Guided Imagery 101*
*Excerpted from Staying Well with Guided Imagery © Naparstek, 1994 and Invisible Heroes © Naparstek, 2005
What is Guided Imagery/Meditation?
Guided imagery (sometimes called guided meditation, visualization, mental rehearsal and guided self-hypnosis) is a gentle but powerful technique that focuses the imagination in proactive, positive ways. It can be as simple as an athlete’s 5-second pause, just before leaping off the diving board, imagining how a perfect dive feels when slicing through the water. Or it can be as complex as imagining the busy, focused buzz of thousands of loyal immune cells, swarming out of the thymus gland on a search and destroy mission to wipe out unsuspecting cancer cells.
What It Is and What It Isn’t
Although it has been called visualization, mental rehearsal and mental imagery, these terms are misleading. Guided imagery involves all the senses, not just the visual sense – a good thing, since only 55% of the population is strongly wired visually – and it is experienced throughout the body, not just mentally. And because it catalyzes a naturally immersive altered state, it is rightly called a form of self-hypnosis as well. Guided Imagery is a form of meditation, and can be used interchangeably with the term Guided Meditation.
Sampling this clip from Relieve Stress will give you an immediate idea of what guided imagery is.
Guided imagery or guided meditation has the built-in capacity to deliver multiple layers of complex, encoded messages deep inside – positive, healing, motivating messages – through simple images, sensations, symbols and metaphors, received in an altered or trance-like state.
And because it mobilizes unconscious processes to assist with conscious goals, it can bring to bear much more of the whole person to get behind a desired end. You might say these positive messages act like a depth charge dropped beneath the surface of the self, where they can reverberate again and again, catalyzing continuous change.
Evidence Based Research
Over the past 40 years, the effectiveness of guided imagery has been validated by research, demonstrating its positive impact on health, wellness, attitude, behavioral change and peak performance.
- Less than 10 minutes of hypnotic guided meditation can reduce stress, blood pressure, cholesterol and hemoglobin A1C levels in the blood.
- It can heighten short- term immune cell activity, and it can speed up healing from fractures and burns.
- It’s been shown to reduce blood loss during surgery and opioid use after it.
- Guided imagery lowers anxiety and pain.
- It increases athletic mastery at skiing, skating, shooting, golf and tennis; and skill and confidence at writing, acting, singing, test-taking and public speaking.
- It increases purposeful weight loss and smoking abstinence.
- And it has been proven invaluable during medical procedures like chemotherapy, radiotherapy, ventilator weaning, biopsy and dialysis.
- Regular use of guided imagery can heighten access to emotional depth, humor, responsiveness to music, spirituality, intuition, creativity, abstract thinking and empathy.
So subtle, safe and gentle as this technique is, guided imagery meditation can be a surprisingly powerful tool, and increasingly so over time.
Who Can Use It?
Almost anyone can use this highly democratic technique. It works across differences in education, class, race, gender, vitality, culture and age – a truly equal opportunity resource.
It requires no training or discipline – just the ability to press Play.
People can stop paying attention and even fall asleep while listening and it will still get through, yielding benefits to even a snoozing end-user.