The first time I came across the concept of past life regression therapy (PLR) was in a campy Bollywood movie when I was 15. I was intrigued by how the movie’s protagonist was shown being lulled into another lifetime through the sedative voice of a hypnotherapist.
That is, until the character realised that she and her on-screen partner were old souls destined to fall in love in each of their lifetimes.
As a sworn skeptic, I found the idea of PLR outlandish and arbitrary. PLR is a controversial technique that uses hypnosis to “recover” memories from a person’s previous lives. I remember a teenaged version of me wondering how someone could simply shut their eyes, count down numbers or imagine a ball of changing colours, and be transported to a different lifetime? Does that mean the cycle of rebirths, kinda like what Hinduism believes in, is for real?
Even though the cynicism stayed with me, I couldn’t help but feel a growing curiosity about what getting hypnotised into my past life would feel like, especially as I read about people trying it to heal their pandemic-induced anxiety.
Would it help me find meaning and purpose? It’s known to help you work with past traumas that help you resolve physical issues in your present life, so would that mean my perennial gut troubles would finally find an answer? Would it resemble an immersive VR experience, or would it just flash me a bad movie with low budget special effects?
So, one pandemic day, when a friend casually mentioned that she had tried PLR, I felt the same old intrigue wash over me. Then, she told me she was hypnotised into a different timeline while on a group video call. The idea that you could transport your mind into a different lifetime with a bunch of strangers sounded so weird and incredible, I knew I had to try it to believe it.
The supposed science of it all
I reached out to Teja Priyadarshini, a certified past life regression therapy practitioner from India, who uses a technique called Quantum Healing Hypnosis Therapy developed by Dolores Cannon, a self-proclaimed hypnotist, past life regressionist and… UFO investigator.
Priyadarshini claims she has healed hundreds through “quantum healing,” a pseudo-scientific technique that induces a trance-like state through visualisation, to take a person into their past life in a state similar to sleepwalking.
I didn’t buy it, and continued to probe: Was there any science behind this? Was it ethical? Would the experience be real or just figments of my imagination fused with imagery from books, movies and TV shows? Priyadarshini had her answers ready: Quantum physics, apparently.
In simple terms, quantum theory hypothesises that a particle can exist at different points within the same dimension, but the point of observation becomes the perceived reality.
“Delta is your sleep state, beta is when you’re awake, and when you’re closing your mind just before you fall asleep, it’s the theta state. This is when you’re opening up portals to your subconscious,” Priyadarshini claimed.
According to her, by being hypnotised into a different timeline, I would essentially be accessing information and memories from parts of my subconscious that don’t spill into my conscious mind. Past life regression, she said, was the first part in identifying whatever issue a person was facing. And a group setting was to be treated as a tester to feel what it’s like to be in a deep state of relaxation, and glance at a previous timeline.
It all sounded a bit like hocus-pocus to me, but I decided to try it anyway. After all, getting hypnotised on a video call probably wasn’t as bad as facing Zoom bombers.
Into the void
It was 7PM on a Friday night when I logged onto the Zoom group call with Priyadarshini and three other participants, who would also journey to their respective past lifetimes. One of the most interesting facets of a group session, Priyadarshini told us, was that it often led to a collective experience in which timelines and experiences synced.
To start off, Priyadarshini made us go through four visualisation exercises. “Imagine a corner of a busy street in a big city,” she said, her voice calm, reassuring but filled with vigour. “Find yourself standing on a fishing pier. Now, you’re at a train station. Now, you’re sitting on a carousel. Take in all the details,” she murmured.
As I closed my eyes and tried to give her directions a visual description, stock imagery from Getty mixed with childhood memories popped into my head. Others had far more expansive experiences here: one shipped herself off to the bustling streets of London, while another saw herself wearing a burqa in Pakistan.
When we told her this, Priyadarshini smiled to indicate the exercise had been successful. After a brief meditation exercise, she asked us to dim the lights, lie on our backs, and prepare to dive into our past lives.
After we’d laid down, she asked us to think about the space we were currently occupying and picture a blank wall. This wall, she said in a relaxing tone, contained a door we had to open. When we opened it, we would see ourselves walking down a long, empty corridor, which we had to follow until we saw a beaming light. She asked us to look directly at the light.
