Why Active Imagery Works

Active imagery synergies the benefits of guided imagery in healthcare with exercise imagery in neuroscience and physical activity.

From guided imagery in healthcare we learned of the importance of being able to elicit the relaxation response in the mind and body, to enhance the immune system to activate our own natural healing processes. Through deep breathing, quietening and directing the mind, we move away from our everyday stressful conscious thoughts to a more open environment where the mind and body is receptive to new information learned. In this instance the new information being learned would be ‘active imagery’. By encouraging the listener to imagine a multi-sensory experience, with mental rehearsal the body can perceive the experience as real and trigger the appropriate physiological responses in the mind and body.

On this basis, all our active imagery scripts start by encouraging the listener to take three deep breathes to relax and oxygenate their body. As well as giving detailed instruction on how to perform the exercises, the scripts evoke the senses where appropriate for example they instruct the listener to ‘see and feel’ themselves performing the movement, to imagine ‘oxygenating the blood’, ‘building muscle strength’, with further suggestibility of seeing and feeling themselves ‘energised, toned, confident, healthy, empowered, mobile, agile,’ to give but a few examples. These are all the appropriate benefits a participant might anticipate and experience if they were to exercise for real.  To deepen the sensory experience, bespoke  music has been added to each product to help the listener immerse themselves in the imagery.

From studies in exercise imagery we learned of the methodology used by neuroscientists which demonstrate the ability of the brain to improve muscle strength and reduce the effects of muscle atrophy when a limb is immobilized, through imagined movement. We reviewed methodology used to demonstrate how the brain can be likened to a muscle, when we imagine using a muscle the area of the brain associated with this muscle, grows. Fascinatingly the proportionate growth area of the brain was identical whether the movement was imagined or physically performed. These are but a few examples of the material we drew upon to create and design our strength training and muscle recovery mp3s. As all studies show mental rehearsal daily is essential to bring about the anticipated changes to both the mind and body. Our studies into guided imagery in healthcare would indicate that the mind and body are most receptive to this new information last thing at night and first thing in the morning.

The power of the mind can never be under-estimated and our belief in being able to do something is key to our success. For this reason, we have gathered all the research information together to demonstrate how and why active imagery works. Whilst the concept of imagery is widely accepted in elite sports, the aim of bringing the benefits of exercise imagery to healthcare is still premature but our hope at In Mind In Body is we can help people debilitated through cancer treatment and others, immobilized through a variety of conditions, get back on their feet and provide them with the self-efficacy required at a challenging time in life.

When we understand why we listen to active imagery and how it can help us, this heightens and strengthens the emotional bonds connected to our experiences, to bring about the desired psychological and physiological changes in mind and body. We believe ‘active imagery’ can play a significant role in rehabilitation programmes as well as helping people to live healthier lives for longer.