Autohypnosis vs. deep relaxation training vs. meditation: what's the diff?

After a recent consult with my physician, he suggested I take some lessons in “progressive neuromuscular relaxation” so as to control my stress response. A friend, however, said I should learn autohypnosis, while another friend suggested meditation.

What is the difference between these? It seems to me all three focus on helping you learn how to empty your mind and relax your body.

Any studies that show one works better than the other–or they basically the same thing, but with different packaging?

I used to teach intro psych, and we had sections on hypnosis and meditation. They’re fairly identical. In both, you start off by putting yourself into a relaxed state. Both taught you to let distracting thoughts pass by (since you really cannot truly empty your mind). The point of both was to relax you. You can perform both on others or on yourself.

As far as I can tell, in meditation, everything is confined to your imagination. You imagine yourself walking through a serene rainforest, smelling the moist earth, feeling the leaves beneath your feet, listening to the gurgle of a creek or the chirp of frogs and birds and insects. Or whatever other environment you or your guide chooses.

In hypnosis, natural, non-conscious physiological actions were used in conjunction with imagery. For example, I’d ask my students to hold their hands out, arm extended, and ask them to imagine a brick had been placed on their hands. I then told them that were “feeling” the weight of the brick making their arm waver. Without fail, some students’ arms would immediately start wavering. Of course, there was no brick-- the actual cause of the wavering was the arm muscles fatiguing from being held out for so long.

If there’s further difference between the two, I’m not aware of it. I am, however, by no means an expert on it. But given that your primary interest in both isn’t scholarly in nature, but to reap the potential relaxation benefits, I doubt you’d detect any end-result difference between the two.