What is guided imagery?

Imagery and stories have a dramatic power to heal and transform our lives. ‘Guided imagery’ uses directed thoughts, suggestions and mental imagery to evoke our senses and guide our imagination toward particular goals. One goal might be a state of complete relaxation, which is useful for reducing the impact of stress. Alternatively, guided imagery can be used to invoke feelings of youthful vitality that may help slow the aging process.

In principle, if an image is strong enough, our concentration is focused and our disbelief is suspended. Our bodies and minds respond as if what we are imagining is real. For example, we may be able to achieve a relaxed state by imagining ourselves in a peaceful place, such as a garden. The more powerfully we can embrace and experience the imagery, the more effective the transformation is likely to be.

How to implement guided imagery

The process of visualization can be self-guided or prompted by guided meditations delivered via scripts, CD, DVD or instructors. Guided imagery is often used in combination with relaxation, meditation and mindfulness practices, because we are more open to the power of imagery when we are deeply relaxed.

Guided imagery has become a popular approach to managing stress and enhancing energy, motivation, focus and performance. It has also been used successfully to treat a wide variety of disorders, including high blood pressure, chronic pain, anxiety and depression. Incorporated into a slow-aging program, it can also be used to help us reach our goals. The power of imagery can also be a tool in rejuvenation. Some therapists use imagery to guide us as we are immersed in an experience of ‘age regression’ designed to carry us back via our memories to earlier stages of life associated with feelings of youthfulness and vitality.

Once we arrive back in our childhood, many images can be used to ‘harvest’ the vitality of youth. We can then bring this vitality back to the present, using it to help rejuvenate our bodies and lives. This kind of imagining may seem simple, but it can have profound effects on human physiology.  In particular, studies have shown that imagery techniques can be used to modify the functioning of our immune systems, partly by reducing stress, thereby allowing our immune systems to function more effectively. Relaxation without an active imagery exercise attached appears to be less effective at reducing some physiological parameters, including inflammation.

More recently, these techniques have been used by a number of cancer researchers to assist patients in developing images of their bodies fighting killer cancer cells, helping them to boost their immune system function and enhancing their survival rates.

Last Reviewed 02/Mar/2014

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Dr Merlin Thomas

Professor Merlin Thomas is Professor of Medicine at Melbourne’s Monash University, based in the Department of Diabetes. He is both a physician and a scientist. Merlin has a broader interest in all aspects of preventive medicine and ageing. He has published over 270 articles in many of the worlds’ leading medical journals