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Imagine Your Way to Better Health

Power of the mind

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Imagine Your Way to Better Health

Guided imagery involves the whole body, the emotions, and the senses. The benefits of 10 minutes of guided imagery include reduced blood pressure and anxiety.

In my darker moments–when bills, work, and deadlines all conspire against me–I have a fantasy. In it, I return to a remote spot on the Mediterranean coast where gentle waves lap against a sleepy shoreline and vast, open skies arch overhead. Everything is blue, sensual, and calm.

As a woman of Western tradition, I am cynical about anything dappled with traces of the touchy-feely. So when a close friend suggested that I wash away tension with guided imagery–a healing technique that uses the power of the subconscious and imagination to elicit positive mind/body responses–I rolled my eyes.

Would this be one of those nutty fads in the Oprah-esque manifestation of positive thinking? Perhaps another pile of zealous psychobabble with only a dash of scientific proof? I thought so, until I experienced the healing properties of this therapy. Two years on, you can count me among the devotees.

What is Guided Imagery?

Guided imagery, a term often used interchangeably with visualization, is “the language used by the mind to communicate and make sense about the inner and outer worlds,” says Kathryn C. Shafer, a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of South Florida.

The power of the mind has been employed for centuries. It has also been observed in research studies in the form of the placebo effect, which occurs when a patient’s symptoms are changed in some way by a treatment, simply because the patient expects or believes that the treatment will work, even though no medication has been administered.

However, guided imagery is more complex than blind faith. “Instead, imagery involves the whole body, the emotions and all the senses, and it is precisely this body-based focus that makes for its powerful impact,” says Belleruth Naparstek, author of Staying Well with Guided Imagery (Warner, 1995).

The Power of Guided Imagery

According to Naparstek, even 10 minutes of positive visualization can reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, heighten immune cell activity, accelerate weight loss, and reduce anxiety. A recent trial also showed that it reduced the need for painkillers among surgical patients.

Guided imagery is an ideal addition to any form of therapy, given the ease with which you can master its techniques and its lack of side effects. Following are some guidelines for incorporating guided imagery into your daily life.

Daydream Away

Imagery is woven into the fabric of our everyday life. “We are visualizing every moment of our conscious day, even when we are fast asleep and dreaming,” says Dr. Georgianna Donadio, founder and director of the National Institute of Whole Health in New England. Whenever you find yourself daydreaming and feel a sense of comfort envelop your body, go with it, and allow yourself to relax for 10 to 15 minutes.

Most of us believe that we need to find a remote place, uninterrupted by the din of modern life, to slip into daydreaming. Not true. As Susan Gayle, behaviour modification specialist, states, “Focus, or inner concentration, is the key, and we can implement that anywhere–although it is not recommended during driving or operating machinery.”

Be Specific

Even when we are not consciously visualizing, our thoughts work like a tape recording playing over and over in our mind, conditioning our bodies to respond by producing the outcome that our persistent thoughts create.

Take charge of your thought patterns to produce positive, self-loving, healthy thoughts that will invite your immune system to stay healthy and strong. “Specific thoughts create specific neurotransmitters, which in turn create specific manifestations in our health–or disease,” says Dr. Donadio.

“The way to maximize visualization is to understand that what we are thinking about or imagining every minute of every day is what creates health or wellness.”

Seeing is Believing

The beauty of visualization is that your body has no way of discerning thoughts from actual experiences. The various neurohormones and chemicals that flood the bloodstream during comfort-inducing moments are reactivated when we consciously recall and visualize them.

Perhaps you can recall a time when you lay in the woods on a cool autumn day, listening to the murmur of the river, the crackling of the leaves, and the melodic sounds of birds. Remembering this can help you to feel a sensation of calmness and relaxation all over again.

Embrace the ritual of producing this serene state in your daily life, and it can have a powerful effect on your health. Rather than letting your surroundings determine how you feel, guided imagery gives you the power to control stress and enhance your life.

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