The Complete Guide To – Guided Imagery For Wellness

It’s Time To Imagine Wellness To Achieve Wellness

All of us worry. We’re stressed out by work, family, money, what’s on the news, the weather – it is endless. We turn over our troubles and examine them from all angles, and while that may be a natural, human function, it can turn into a nasty habit, which manifests itself into all kinds of health problems, mental and physical.

Worrying wastes time that could be used much more productively. Moreover, it makes us feel out of control, pessimistic and anxious. Darwin Gross says, “It is through the imagination that the formless takes form.” 

Since worrying is a function of your imagination, you can opt to put your imagination into better use. 

Focus on the positive through guided imagery.

Practicing guided imagery doesn’t stop you from worrying, it teaches you how to worry more effectively. 

  • You become better at focusing on the areas in your life where you can actually make a change. 
  • You start to ignore all the unproductive worrying, which affects your heart rate and blood pressure in a negative way.

Overall, stress, worry and all the other negative elements of life have a negative effect on our wellness and subsequently our quality of life. 

Wellness is defined as the state of health in both mind and body that is the result of a deliberate effort. This deliberate effort can take many forms, one of which is guided imagery, which can greatly boost your general wellness and improve your quality of life.

Yes, imagining wellness can greatly improve wellness!

What Is Guided Imagery

A guided image is a positive scenario we manifest with all of our senses with the aim of communicating favorable change in the body and mind. 

Sometimes all of our senses come together in our guided image and we feel them together very strongly. Sometimes it is just one sense, or two working together.

The fact that guided imagery is so much more than just visualizing is what makes it so successful. Since only 55% of the population is ‘visual’, it is a good think that guided imagery is so much more than just using the visual sense. 

It involves all of our senses, as well as our emotions and our whole bodies in most cases. This cohesive fusion is what gives this healing art such a powerful bearing.

Every one of us is familiar with mental images. Our brains formed them long before we learned what it meant to communicate with others. 

In addition, it is these mental images that we have been forming since our first days as babies and it is where our beliefs and feelings lie. They strongly affect and motivate our fears, state of wellness in both mind and body and how we feel about taking care of ourselves.

Through the directions and suggestions of an instructor, recording or written script, guided imagery uses your imagination to lead us toward a state of focus and repose. 

Whichever ‘guide’ you choose, it is important to remember that its role is to facilitate the process of conjuring up mental images, and how to utilize them once they have been achieved.

Just as there several methods of how you can be guided, there are several guided techniques which can be used to conjure up certain images in your subconscious to help you get in touch with certain parts of your conscious mind.

These techniques include:

  • Visualization
  • Direct image suggestion
  • Metaphor
  • Story-telling
  • Fantasy exploration
  • Game playing 
  • Dream interpretation
  • Drawing
  • Active imagination

Since healing rituals all focus on manipulating our mental images for a peaceful, curative state, then it can be said that guided imagery is one of the first and most universally known forms of healing. 

There are studies that have been carried out that indicate how imagery can have the ability to stimulate the nervous and immune systems and enhance endocrine responses to speed up the healing process.

The basis of this ancient art of healing lies in the fact that your mind and body are inter-connected intertwined. Whether you realize it or not, your body responds to your thoughts and acts upon them as though they were real. 

These images can be a source of vital information about a certain problem, physical or mental. It can also be a reflection of how one believes about his or her own expectations, fears, solutions to the problem and resources on how to solve the problem. It is self-efficacy and self-empowerment working simultaneously.

The best part about guided imagery is that it looks at the person as a whole and not just one problem he may be enduring. 

This gives you a sense of liberation and authorization so that you can solve any problem from that point on. 

Reaching a point of self-awareness, you have the power to encourage healing while making the necessary lifestyle changes that inspire and maintain healing.

Three Principles Of Guided Imagery

There are three rather straightforward, very reasonable principles, which lay the groundwork for guided imagery:

1. The Mind-Body Connection

What we have to understand about your body is that it has faith in whatever mental image you present it with, so much so that it believes that it is the actual truth. The mind is quite good at constructing full-blown, believable images to the extent that when we think of a certain food, we start to salivate. 

