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Healing With Your Mind

Guided Imagery
The Healing Power of Imagination

By Gerri Shapiro, MS Ed.

Imagination is only intelligence having fun.
                                                        -Albert Einstein

 

Guided imagery is a simple tool which can empower you to become a participant in your own healing. It involves the conscious use of your imagination to create positive images in order to bring about healthful changes. While it cannot replace other medical treatment, guided imagery may be a useful accompaniment to restoring good health.


WHAT HAPPENS?

The primary aim of guided imagery is to gently guide you to a state where your mind is calm and still. A common guided imagery technique begins with a general relaxation process where you slowly close your eyes and focus on your breathing. You are encouraged to relax, clear your mind and surround yourself with images that are peaceful and calm.


When using guided imagery by way of an audio tape, soothing music or sounds of nature may be added to create relaxation. You are encouraged to focus on the present moment and to tune out any thoughts or ideas that may be racing through your mind.


You are then taken to a "special place" in your imagination (e.g., a tropical beach; a babbling brook; a waterfall). This place is usually secluded, safe and free of interruptions. You are asked to focus on all the vivid details of the scenery; sights, sounds and smells, and the overall feeling of being in your peaceful, special place.


HOW DOES IT WORK

Practitioners say that guided imagery works because picturing something and actually doing it are experienced as the same thing by your brain. In fact, brain scans have verified that this is the case.


Stimulating the brain with imagery can have a direct effect on your nervous and endocrine systems and can ultimately affect your immune system as well. When you picture yourself lying on a beach, your muscles will actually relax and your skin may even feel the warmth of the sun. Likewise, if you imagine yourself recuperating quickly and effortlessly from surgery, you are more likely to heal faster and with less pain.


Soothing, uplifting images can actually slow your pulse and breathing and lower your blood pressure, as well as help trigger the release of hormones such as endorphins, which make you feel good and nurture your body's restorative powers.


I
MAGERY TECHNIQUES

All imagery techniques produce a state of relaxation. One technique consists of general relaxation imagery followed by focusing on the area that is causing the problem or pain. By focusing on the problem, you can then try to associate the pain with a specific image.


Another technique involves imagining a wise person or inner-guide who can help you through your healing. You would then ask your inner guide questions to gain insight into your pain and healing.


RESEARCH STUDIES

The use of guided imagery has been clinically proven to:

reduce stress and anxiety
decrease pain
decrease blood pressure
decrease allergy and respiratory symptoms
decrease blood glucose levels
decrease the severity of headaches
enhance bone and wound healing
enhance sleep
strengthen the immune system
decrease the side effects of medication


Research studies suggest that the physiological impact of relaxation may be the result of its effects on cortisol, a hormone released by the body in response to stress. Some studies have shown that guided imagery is particularly helpful for patients preparing for and recovering from surgery. A 1996 study at the Cleveland Clinic demonstrated that patients who used guided imagery prior to colorectal surgery had less anxiety before and less pain after the surgery than did the control group.


Another study indicated that encouraging patients to listen to imagery during anesthesia induction and/or medical or surgical procedures decreased anxiety and stress levels significantly. It has also been demonstrated that imagery reduced the need for large doses of medication, thus reducing side effects and decreasing recovery time.


HOW GUIDED IMAGERY CAN HELP YOU

Whether you have a simple tension headache or a life-threatening disease, guided imagery may be able to help you. Through imagery, you can learn to relax and be more comfortable in any situation. You may be able to reduce, modify or eliminate pain or other symptoms. Imagery can also help you tap into your inner strengths where you may find the hope, courage, patience and perseverance to help you cope with or recover from an illness


LEARNING GUIDED IMAGERY

While you can learn guided imagery techniques on your own, it is best to work with a practitioner or purchase an audio tape or CD to get started. You can also write your own guided imagery script and record it. With practice, you can learn to bring up healing images to help yourself relax during stressful times.


                                                          * * *

Although recovering from a serious or chronic illness may well require more from you than simple imagery techniques, guided imagery can be a wonderful healing tool which can empower you to actively participate in your own healing.


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