Guided imagery is a completely natural, non-invasive technique that is employed by some doctors and psychologists, as well as many healers in the fields of holistic and alternative medicine. It can be used to help someone overcome a physical ailment by aiding the body’s inherent abilities to heal itself, or it can be used to help someone overcome an emotional or mental ailment. This practice has also been used to help individuals release stress, meet their goals, feel better about themselves, and rid themselves of emotional scars.
Although it is often categorized as a form of hypnotherapy, which you can learn more about by reading this blog post, the person being treated is not put into a state of hypnosis in which they have no control over their thoughts and actions. Rather, an expert trained in guided imagery will work with patients individually or in small groups to instruct them on how to direct their thoughts towards specific images that will help heal them and put them in control over their thoughts and feelings. Relaxation and breathing techniques are often used at the beginning of a guided imagery session, making it very similar to preparing for a deep meditation that will calm and center the mind and body. And by the end of the session, the goal is to gently coax the mind towards solutions to problems an individual is facing.
Different Types of Guided Imagery
Guided imagery sessions can range from simple to complex. And there are many different types of guided imagery that can be used for various purposes. For example, for healing, a patient may be instructed to visualize the white blood cells of the body killing harmful invaders. An athlete, on the other hand, may prepare for a big event by imagining himself winning a race or performing perfectly. The purpose behind each session is different because one is like a self-healing meditation while the other is hoping to prepare the body for a challenge. But the sessions are also very similar to one another in the sense that you are putting the mind in control over the body and training the body in how to behave in order to reach a goal.
The foundation of energetic imagery lies in the belief that abundant energy that flows freely throughout the body leads to good health. This philosophy is shared by many natural healing modalities, including Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. Using guided imagery, a patient can get blocked energy flowing again in order to promote healing from within.
Feeling State Imagery
Whenever you are stressed or in a bad mood, you can use feeling state imagery to bring yourself into a more positive frame of mind. By flooding the mind with, and focusing on, images that are associated with emotions like love, safety, comfort, and peace, you can push away feelings of anger, anxiety, fear, and resentment.
For those who have more serious physical ailments to contend with, physiological imagery can coax the body to become charged with healing energy. For example, someone suffering with cardiovascular illness can envision the arteries opening up and allowing the blood to flow to every part of the body. A patient with cancer may envision the immune system attacking cancerous cells and feel the tumors shrinking and disappearing.
This guided mediation is best done under the guidance of an expert because you need a bit of technical knowledge to do it correctly. Its primary focus is upon cells functioning optimally. For example, if you were suffering with diabetes, you would imagine insulin attaching itself onto cells that need it for energy. And if you had asthma, you may imagine your mast cells being less reactive to particles. Again, because this type of guided imagery has a lot to do with your anatomy on a cellular level and the complex interactions between cells, it is not as easily accessible as other forms of guided imagery unless you have an expert to help you.
For individuals suffering with emotional problems, such as feelings of isolation, despair, grief, or even self-hate, psychological imagery can teach the mind to correct these negative emotions and replace them with their positive counterparts. Someone who is feeling very lonely would be taught to imagine a crowd of loving friends and family at their side. Teaching someone to have a sense of gratitude for the self is a way to release feelings of self-doubt or unworthiness.
End State Imagery
This type of guided imagery can also be referred to as a mental rehearsal in which you envision yourself accomplishing something before you do it. For example, it may be playing an instrument brilliantly during an upcoming concert or scoring points during a sporting event. Or it can even be used to heal the body by imagining it strong and free of disease. The point of this type of guided imagery is essentially to envision what you want the end goal to look like. This teaches your body how it should perform and releases the subconscious knowledge it needs to get to where you want it to be.
This type of imagery focuses on opening up the heart and increasing compassion and your connection with all living things within the whole universe. You may envision being protected by guides, angels, animals, and loved ones who have passed on. It also helps you to reach higher states of consciousness and find peace.
This form of guided imagery allows you to use symbols that represent what you want to achieve. For example, if you want to feel freer, you may envision a bird flying and what that feels like. Or to become more creative, you may imagine a flower blooming as a representation of your mind opening up and showing off its beauty in the form of a poem or song.
How to Enhance the Effects of Guided Imagery
Guided imagery can be used by people of all ages, even children. But there are certain steps you can take in order to make the practice even more effective.
- Guided imagery becomes more powerful every time you do it, so set aside some time on a regular schedule to let your mind go and focus on something positive and nourishing.
- There are many ways to reap the benefits of guided imagery, so there is no single “right way” to do it that you need to master. Instead, focus on the main goal, which is to be as relaxed and open-minded as possible.
- You can use no music at all or you can include music during your guided imagery session in order to enhance its effects.
- Don’t be afraid to express your emotions, as this means the imagery is doing its job. Whatever feelings arise, recognize them and release them. But focus more on positive emotions that you want to enhance during each session in order to avoid falling into the trap of focusing too much on negative ones.
- Position your body and your hands in the same way during each guided imagery session. Then use these same postures when you’re feeling stressed in your daily life in order to elicit the same positive, calm feelings you had during your healing session.
- To avoid falling asleep, keep your eyes half-open or sit up just as you would during a mindfulness meditation. But don’t worry if you fall asleep, as your mind will still be listening subconsciously if you are following a recording. And don’t get mad at yourself if your mind wanders off, as this is a natural part of the process, especially as you are learning at the beginning.
- Don’t be alarmed if you start to feel physical sensations, such as minor tingling or muscle movements, heaviness, coughing, yawning, or even tears and a runny nose, as these are normal byproducts of a healing guided imagery session.
- Try to engage all of your senses. Imagine what something looks like in detail, or what it tastes, sounds, or smells like, or how it feels against your skin. Invoke the pleasant emotions of a happy experience with loved ones. The more you can involve all of your senses and feelings, the more “real” the imagery becomes within your mind, and the more your body will respond to what is going on in your imagination.
By tapping into the power of your imagination and its ability to serve as a tool to access your subconscious and the wisdom that is stored there, you can use guided imagery to improve the connection between your mind and your body. What you imagine in your mind actually becomes more real to your body, which learns what it needs to do to heal itself, release tension and anxiety, and meet challenges with a positive attitude to overcome difficulties.
Employing guided imagery over a long period of time can help you change your behaviors and habits for the better so that even those problems that you have been dealing with for years begin to fall away. Just as you would use self-hypnosis to bring about positive changes in your life through the programming of your subconscious mind, guided imagery works on a deep level, yet in a gentle and surprisingly effective manner that anyone can benefit from.