The nearest I'd come to hypnosis was watching a man eat a raw onion on stage once, after a showman in a velvet jacket told him it was a juicy apple.

He got people to bark like dogs and pretend to do a strip-tease. It was all a bit theatre of cruelty' and I decided I'd never go under the spell of a hypnotist.

So when faced with undergoing hypnosis and writing about the experience, I was apprehensive. What if I slipped into past life regression and discovered I used to be Genghis Khan? What if I retreated into infancy, curled up in the foetal position sucking my thumb?

I was uneasy about going under' and losing control. But as soon as I met Yorkshire life coach Lisa Clifford, who helps people overcome phobias and bad habits through hypnosis programmes, I felt at ease.

Lisa is a vitality coach and master practitioner of hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Trained by Paul McKenna, she focuses on physical and mental well-being, placing emphasis on how the mind can create a positive outlook.

Positive thinking has helped her to walk over hot coals - "I kept telling myself it was cool moss" - and broken glass. She walked into an arrow pointed on her throat and smashed a block of wood with her fist. I thought of the Shaolin Warriors I once saw, using breathing techniques to focus energy onto their body, enabling them to walk along knife blades and smash bricks with their heads.

"Your mind creates the state you're in," said Lisa. "I've climbed Kilimanjaro and did the Three Peaks in 24 hours. I kept thinking I can do this'."

Lisa is the picture of good health and vitality. After we'd chatted for a while I picked up some of her positive vibes. I'd expected pyscho-babble, but her words made sense.

"The mind doesn't recognise negatives," Lisa told me. "It looks for positive approaches. But whatever we say to ourselves becomes an instruction; if you get out of bed in a bad mood, stub your toe and tell yourself today is going to be one of those days' it probably will be. You mind hears you saying that and thinks you want to keep it that way.

"If you look in the mirror and say my backside looks fat' your mind hears the word fat'. Your eyes will find what you send them to look for.

"There's an energy behind every thought - if you think the worst, your unconscious mind will prove you right. Ask for what you want, not what you don't want."

I tend to approach life with an ingrained cynicism, partly because of my job - journalists are suspicious, questioning creatures - and partly because I've always been a realist. Realism, rather than optimism, is my self-preservation mechanism.

Through talking to Lisa, I realised how negative this seems. She talked about visualising a more positive self image.

"Generally we're too hard on ourselves," she said. "Instead of looking at our good points, we see ourselves as unlucky' or we don't like ourselves - that's when we're in danger of becoming a victim, which is disempowering. We see ourselves from just one perspective, but there's more than one perspective in life.

"We use hypnosis on ourselves without knowing it. When we scold ourselves it goes into the unconscious mind. Negative thinking produces negative results. Like attracts like."

Lisa, 37, tackles a range of problems through hypnosis and positive thinking techniques; she helps clients quit smoking, cope with fear of flying, lose weight, and deal with illness and stress. She also runs mind-management workshops and motivational training for businesses.

She's living proof that her methods work, having used them to lose nearly 3st in recent months.

Lisa used hypnosis and visualisation techniques to change her attitude towards food and develop a healthier lifestyle. "In the first month I'd lost a stone," she said.

She'd asked previously what I wanted to tackle with hypnosis. Like her, my goal was to adopt and stick to a healthy eating plan. To overcome cravings she used NLP, the study of the brain's language, telling herself that food that won't give her energy is unnecessary.

"Energy is like fire to a steam engine," she said. "Eating unhealthy food is like throwing water on to the fire, it stops the engine. The idea is to look at what food can do for you, cause and effect. What's your food weakness?"

I said it was probably Chinese takeaways. "Think about the effect of eating a takeaway," said Lisa. "You'll enjoy the first few mouthfuls but won't really taste the rest. Afterwards you'll feel bloated and annoyed with yourself. What good food do you enjoy?"

Vegetables, came my reply. And yes, now I thought about it, when I eat vegetables I taste them all and don't feel bloated.

"It's about the how' and why'," said Lisa. "The how' is cutting out fatty food, bread, dairy, monosodium glutomate, alcohol and coffee" - not particularly exciting - but the why' is getting into good clothes, feeling better, having more energy and vitality."

Having talked through basic principles of visualisation technique, Lisa demonstrated exercises using kinesiology, the science of human movement.

I lifted my right arm in front, touching Lisa's hand, and said Yes, yes, yes' out loud. My arm started to rise. Then I did the same, this time saying No, no, no' and my arm fell to my side. Then I stretched my arm behind me, focussing on a point in the room.

Then I looked behind to a point beyond that, then did the arm thing again and discovered I could stretch further.

"You're telling yourself you can reach further, creating positivity," said Lisa. "You can get there - you just need to know where you're going."

She told me I'm carrying emotional stress in my stomach, (funny, I thought I was carrying that cheese sandwich I'd had for lunch). "We hold emotions in our tummies, think of when you get butterflies," said Lisa. "Our bodies hold weight like a shield."

Then she showed me how to guide energy up the central meridian of my body, moving my hand from my tummy to my bottom lip. "It's zipping up your positive energy," she said, advising me to do this several times a day.

For the hypnosis, I lay on a sofa and closed my eyes, (we'd borrowed my friend's Gomersal home for the session as it's more spacious and less cluttered than my little flat).

Lisa told me to count down from 500 and while I did so she spoke to my unconscious mind. I was focused on counting but heard most of what she was saying. Her voice slowed down, asking me to think of when I was totally relaxed. I thought of poolside catnaps on holiday in Portugal last summer, the sun wrapped around me like a blanket.

Then Lisa said to stop counting and visualise the numbers floating into the air, like balloons. As they did so I sank into a deeper relaxation. My breathing slowed down.

"You're at the top of ten stairs," said Lisa. "Go down, slowly, to somewhere you felt safe and happy." I recalled family camping trips in the Dales, sitting outside our tent watching the river. Then Lisa said to visualise what I wanted to look like. I tried to think thin', sitting by the river in my happy place.

"Now I'm going to count to five, you'll open your eyes and feel vibrant and awake," said Lisa. I was in such a deep state of relaxation that I couldn't imagine coming round and leaping off the sofa with vibrancy.

But, sure enough, when Lisa counted to five I opened my eyes and felt like I'd awoken from a really good night's sleep.

You can't fail to spend a couple of hours with Lisa and not feel uplifted and positive. I just hope it lasts. What was that about my central meridian again..?

  • Lisa Clifford's hypnosis programmes involve six sessions. She also runs a Vitality healthy eating plan. For more information ring her on 07795 634671.