Many of my new clients and listeners are unfamiliar with the idea of guided imagery relaxation. This isn’t surprising to me, because we are exposed to many relaxation techniques that require us to clear our minds or even “zone out,” and few that ask us to engage in an imaginative journey. In fact, using one’s imagination may actually seem like work instead of relaxation. However, many of my listeners have found that guided imagery can be an enjoyable and effective way to enter into a deep state of relaxation—less like work and more like a beautiful, multi-sensory experience.
In the sequence of my relaxation sessions and recordings, guided imagery comes after breathing exercises designed to calm the mind and body and muscle relaxation techniques to relax the body. In other words, when people begin to listen to the guided imagery portion, they are already quite relaxed. The soothing imagery is paired with relaxing music to help the listener enter into the narrative. I like to think of guided imagery as a guided daydream that engages all of your senses—touch, sight, smell, taste and sound—and focuses the mind on positive images, feelings and sensations. For example, imagine peeling a fresh lemon, and as you do, perhaps you can sense that wonderful citrusy scent. Or maybe you can remember a time when you enjoyed stroking the soft fur of a kitten or bunny.
Guided imagery goes beyond simple visualization. Visualization requires that you actually picture images in your head, whereas guided imagery simply asks that you remain open to the imaginative and relaxing possibilities presented by the narrative. In other words, there’s no pressure to actually “see” the images in your mind’s eye. If you don't happen to notice visual images during the exercise that is O.K., because you might be a person who experiences other sensations that will lead you to the same goal of opening your mind to positive thoughts and feelings.
Guided imagery is effective in many different types of situations that require relaxation. For example, guided imagery has been proven as a powerful way to reduce stress and anxiety about medical procedures or treatment for illnesses. (i) Research has also shown that guided imagery is an effective way to reduce daily stress – those who practice guided imagery relaxation regularly tend to feel less stress overall. (ii) Because guided imagery allows listeners to use their imagination to enter into a relaxed state, it can actually trigger creativity in other areas of your life and help you become a more effective creator and problem solver. (iii) Of course, guided imagery is also a wonderful way to enter into a deep, restorative sleep, which supports overall health and wellness. (iv)
I invite you to experience some guided imagery with this excerpt from my recording “A Time for Sleep: Guided Relaxation Techniques for Peaceful Slumber”. I use a guided imagery inspired by the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). This ethereal narrative is designed to inspire sleep. I tell listeners not to worry if my voice comes in and out of their conscious mind, or if they become so relaxed that they “lose” parts of the story or fall asleep (after all, this is the goal!). You can either read this selection from the script, or you can listen to a recorded sample at http://www.atimeforexpression.com/recordings-1/a-time-for-sleep
“Out of the corner of your eye, you see a swirl of pale green and yellow lights. Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, are above you; a gift from the universe. They move in slowly, washing over the stars. Wide swaths of color spread throughout the night sky, like vivid brushstrokes on an inky canvas. The presence of these rich hues, these reaching lights, puts you even more at ease. As the lights continue to fill the sky, you sink into a deeper place of relaxation and settle in, ready to enjoy nature’s show.
The green and yellow hues become richer and deeper, expanding throughout the sky. They begin to move about with each other; slowly and deliberately. You are completely entranced by their rare beauty. A slow, hypnotic dance of lights has begun.
Subtle beams of light reach out into the night sky, only to be drawn back into the luminous, swirling mass. The lights ripple and flow, like huge swaths of silk swirling above the earth. Undulating peacefully, taking their time. Just like the stars that welcome them to the night sky, the Northern Lights are so natural, so pure, so radiant. They move gracefully, swirling and curling, effortlessly, at a relaxed, leisurely pace. Just being, simply existing is enough for them. In this rare and beautiful moment, simply being is also enough for you— existing peacefully, effortlessly with nature.” (v)
Images like these are quite powerful in helping listeners achieve a peaceful and deep sleep. Other images can inspire a sense of confidence, balance, wellbeing, enhanced focus and other positive feelings. If you are looking for a more imaginative way to enter into and sustain a relaxed state, I invite you to give guided imagery a try. Keep in mind that, while it is effective immediately for some, it may take a few times listening to a particular guided imagery track before you find your “flow” within the narrative. Your response to each guided imagery script will be as unique as you are. Enjoy it, and may you find the relaxation you seek.
i The Cleveland Clinic has done a lot of work in this area: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/wellness/integrative-medicine/treatments-services/guided-imagery
ii Freeman L (2009). Imagery. In L Freeman, ed., Mosby’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Research-Based Approach, 3rd ed., pp. 252–282. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
iii McClellan, Tim. “Guided Imagery as a Trigger for Creativity,” www.creativityconference07.org/tabled_papers/McClellan_Guided.doc
iv University of Maryland Medical Center, Sleep Center http://umm.edu/programs/sleep/patients/relaxation
v Beth Freschi, “A Time for Sleep: Guided Relaxation Techniques for Peaceful Slumber,” http://www.atimeforexpression.com/recordings-1/a-time-for-sleep