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 Mind/Body Health : Rx Imagery: How to Use Your Imagination to Improve Your Health 

Skill, Not Magic
To practice these imagery exercises you will need 10 to 30 minutes of quiet, undisturbed time. You may need to put up a "Do Not Disturb" sign and turn off the telephone. Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Sit in a comfortable chair or lie on a pad or carpeted floor with a pillow under your head. Do whatever you can to enhance your comfort. Dim the lights. Put on soft music if you like. You may wish to use a guided imagery audiotape (see below).

Don't expect miracles. Some relief may come immediately, but often these skills take time to acquire. You may need several weeks of practice before you really start to notice benefits. Practice the techniques once or twice a day, or if that's not possible, at least three to four times a week.

Watch Out
Imagery techniques are generally very safe. However, if you have symptoms such as pain, diarrhea, dizziness, nervousness, or depression, make sure you first have an appropriate medical evaluation. These imagery techniques may also change your need for certain medications, so be sure to check with your doctor. Don't practice imagery or self-hypnosis while in a car or in any situation where your safety requires full alertness and quick responses. If you experience very distressing sensations or feelings while practicing these techniques, stop and get professional help.

The Juicy Orange
You are standing in your kitchen. Imagine the time of day, the color of the countertops, the appliances, the cupboards. You hear the hum of the refrigerator. You notice a large, plump, juicy orange lying on the cutting board. You pick it up and feel its weight. You feel the texture of its dimpled, glossy skin. With a sharp knife, you carefully cut a large slice.

As you cut into the orange you notice the rich, liquidy, fragrant juice trickle onto the counter top. You see the bright whiteness of the pulp in contrast with the orange flesh. You see the small drops of orange juice forming on the cut surface. Now imagine lifting this dripping slice of orange to your mouth, and smelling its sweet, fresh scent. Your mouth begins to water as you slowly bite into the orange. It releases a flood of sweet tangy juice into your mouth.

This juicy orange imagery exercise causes most people to salivate. Just the words and multi-sensory images are enough to trigger a physiological response.

In this case it's the flow of saliva. You can learn to use the power of your imagination to control other body functions.

Rx Create Your Special Place
The purpose of this guided imagery exercise is to help you imagine a special place where you feel safe, comfortable, and relaxed. This place can be anywhere.

It might be somewhere you have been, or a place you know well. It could be a place you create from scratch, or by taking bits and pieces from places you know. You may choose to put a dwelling in your landscape: a cabin, a castle, or a cave. Here's what to do:

  • Begin by closing your eyes (or if you prefer, keep your eyes open). Take several slow, deep breaths, exhaling completely after each.
  • Now see if you can imagine a place where you feel completely comfortable and peaceful. It might be real or imaginary, one from your past, or someplace you've always wanted to go (it doesn't really matter, just so long as this place feels very safe and peaceful to you).
  • Allow that special place to take shape slowly (there's no rush).
  • As your place begins to take shape, look around. Look to your left, to your right, and all around you. What do you see?
  • Enjoy the scenery: the colors, the textures, the shapes.
  • Listen to the sounds of your special place - perhaps waves gently lapping at the shore, the call of a distant bird, the sound of the wind in the trees.
  • Now just listen to the sounds of this wonderful place - a place that is so comfortable and peaceful to you.
  • Perhaps you feel a breeze touch your face, or warm sun gently soothing your skin.
  • You may feel the crunch of gravel or soft sand beneath your feet, or the comforting support of a favorite chair.
  • Now touch or pick up some favorite object from your special place. Allow your fingertips to gently explore its surface (Is it smooth or rough? Wet or dry? Warm or cold?).
  • Now take in a deep breath through your nose, and notice all the rich fragrances around you. Perhaps your favorite flower is in bloom. Or you may smell the pungent scent of a pine forest, or the tangy salt sea air, or the aroma of your favorite food.
  • Relax and enjoy the peace, comfort and safety of your special place.
  • This is your place, and nothing can harm you here. Relax, feeling thankful and happy to be here, in your special place, at this moment.
  • Begin to sense that something wonderful is about to happen. Feel the tingling sensation of expecting something good.
  • Know the sense of certainty. Everything is right, just as it should be.
  • Now notice a soft glow of golden light from above. It begins to bathe your body. A tingling, shimmering, vibrant energy surrounds you, energizes you, soothes you, heals you.
  • You are washed in bright goodness, and draw everything you need to you, as a powerful magnet. Good wishes and kind thoughts come. This goodness and healing energy seeps into your body, infusing you with a generous, boundless energy and sense of well-being.
  • Feel it move through the layers of your body, deeper and deeper into each and every organ, down to the bone.
  • Feel it in each and every cell, dissolving any blockages, correcting any imbalances. Enjoy this free-flowing, healthy energy sweeping through your body. Now you are relaxing; healing.
  • Your body remembers how to be well, and savors this feeling of well-being. You feel peaceful and easy in your special place - a healing place - one that is always here. You know it's a place you can visit anytime, and feel this healing energy and peace. When you are ready to return, take a deep breath and exhale fully. Open your eyes and spend a few moments savoring this relaxed, healthy, comfortable feeling.
  • You may want to explore different special places each time you do this exercise, or one special place may emerge as your favorite. Remember, you can visit this place any time you want to, in your mind.
Script adapted from Belleruth Naparstek
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 About The Author
David Sobel MDDavid S. Sobel, M.D., M.P.H., is a practicing physician in adult medicine and Medical Director of Patient Education and Health Promotion for Kaiser Permanente Northern California. He is physician lead for the......more
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