, ultimately, it’s not just about the fun for me, it’s about [how] I want them to think about that, that they can more than they think they can.”