The Aids of Guided Imagery
By Anna Sachse
It appears to have been a while since we covered the “Spirit” side of our little Mind.Body.Spirit column, so here it is: Guided Imagery. Something I know a little bit about from experience.
I have been insanely stressed out as of late, which, as a health writer, I know is a fast track to heart disease (heart disease poses a greater threat to the lives of women than all forms of cancer combined, according to the American Heart Association); in addition, my stressful life means I have very little time to sleep, and when I do finally lay down, my mind starts racing and I can’t actually fall asleep.
So a good friend of mine gave me a CD called Meditations to Relieve Stress, from a company called Health Journeys, which first made me think about the fact that no one really listens to CDs anymore (I don’t even have a player in my house), and then I just grew skeptical. Guided Imagery is essentially a form of directed daydreaming—someone telling you what to think about or what to visualize. How would listening to a New-Agey person’s voice continuously talking into my ear help me to fall asleep? Having someone tell you to stop stressing out doesn’t exactly eliminate the things in your life that are stressing you out—if these folks could do my laundry, plan my wedding, write a few articles for me, shave my legs and run some errands, that would really eliminate some stress.
But nevertheless, I popped the CD in my laptop, put on my headphones and lay down. I was asleep in five minutes; in fact, I haven’t been able to make it more than five minutes any of the subsequent times I’ve listened to it, and I did feel better the next day. So how does it work?
According to WebMd, Guided Imagery is based on the concept that your body and mind are connected. When you use all your senses, your body seems to respond as though what you are imagining is real. For example, try sitting down and imagining a lemon in great detail—the smell, the color, the texture of the peel. Continue to imagine the smell of the lemon, and then see yourself taking a bite of the lemon and taste the juice in your mouth. Many people salivate when they do this, thus demonstrating the way in which the body can physically respond to imagination. My CD has me do things like visualize a calm, serene place, breathe deeply and focus on images of protection and support. Sometimes I am instructed to take action such as breathe deeply and send energy to parts of the body that feel tense or tight, and then breathe the tension out; and sometimes I am just supposed to look around and see the colors and the scenery of a place I am imagining. The point is that by imagining myself calm, I become calm.
Now, I realize this sounds simplistic, but it works and I liked tha—unlike some other forms of meditation (and even yoga), you are actually told not to feel guilty if your mind wanders away from what you are being instructed to focus on. Although it’s not a replacement for medical attention, research shows that Guided Imagery can help you relax, elevate mood, lower blood pressure, reduce cravings, heal faster, boost your immune function, reduce pain and headache, improve performance at work and in sports and lower anxiety, among other things. Health Journeys has CDs geared toward promoting a healthy pregnancy, stopping smoking, losing weight, improving relationship and a whole lot more.
Give it a try—you have nothing to lose but stress, bad habits and disease, and who’d miss those things?