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 Guided Imagery: What is Imagery, and How Does it Work? 

Relax for a moment and imagine you are holding a juicy yellow lemon. Feel its coolness, its texture, and weight in your hand. Imagine cutting it in half and squeezing the juice of one half into a glass. Perhaps some pulp and a seed or two drop into the glass. Imagine raising the glass to your lips and taking a good mouthful of the tart juice. Swish it around in your mouth, taste its sourness, and swallow.

Now did you salivate? Did you pucker your lips or make a sour face when you imagined that? If you did, that's because your autonomic nervous system responded to your imaginary lemon juice.

You probably don't spend much time thinking about drinking lemon juice, but what you do habitually think about may have important effects on your body through a similar mechanism. If your mind is full of thoughts of danger, your nervous system will prepare you to meet that danger by initiating the stress response, a high level of arousal and tension. If you imagine peaceful, relaxing scenes instead, it sends out an "all-clear" signal, and your body relaxes.

Research in biofeedback, hypnosis, and meditative states has demonstrated a remarkable range of human self-regulatory capacities. Focused imagery in a relaxed state of mind seems to be the common factor among these approaches.

Imagery of various types has been shown to affect heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory patterns, oxygen consumption, carbon dioxide elimination, brain wave rhythms and patterns, electrical characteristics of the skin, local blood flow and temperature, gastrointestinal motility and secretions, sexual arousal, levels of various hormones and neurotransmitters in the blood, and immune system function.' But the healing potentials of imagery go far beyond simple effects on physiology.

Imagery in the Larger Context of Healing
Recovering from a serious or chronic illness may well demand more from you than simple imagery techniques. It may also require changes in your lifestyle, your attitudes, your relationships, or your emotional state. Imagery can be an effective tool for helping you see what changes need to be made, and how you can go about making them.

Imagery is the interface language between body and mind. It can help you understand the needs that may be represented by an illness and can help you develop healthy ways to meet those needs. Let me give you another example from my practice. Jeffrey was a successful middle manager in his thirties who had recurrent peptic ulcers for many years. In our work together he learned to relax and use simple visualization to give himself temporary relief from his stomach pain. He pictured the pain as a fire in his stomach and would then imagine an ice-cold mountain stream extinguishing the fire and cooling the scorched area beneath it. He was surprised and pleased to find that relaxing and imagining this process for a few minutes would relieve his pain for several hours to a day at a time, and he used it successfully for about two weeks. Then it stopped working. His pain grew worse in spite of his visualizations, and he began to despair. In our next session I suggested he focus once more on the pain and allow an image to arise that might help him understand why the pain had returned. He soon became aware of an image of a hand pinching the inside of his stomach.

At my suggestion, he mentally asked the hand if it would tell him why it was pinching him, and it changed into an arm shaking a clenched fist. He asked the arm why it was angry, and it replied, "Because there's a part of you locked away where no one can see it, and it's getting badly hurt." I asked him to form an image of the part that was locked away, and he saw a transparent sack that contained a "chaotic whirling of things inside nothing is clear, everything is zooming around, bumping into everything else." All he could make out were colors and shapes and a sense of discomfort. After observing them for a while, he quietly said, "My heart is in there, and it's getting bumped and bruised by all these things."

(Excerpted from Guided Imagery for Self-Healing ISBN: 091581188X)
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 About The Author
Martin Rossman MDPhysician, author, speaker, researcher, and consultant, Dr. Rossman founded The Healing Mind in order to raise awareness about the power of high quality mind/body......more
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