Explore the Power of Your Mind
Guided imagery may be an asset to your wellness toolbox
by Rob Zukowski
Without question, one of the most common conversations at this time of year centers around resolutions. Many of us see January the first as an opportunity to refocus and reach new heights. Everyone wants to know what big plans you have and what big changes you plan to make in the New Year. Everyone is discussing the goals that they wish to achieve and the accomplishments that they wish to make in the next 365 days.
I am a firm believer that any random day, of any week, of any month of the year is stellar time to make positive changes in your life, but, it’s a tradition to focus more heartily on those goals using the coming of a new year as a marker. The question is, how do we reach those goals and accomplish the various things we set out to do.
Personally, I have always been a fan of different forms of imagery and visualization. I try to take the “power of positive thinking” to a higher level in its practice. It may sound simplistic, but there are many therapeutic practices rooted in thought and visualization. My own visualization practices and processes are quite detailed. As an example, I often focus on the living space I would one day like to have. In my imagination, I have laid out the floor plan, every hallway and each room, I have chosen the paint colors and the décor. I’ve imagined the view from windows, the closet space and many other minute details. I’ve sat quietly at my desk with colored pencils and drawn the rooms.
You may wonder what the point of all that is. Deeper thought and actively imagining, or “picturing” what you want to achieve can lead to action. At the risk of sounding cliché, you can say seeing is believing. Will I one day live in that very specific home that I envision for myself? Probably not, unless I build it myself from the ground up, but the imagery keeps me focused, looking forward to future plans, and working towards a goal. Now, my example is just one form of a visualization technique relating to a very specific goal; there are other visualization practices, such as guided imagery, which are used for a plethora of positive goals, including positive health benefits.
Guided imagery is a process of specific, directed thoughts and suggestions. There are a variety of guided imagery techniques that are used. They can range from simple visualization and guided suggestions to story-telling, fantasy exploration, and using artistic outlets such as drawing or painting, to name a few, that help the unconscious mind interplay and communicate with the conscious mind. Guided imagery is not a new practice. In fact, it began in the early 1970s when professionals began to develop and research imagery approaches for individuals living with chronic pain, cancer, heart disease, and even immune dysfunction.
You can use a guided imagery instructor, specialist, or therapist who specializes in guided imagery, or there are tapes, videos, scripts, and the like to help you through the process, depending on what your goals are.
Guided imagery works upon the basis that your body and mind are connected and that the production of strong images and visions in the mind affects the physical body and/or creates action. Some people consider guided imagery a holistic practice, very much a part of the complementary and alternative medicine genre. Others say it is more rooted in science and use the practice in more conventional, medical settings. Guided imagery is used in many situations—medical, psychological, and emotional. It is used to lower blood pressure and help manage signs and symptoms of stress and illness. Others use it to help reach personal goals such as weight loss, halting unhealthy habits, or to help manage pain. Some use the practice for other somewhat more practical purposes such as in preparation for an athletic undertaking or speaking in public. It is most effective when the person teaching it has training in guided imagery techniques. Currently, there are no known risks associated with it.
Whether it is used for the relief of stress and anxiety, to address physical and psychological symptoms, guided imagery may have positive affects for people living with HIV/AIDS. In fact, some believe that guided imagery may even positively affect the immune system.
There have been studies, though on a smaller scale, revealing evidence that guided imagery could produce changes in immune activity on the cellular level. One particular piece in a neuroscience journal described how guided imagery elevated immune system functioning, and how cell-specific imagery affects corresponding white blood counts, neutrophils, and lymphocytes.
I have found that guided imagery is an interesting, creative, and self-empowering addition to a wellness routine. As for you and guided imagery—think on it!
After a lengthy career in the arts and LGBT activism, Robert Zukowski pursued his goal of a career in complementary and alternative healthcare. He is a New York State licensed Massage Therapist, a Certified Medical Massage Therapist and is certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. In addition to his hands-on work, he is a writer and lecturer in the field of therapeutic massage therapy.