Years ago I did an internship that offered therapist-facilitated guided imagery to hospital patients in San Francisco. Many of my friends and colleagues were surprised to hear that a hospital had agreed to fund such an “alternative” program. The funding was possible simply because the hospital discovered that their patients’ hospital stays were shorter when guided imagery was involved. Apparently, it worked.
The research concluded that the use of guided imagery decreases symptoms associated with pain and anxiety, while shortening the recovery period after certain medical procedures. These realizations are becoming more common in the medical field, as research is proving that the mind-body connection truly does impact our everyday lives.
The psychotherapy field has also chimed in, realizing that we can utilize the power of our imagination for our own mental and emotional well-being. Many of us associate imagination with child’s play or an artist’s spark of creative brilliance. However, whether we realize it or not, our imagination is alive and well, often dictating how we feel throughout the day.
Let’s Find Your Imagination
Let’s play with this concept in real time. I invite you to experiment with the power of guided imagery by taking a moment to go on your own little adventure within your imagination. The instructions are simple: close your eyes for about five minutes and imagine walking into your kitchen, finding a lemon on the counter, slicing it down the middle with a knife and then biting into one half of the lemon. One trick: be certain to really take in your surroundings as you imagine this scenario.
For example, perhaps you notice some crumbs on the counter as you walk over to the lemon, or maybe you’re aware of the lighting and temperature of the room. Be certain to really take in the sensory experience of the lemon, such as the texture of the peel or the taste of the juice, as you take a bite. You may close your eyes now and pause for a moment.
For help in making this happen, check out this 2-minute audio clip containing guided imagery of this lemon experiment.
You can open your eyes now. Notice anything funny about your mouth? Did you start salivating, despite the fact that there’s no actual lemon in your mouth? Studies have shown that our brains respond similarly during situations in which you are actually experiencing something and when you are imagining experiencing something. In essence, your brain doesn’t always know the difference between reality and imagination. We encounter this mind-body connection every day of our lives but may not notice it until we take a closer look.
How your imagination impacts your everyday life
We can understand the power of our imagination when we think back to an enjoyable experience shared with a loved one. We remember the happy memory and can almost feel the giddy sensations as if we’re experiencing them all over again. Our joyful imagination creates those infamous butterflies in our belly.
But the imaginative mind is not always so delightful to experience. Your imagination also plays a huge role in how we experience fear, anxiety and stress. When you lie in bed worrying about something that may happen in the future, your imagination is working on overdrive. Maybe you’re daydreaming about the big presentation you have to give at work tomorrow and suddenly begin to feel a tightness in your chest. Or maybe your imagination is replaying a tense conversation with your partner and suddenly feel your hands clench and your heart beating faster. Our imagination is powerful and can quickly alter the way we feel at any moment.
Just as that imaginary lemon may have caused your mouth to salivate, these imaginary thoughts and ideas have an impact on your physical and emotional well-being. But the good news is that the method by which your imagination creates these undesirable sensations also serves to heal and transform these difficult experiences. Guided imagery is one way to utilize the power of imagination for healing and transformation.
Stay tuned for Part II of this post, in which we’ll explore how guided imagery can be used as a therapeutic tool for enhancing well-being.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lisa Broggi is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist at Well Clinic in San Francisco. According to Lisa,
I believe that therapy can be something that we want to show up for and that learning how to become more gentle with ourselves is the key ingredient for transformation and growth.