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What is Guided Imagery?

Explore the benefits of this ancient meditation practice.


Guided imagery is one of my favorite mind-body modalities.


Guided imagery is an ancient modality and in the United States it caught the attention of scientists in the 1960s resulting in a considerable amount of research on the efficacy of guided imagery for various medical conditions. There is also fascinating research on imagery’s performance-enhancing qualities in athletes.


In this post, I am focusing on guided imagery’s stress-reducing powers. Guided imagery is a fantastic stress management technique because it is simple, enjoyable and is easy to personalize.


There are multiple styles and ways to refer to guided imagery, including: visualization, hypnotherapy, active imagination, directive, interactive, receptive, integrative. I use the terms guided imagery and transformative imagery; sometimes, I say imagery. If we zoom out from those styles, there are two major categories: Scripted Imagery and Nonscripted Imagery.


Scripted imagery, as it sounds, uses a script. You may listen to a recording or work with a practitioner who will lead you through a script of something relaxing like a beautiful beach scene. So, you just have to get comfortable, listen, and imagine. Sounds fun? Easy? And recordings are especially flexible because you can listen to them on your phone or computer on your own time.


Now, with Nonscripted imagery, as it sounds there is no script. Typically, an imagery session begins with a guided relaxation (such as focusing on breathing and a body scan to relax your muscles). Then I would ask you to invite an image that supports these feelings of calm and relaxation. When that image arises, you will describe it; this is the exciting element of nonscripted imagery. You might have thought for sure your favorite beach would show up. Except, imagery can surprise us with an imaginary place like a meadow, or somewhere inside like a cozy library, or a place we haven’t thought about for years might come up. Now that you have your imagery, what’s next? I would ask you questions to help vivify your imagery.


Guided imagery is not just about what you see. You do not have to see anything to experience imagery. I will ask you if you notice any sounds, smells, textures, or temperature. We will also explore what you are sensing in your body (maybe the tension in your shoulders softened, the knot in your stomach relaxed), and we will see which emotions are present. As your guide, I am there to remind you that this is your imagery- feeling lonely on that beach? Invite your cats, your dog, your best friend to join you. Want to see what’s outside of the cozy library – awesome, let’s go. Imagery can be empowering because it blends the spontaneous images that arise with your own conscious choices to create an ultimate experience for yourself.




The easefulness and wonder imagery can offer us is why I love this modality for stress management. When you are feeling overwhelmed by work/family/life/world-related stress, you can take a moment for yourself to regroup and sense into your imagery because it is always with you. Those feelings of calm and relaxation can be called on at any time. The imagery session I described might sound involved but that session sounds long however, you can reconnect with the imagery from a session in a moment because it was a full mind-body experience. You might recall a key element from your session (warm sand, soft breeze, a color) and that will give you access to the feelings and sensations from that session. This is a great practice that can be incorporated as a transition before and after work, meetings, tasks, or anytime you need to recharge.


If imagery intrigues you, I would love to work with you. I have individual imagery sessions and a monthly group session. I also created an imagery recording called “Good Morning, Sunshine!” I created this imagery to brighten up your morning routine. I am not an early morning person. It takes me a minute to wake up and want to interact with people, so I spend less than ten minutes (this recording is only eight minutes) with imagery in the morning. It helps with that transition of waking up and getting ready to face the day. You will seem like a morning person after you complete this recording!


Try it out by signing up for my newsletter and then let me know how it goes.


I am looking forward to working with you!


References

Davenport, L. (Ed.). (2016). Transformative Imagery: Cultivating the imagination for healing, change, and growth Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Varvogli, L. & Darviri, C. (2011). Stress management techniques: Evidence-based procedures that reduce stress and promote health.Health Science Journal, 5(2), 74. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/867818994

Kiley, K. A., Sehgal, A. R., Neth, S., Dolata, J., Pike, E., Spilsbury, J. C., & Albert, J. M. (2018). The effectiveness of guided imagery in treating compassion fatigue and anxiety of mental health workers. Social Work Research, 42(1), 33-43. doi:10.1093/swr/svx026




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I'm Elaine Santos, Certified Health & Wellness Coach, and I'm passionate about helping others tap into their inner resources and live their best lives.  I invite you grab a cup of coffee or tea, get comfy and follow along as we dive into all things health and wellness!

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