You might start to think of how it looks on your plate, what it smells like and how it feels as you’re chewing it. As your imagination is busy with all of that, your body is getting for the meal that it is about to be served.

2. The Altered State

This is the state where we are the most creative, and where our healing and growth increases rapidly. Our brainwave activities and biochemistry shift due to this potent mind-state, changing with it our mood and mindfulness. 

This state has been referred to as a type of ‘energized alertness’ but there’s also a sense of calmness that surrounds you. You will be able to gather up all your focus on the object of your attention, and your awareness of other things around you decreases. 

You become highly engrossed that you don’t concentrate on time or people. It is a state where you can summon up your internal strengths and skills.

3. The Locus of Control

The ‘locus of control’ factor is a concept developed by Julian Rotter in the 1954. It is when we believe we are the ones who have control over what goes in our lives. This belief in itself is therapeutic and has the ability to strengthen our healing abilities, as well as enhance our self-confidence.

By sensing that you are in control, your levels of optimism increase and stress levels drop. You develop a feeling of power and mastery, which makes you feel better about yourself and enables you to face any situation with control and wisdom. 

On the other hand, if you have a sense of vulnerability, it will lower your self-esteem, and with it, your ability to cope even in the simplest of situations.

This is one of the reasons why guided imagery is so helpful in increasing your sense of confidence because you can carry out this activity by generating your own personal images, at any time that suits you and anywhere that makes you feel confidence. In other words, you are fully in control the whole time.

Using Guided Imagery To Promote Wellness

There is an old saying that says, “whatever you give your attention to grows.” 

This fits perfectly with the whole idea of guided imagery, which is intangible, yet is very potent. It is basically the ability to create a harmonious link between mind and body. 

It has been referred to as a ‘mental escape’ since through it; you can create calm, peaceful images in your mind for a soothing, restful change of mental state.

According To The Computational Theory Of Imagery, Guided Imagery Has Four Stages:

  1. Image generation: generate an image from memory or one that’s purely fictional
  2. Image maintenance: the brain can only hold on to an image for only 250ms in order to avoid confusion of sensory preceptors. It is crucial that you practice on your concentration skills so you can improve on keeping your mental image clear and lucid in your mind for longer than a mere few seconds. This gives you time to scrutinize your image thoroughly, from all sides and using all senses, which is the third stage.
  3. Image inspection: this stage is where the image is scanned and interpreted.
  4. Image transformation: using the verbal guidance of an instructor or recording, you can modify the content of your image so that you substitute the negative connotations related with it to more affirmative, more positive and resourceful ones. This step is also referred to as ‘imagery restructuring’.

The success of guided imagery has been established more and more over the past 25 years through many research findings and outcomes. 

These findings have repeatedly proven that this type of alternative healing has a definite, positive impact on our health.

Just as it has been proven to heal and cure certain illnesses and sicknesses, guided imagery gives you the ability to find inner strength and courage in the face of stressful situations. 

Even if it is done for just 10 minutes, it can help you start your day on the right foot by conjuring up peaceful, happy images so that you spend the day thinking positively and productively, instead of worrying and being anxious about a meeting or deadline.

Time Investment

  • Guided imagery can range from simple, like a 15-second daydream just before performing a gymnastics routine where the gymnast imagines the perfect leap or straddle jump. 
  • It can also be more complicated and more time-consuming like the weekly sessions prescribed for cancer patients.

It has been proven that the body responds to mental images just as it does to actual non-imaginary experiences. 

  • The most famous example is that of a lemon. Imagine how a slice of lemon would taste in all its sourness; imagine how juicy it would be, imagine the color and feel of it. Soon you will start salivating in response to all those mental pictures you drew up. 
  • Another example is when you think of something that makes you angry, or aroused – your body starts to respond rather quickly to all those thoughts in your head.

For this reason, experts studied this phenomenal power we have over our major physiologic systems and aim at manipulating it to cure illnesses and diseases, and promote healing. 

