What is guided visualization and how is it done?

Guided visualization lets you use the power of imagination to reduce anxiety and promote physical and mental well-being. It is a simple technique that you can learn by yourself with the help of books and videos or with a specialized therapist.

In a typical session, you can first enter a state of deep relaxation using breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, or music. A series of instructions follows to guide the viewing process.

Visualization exercises involve remember or recreate images with the greatest clarity and intensity possible. And not just images, you can also imagine sounds, smells and tactile perceptions. Once you’ve got into the habit, it becomes easier and easier to practice visualization anywhere, anytime.

Guided visualization benefits

  • Several studies have shown that guided visualization achieves positive effects on pain musculoskeletal and non-musculoskeletal, anxiety, depression, blood pressure, muscle contractures and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, arthritis and other rheumatic disorders.
  • As a complementary therapy to diet in patients with irritable bowel syndrome, guided imagery reduces the intensity of symptoms and improves quality of life.
  • In combination with music, decreases chronic stress related to work.
  • It has been used in the complementary treatment of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, allergies, hives, and asthma.
  • Guided visualization is also useful in the complementary cancer treatment. In a study with breast cancer survivors it was found that it can reduce fatigue, cognitive dysfunction and sleep disorders. It also decreased anxiety, depression and bodily discomfort in breast and thyroid cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
  • Can be used for improve physical and mental performance. Athletes, for example, can use it to perfect their techniques, especially while they are injured. A student, on the other hand, can mentally rehearse a presentation before the teacher or an audience. When used with a standard rehabilitation program, visualization of one’s own body in motion improves gait in stroke patients.

Why does guided visualization work?

Neuropsychological studies reveal that mental images elicit physiological responses in the same way that perceptions do through the senses. This is possible thanks to the connection between the visual cortex of the brain and the autonomic nervous system.

For example, a fear-producing image stimulates the release of stress hormones, increases the heart rate, and activates the sympathetic nervous system. In contrast, a relaxing image inhibits stress hormones, slows the heart rate, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system.

Since the nervous and endocrine systems are closely associated with the immune system, guided imagery can aid disease prevention and overall recovery. In addition, mental images influence the processes of learning, memory and action.

Dr. Andrew Weil, a professor at the University of Arizona and an expert in integrative medicine, believes that guided imagery can be used to reduce pain and the need for pain medication, decrease the risk of complications from surgery, reduce recovery time, improve sleep and strengthen immunity.

Get ready to start visualizing

Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down and follow the steps below.

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Rest the tip of the tongue on the palate.
  3. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, and exhale through your nose for 8 seconds. Take four breaths.
  4. Breathe normally for a couple of minutes while checking that they don’t have any tense muscles.
  5. Now start imagining yourself in a quiet and beautiful place. It can be a beach, a mountain environment, a meadow or any setting of your liking.
  6. Play yourself in the picture and try to add details. For example, is there a breeze? How does it feel What do you smell What does the sky look like? Is it clear or are there clouds?
  7. Imagine a path that crosses the landscape. Go down that path and as you go, feel more and more relaxed.
  8. Feel that the sun illuminates and warms you, and that that light and that heat eliminates any discomfort you feel, and that it is an energy that fills you with health.
  9. Think of some words (for example, “my paradise”) that you will associate with that place and those imagined sensations. You can use them at any time in the future to quickly “return” to that place.
  10. When you want to come out of visualization, tell yourself that you will feel relaxed and refreshed and that you will take the feeling of calm with you.
  11. Count to 3 and open your eyes. See how you feel right now, after the visualization.

Scientific references:

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