guided imagery in healthcare
‘Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s forthcoming attractions.’
Guided imagery is a subtle but powerful complementary healing technique utilised in healthcare clinics around the world to improve responses to medical treatment. In simple terms, it focuses the mind to create positive physical change within the body, by directing the imagination.
Usually presented in the form of an audio recording, the listener is guided into a state of deep relaxation where they are encouraged to imagine a multi-sensory experience or event. With mental rehearsal the body can perceive the experience as real and trigger the appropriate physiological responses in the mind and body. Images evoking strong sensory memories to encapsulate sight, sound, smell, taste and touch are particularly effective as they heighten and strengthen the emotional bonds connected to our experiences.
The complexity of the imagery can vary enormously. From simply imagining biting into a lemon and consequentially salivating, to imagining armies of white blood cells marching in to destroy tumour cells or even painting inflamed cells in a soothing and calming colour to ease discomfort. The use of metaphorical language also aids imagery as it allows the mind to bypass our often constricting and limiting beliefs which hold us in our present state.
Research shows that consistent use of guided imagery helps to:
- Switch off the body’s stress responses
- Enhance immune responses
- Reduce negative emotions like fear, depression and powerlessness
- Increase confidence and optimism
- Reduce physical tension
- Improve pain management
- Improve sleep patterns
Initiating the relaxation response is key to the success of guided imagery. By calming both the mind and body, initially through deep breathing, the mind can become more receptive to learning new information and imagine and contemplate new ways of thinking. In this relaxed state our brainwave activity changes and we shift away from our rapid everyday conscious thoughts into a more creative and intuitive state of flow. An empowering tool which anyone can use, guided imagery can have remarkable beneficial effects on the health and recovery rates of the human body.
Next up, we’ll explore the health benefits of physical activity – an under-rated wonder drug.