Guided imagery has been shown to:

  • Promote relaxation
  • improve sleep quality
  • lower blood pressure
  • decrease stress levels
  • help ease chronic pain
  • lower cholesterol
  • reduce glucose levels in the blood
  • strengthen the immune system
  • cope with anxiety
  • alleviate chronic pain
  • relieve the effects of pain in general
  • help you reach goals (as quitting smoking or weight loss)
  • prepare for public speaking or an athletic event
  • enhances learning and creativity

This activity engages the right side of the brain, which is why it is often accompanied by other functions found in that area of the brain, such as laughter, sensitivity to music, intuition, abstract thinking, empathy, and emotion.

Even though guided imagery starts with the help of an instructor or recording, your own imagination will quickly take over anyway the mind is good at substituting what’s being offered for what is needed. So whatever medium you choose, don’t panic if your mind starts to skip or edit certain parts because that is the sheer genius of the imagination of each one of us.

The imagery skills that you possess may have been hidden from sight before trying guided imagery. Yet these are the skills that will help you reach a fuller, more satisfying life whether you are working towards good health or are currently healthy. 

Practicing guided imagery on a regular basis can:

  • Help you develop insight into yourself as well as others
  • Boost your self-confidence 
  • Help you focus on any and goals you set for yourself

The important thing to never forget is that your image should be a source of inspiration to move you from your current state of mind to one that is more peaceful and serene. Your image should shed a positive, meaningful light on you and your life. 

The trick is to filter out any image you’ve subconsciously copied from magazines or how your parents see you. It might take a little bit of time until you reach the image that is achievable for you. This will be your map to good health and awareness. 

If you come across obstacles, acknowledge and accept them in order to work with them successfully. 

As you practice guided imagery more, you will come to realize that your emotions, feelings, thoughts, and healing process are constantly changing.

Finding Your Motivation

Being successful at guided imagery mainly depends on being aware of why you’re doing it. 

  • Is it to reduce your stress levels? 
  • Do you want to manage your blood pressure and boost your immune system? 
  • Do you want to promote a better quality of life?
  • Do you strive to improve your general wellness?

Thinking about your reasons and intentions will help you focus more on your goals, and ultimately reach them.

The Process Of Guided Imagery

  1. Every time you start a guided imagery session, you should clearly focus on your objective. You should find a quiet place and sit, or lie down, where you’re comfortable. 
  2. Close your eyes and listen carefully to the recording, or if you’re conducting self-guided visualization, concentrate on the details of the image or the place you’re conjuring up in your mind. 
  3. Be sure to focus on all the details using all of your senses. What sounds do you hear? What smells are there? What colors do you see? How do things feel?

Don’t feel discouraged at first because you will need time to get used to conjuring up a peaceful place or image. However, with regular practice, this will become easier and more effective. 

Tips For Getting Started

  • You can start a couple of times during the day for about 3 or 4 weeks. 
  • The most optimal times are first thing in the morning and just before falling asleep, but any time that fits into your schedule is great.
  • Remember that there is right way or wrong way to practice guided imagery. There is your way.
  • You just have to trust yourself and start slow. If you cannot picture a certain image, think of a place in great detail or an experience that makes you feel safe and comfortable. It may be more general, but it has the same effect nonetheless.
  • A great way to boost your imagination even further would be some music to loosen you up, or using certain aromas that make you feel calm and secure.
  • The most important thing is never to judge your image. Accept it and study everything it has to offer.
  • Children – This type of activity comes naturally to children because they are more in tune with their creativity and imagination. In addition, teenagers are also good at guided imagery, even though many would oppose it at first. However, it does provide a lot of help working out their thoughts and feelings, which they might not be able to handle on their own.

Examples Of Guided Imagery For Wellness

1| Weight Loss

If you want to lose weight, picture yourself actually go through the different workouts in your workout gear. Make the image as clear and vivid as possible.

2| Athletic Performance

For example, if you play basketball, feel the ball in your hand, imagine yourself throwing the ball, and picture it going in the hoop. Using these images as affirmations will help with the follow-through, and it also primes your mind before you actually go through with them.

3| Physiological Health

For a healthy body, visualize a vital flow of blood and energy circulating throughout your body. See it reaching every cell and tissue in your body. 

Cancer patients have also received tremendous benefits by imagining how their healthy cells are beating the sick cells and pushing them away and out of their bodies.

A vivid example of this is Kris Snow who grew up in Utah. She feels a sense of peace when she thinks about skiing in the mountains. Yet soon after she moved away from her family and friends to Michigan, she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2011.

