Three Principles of Guided Imagery
Guided imagery works because of 3 very simple, common sense, mind-body principles. You already know them. They are at the heart of integrative medicine and holistic health.
First Principle: The Mind-Body Connection
To the body, images created in the mind can be almost as real as actual, external events. The mind doesn’t quite get the difference. That’s why, when we read a recipe, we start to salivate and get hungrier. The mind is constructing images of the food –– how it looks, tastes, smells, and feels in the mouth, and the body is thinking "dinner is served". And that’s why, after imagining those cancer fighting white blood cells coming out of the thymus gland in full force, we find up-regulated immune function showing up in blood work drawn 45 minutes later.
The mind cues the body especially well if the images evoke multi-sensory memory and when there is a strong emotional element involved as well. Calling to mind the sound and timbre of Daddy's smiling voice, telling you he’s proud of you; or the internal bristle of energy all through the body when it becomes clear that a hard won triumph is at hand, is especially impactful.
These sensory images are the true language of the body, the only language it understands immediately and without question.
Second Principle: The Altered State
In the altered state, we're capable of more rapid and intense healing, growth, learning and change.. We are more intuitive and creative. In this ordinary but profoundly powerful, immersive, hypnotic mind-state, our brainwave activity and our biochemistry shift. Mood, sense of time and cognition change. We can do things we wouldn't be able to do in a normal, waking state – write a dazzling, inspired poem; replace our terror of a surgical procedure with a calm sense of safety and optimism; abate a life-threatening histamine response to a bee sting.
The altered state is the power cell of guided imagery and meditation, the special sauce for rapid change. When we consciously deploy it, we have an awesome ally, a force multiplier of great strength and range.
Third Principle: Locus of Control
The third principle is often referred to in the medical literature as the "locus of control". When we have a sense of mastery and control over our own experience, this, in and of itself, is therapeutic, and can help us feel better and do better.
Feeling a sense of mastery, agency and efficacy is associated with higher optimism, self-esteem, energy, and ability to tolerate pain and stress. Conversely, a sense of helplessness lowers self-regard, our ability to cope, and our optimism about the future.
Because guided imagery is entirely internally driven, and we can decide if, when, where, and how to use it, it puts us in the driver’s seat and affords us a therapeutic sense of control.