“Now, you are entering your past life,” she exclaimed, her voice controlled, comforting and calculated.
I expected myself to fall into a psychedelia-filled state, with forms and images popping up in my mind like a lucid dream. Instead, all I saw was darkness. My eyes felt fluttery even as my body felt numb. I didn’t feel hypnotised, I felt like I was undergoing sleep paralysis, a sleep disorder that causes your mind to remain awake even as your body stays asleep.
I tried to calm myself and focus on her instructions. “You are now seeing where you used to live,” Priyadarshini continued. “What do you see?”
“Darkness,” I wanted to murmur back, when all of a sudden, an image of an isolated mushroom-shaped hut in a neon green meadow flashed before me. Before I could even process what I had seen, the image was gone. What made it feel so weird was that it wasn’t so much of a stark visual as a distinct feeling inside me that this is what my house once looked like.
“Now, you see the people you live with, you see your family,” instructed Priyadarshini. Again, a fleeting image of a tanned 20-something boy in a white shirt drinking a glass of milk flashed by, gone almost as soon as it came.
As Priyadarshini went on with her narration, fleeting images travelled at lightning speed in my semi-conscious mind. I felt like I had blonde hair that I wore plaited, but still didn’t know what I actually looked like. I sensed a village fair with dancing women wearing aprons, and somehow just felt like that was an important day in my life, but I had no idea why. I didn’t know what I did for a living but I did know it had something to do with a rake. And when she asked us to think of our last day in that lifetime, the day we died, a semicircular ring of fire appeared as I watched it from a height, though within seconds, it was all dark again.
After about half an hour, Priyadarshini asked us to slowly open our eyes. It felt like mine had never closed to begin with.
I had gone in with the expectation that the experience would be immersive, like one of those vivid fever dreams you can’t shake off. But what I saw left me with more questions than answers. I couldn’t tell if it was all real or just figments of my imagination. My inner skeptic already had an answer, but I decided to give Priyadarshini a chance to explain.
“This either happens when you’re anxious and afraid to give up control, or when your subconscious is not ready to show you the trauma you may have gone through in your past life,” she explained. She added that since this was a group experience, it didn’t delve as deeply into the experience as a one-on-one session might’ve, which would have allowed her to ensure my mind was in a deep, relaxed state to experience another life at full throttle.
The other participants, however, had scintillating stories to tell.
“I saw myself as a multicoloured flying creature with protruding eyes ,” recounted Ramona, a participant who requested VICE to only use her first name, and who, at the start of the session, had warned Priyadarshini that she can’t be hypnotised. “I saw palaces and a mirror-like water body.”
Meanwhile, Mona, another participant who preferred we only use her first name, saw herself as a princess in a medieval European castle in the 19th century. She had the distinct feeling that she had fallen asleep for many years after one particular party at the castle. It low-key sounded like the plot of Sleeping Beauty, but I felt enthralled, and a little jealous, nonetheless.
Shireen, a participant with visual impairment, had an experience closest to mine, and felt like her subconscious was constantly invaded by her conscious mind to mimic memories and past experiences from this lifetime. Most notably though, she felt like she had a genderless identity. “I felt like I was wearing a long, flowing, traditionally feminine dress, but that I didn’t have a gender,” she described her intriguing visuals.
What it all meant
A few days later, I spoke to Priyadarshini to try and make sense of the images that’d flashed in my mind. “From the symbols you describe, I keep seeing witch trials,” she theorised. “It could have been in the 1800s in the U.S. or Europe when witches were being hunted and burnt at the stake, which is why you must have seen the ring of fire and the rake, both of which were used in the hunt.”
She also claimed that in such cases, the reason I did not have a vivid experience could be because my subconscious felt I wasn’t ready. “It can be very traumatic to jump right into something like that in a group session, so probably your subconscious was [holding you back],” she said.
I guess I would never really know whether what I saw was real or just a rehash of elements from a Game of Thrones episode. As for my gut, it remained as troubled as ever, with no element in my past life helping me distinguish anxiety from acidity.
Still, at least I spent a Friday night going inside since I couldn’t go outside.