“The mountains and nature are really my church,” she says. “I feel calm there and can put things in perspective. Being so far away was hard.”

She began chemotherapy and found herself grasping at images in her mind of the battle ongoing within her body. She imagined the cancer was her enemy, the treatments were soldiers, and her caregivers were the general of the battle.

“I’m a very visual person,” Snow says. “I literally pictured the cancer cells blowing up. Treatment was my time to do battle.”

Snow talked about her imaginary battle with Jennifer Griggs, M.D. as well as other members of her care team. They quickly referred her to Claire Casselman, clinical social worker with the Complementary Therapies Program, and the Guided Imagery Program to learn more ways to use her imagination to cope with stressors associated with her cancer.

“Guided imagery is a way to tap into the power of your imagination and use your senses to release uncomfortable feelings or thoughts and then refocus,” says Casselman. “With Kris, it made sense to utilize her love of skiing and the mountains as a way to manage stress and regain a sense of control as she faced some bigger life issues related to her diagnosis.”

Casselman gave Snow a CD, recorded and scripted by Casselman herself. It was especially constructed to help take Snow to Utah and the mountains she loves so much. Snow listened to the CD during treatments and surgery. She would even listen to it at night when she couldn’t sleep or during the day when felt restless and stressed.

“As I was laying there, I would take myself to the top of that mountain,” Snow says. “I would think of the sound of skis swishing on snow. I’d remember the shining of the sun and the warmth it provides even though it is winter. I’d picture that physical, good fatigue you get from exercise and being with friends. It works. It calms you down. I never felt anxious about what the treatment was doing to my body.”

4| Psychological Health And Stress Reduction

To lower your stress levels, you can imagine your tension as a red color and your relaxation as a blue or green color. 

Now imagine the relaxation is slowly coming closer and closer to the red color until it takes it over completely, turning your tension from red to blue/green. Be mindful of the relaxation taking over your body. 

You can also picture yourself in a special place, somewhere you feel safe and happy. Develop your auditory, olfactory, and visual sensations, and imagine yourself doing something relaxing in this special place.

5| Muscular Tension

Imagine that the place where your muscles are tense is a tight rope. Now picture that this rope is gradually being untied. See how the rope is relaxing and feel your muscles relaxing with it.

6| Focus On The Healthy Qualities Of Your Image

An example of this is a 57-year-old mechanic, Bill, who was suffering from depression and being overweight. Bill tried his hand at guided imagery. His instructor asked him to imagine how he would like to look. The first picture that popped into his mind was Joe Montana, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback. He was asked to describe why this image appealed to him. He replied, “He’s young, handsome, rich, and successful. And all the girls like him.”

In reality, Bill was ordinary looking, was barely making it financially, and had been married for 30 years. His comparison to Montana made him feel more depressed and defeated, instead of accomplishing the opposite. His instructor then turned the image from the physical to the personal qualities about Joe Montana that Bill admired. “Yeah, he knows his job, comes through in the clutch, and his teammates know they can depend on him.”

Once he started thinking about these qualities, Bill realized that he too had some of these winning qualities that he valued in Montana. He started remembering the times he had generously been there for friends and family, and how they counted on him and came to him in times of trouble.

Bill started being aware that he was the type of guy people could depend on; he was careful with his work and carried it out with pride and integrity. His guided imagery session ended on a positive note as he started to acknowledge and affirm his achievements, self-worth, and pride.

Final Thoughts

Guided imagery depends on how you much you are aware of engaging your senses to gather up the powers of imagination and bodily sensations to positively affect both the mind and body. 

Make sure you don’t make the mistake of creating an image that is impossible for you to match. That causes too much pressure on yourself and adds to the stress and tension, instead of lowering them. 

In addition, an important tip is to make your image focused more on qualities you would like to attain, instead of having images that focus on possessions or material objects.

Practicing guided imagery is completely safe, and there are no known risks that have been associated with it. Make sure to discuss with your doctor the details of your alternative therapy and how it can augment your medical treatment so that they go hand-in-hand and result in a more successful healing process.

Guided imagery can go a long way to support your quest for wellness of mind, body, and spirit, get started today!

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