How Guided Imagery Works


Defining “consciousness” is quite challenging, although we do know that it is closely related to the process of attention- what we focus on is what we experience. There is an old saying that “whatever you give your attention to grows,” whether it’s your garden, your relationships, or your worries and fears.

However, we are much more than just our conscious mind. Our emotions, feelings, memories, motivations, goals, desires, aspirations, ambitions, values, beliefs, attitudes, intuition and perceptions, all are part of the richness of our unconscious mind. These elements of our unconscious mind are expressed to a greater extent by our imagery experiences than by conscious verbal awareness. Yet, in our Western culture, we tend to pay much less attention to these images and the feelings they convey than we do to the “little voice” of our conscious mind.

By using an interactive, non-judgmental, content-free guiding system, experienced imagery experts can encourage people to tap into their inner resources to find new and creative ways to problem solve. Tapping into your own inner resources and finding solutions on your own with minimal interference from other people’s experiences, beliefs, emotions, etc. provides greater opportunity for effective self-care and longer lasting results, which leads to greater independence for the person in regards to self-empowerment.

Imagery has strong physical effects as well. For example, if you vividly imagine biting into newly baked bread, you will soon begin to salivate and even feel hungry.  It can also affect your respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, metabolic rates in cells, gastrointestinal mobility and secretion, sexual function, cortisol levels, blood lipids, and even immune responsiveness.

Steps for using imagery:

Step 1: Find a Quiet Place

Find a quiet place to sit down. This could be a park bench, an empty room, or even your office. Close your eyes, and breathe slowly and deeply to calm down.

Step 2: Choose Your Setting

Once you feel relaxed, picture yourself in the most peaceful environment that you can imagine. This can be an imaginary place, or a memory of a place or time that has a special meaning to you.

The scene that you imagine is highly personal and should ideally be one that you feel emotionally drawn to. However, if you’re having trouble thinking of an image, consider using the following:

Relaxing on a sunny tropical beach, listening to the waves, and digging your toes into the sand.

  • Curling up in an armchair in a remote cabin, surrounded by mountains and snow, and relaxing in front of a fire with a cup of hot cocoa.
  • Going on a picnic with your family in your favourite secret spot.
  • Sitting by a waterfall deep in the forest, feeling the gentle moisture against your face, and listening to the birds.

It’s important to remember that imagery’s effectiveness relies on using all your senses.

Don’t just imagine yourself in the remote mountain cabin. In your imagination, look around you. Pay attention to details, to the rustic feel of the room. Feel the fire’s warmth against your skin, and inhale the musky, earthy scent of the wood’s smoke. Touch the cosy blanket, taste the sweet hot chocolate, and look out of the window at the deer finding food in the snow outside. Experience the feeling of having nothing else to do but eat, read, and go walking in the snow.

Your goal is to immerse yourself fully in the scene: this includes what you can see, taste, touch, and smell, as well as how you feel. The more details that you can include in your imagery, the more effective this technique will be.

Keep in mind that when you first begin to use imagery, it might feel strange, and you may have difficulty immersing yourself fully in your imagined scene. With practice, this will get easier; your imagination will get stronger, and you’ll be able to enter a relaxed state more quickly.

Step 3: Relax

Stay in your relaxed scene for as long as you feel comfortable, or as long as your schedule allows. Continue breathing deeply, and try not to let any outside thoughts intrude. When you’re ready to leave, sit quietly, and let your mind turn back to the situation at hand. You’ll now feel much more relaxed, in control, and ready to tackle your challenges.

Sometimes, soft music is playing in the background. A candle may be lit. The light aroma of incense may fill the air. Your senses are engaged to heighten your experience of deep relaxation.


What should one expect on a visit to a practitioner of guided imagery?

Guided imagery can be learned from books, self-help tapes, CDs, DVDs or in an interactive form using an expert to assist in these techniques. The first step, is achieving a state of relaxation. To do this, most people start by lying down or sitting in a comfortable chair, loosening any tight fitting clothing, and removing any distractions, including televisions, mobile phones and computers.  After a person gets comfortable, breathing techniques, music, progressive muscle relaxation or a guided introduction is often used to attain a sense of calm.

Step 2 may involve, a set of suggestions to help the person visualise their own images that will guide them toward the best way of alleviating symptoms. Finding images that have a message about particular symptoms or a condition, can offer insight, or understanding or better control of the physical problems. Additionally, repeating these exercises can result in a learning or conditioning effect, so that the positive physical changes can eventually become accessible wherever and whenever the person chooses to use them. Regular practice is crucial for maximising benefits- even if it is a few minutes a day.

How do I Begin?

You might want to begin with some short visualizations. You could purchase a prepared guided visualization tape or you might choose to attend a class, since a practitioner adds energy that may not be conveyed on tape. Or you might prefer an individual session, where you could receive support as well as visualizations personalised to match your needs.

If you take time out to relax in this healthy way and journey within, chances are you’ll notice how much better you feel. It is truly a powerful technique to revitalize mind, body and and spirit.

Guided Imagery Tips

  • Imagery works best in a relaxed and unforced atmosphere. So try not to get too intense about “doing it right”.
  • Your choice of imagery content needs to be aligned with your values, so don’t try to impose imagery on yourself that doesn’t feel right. Visualise your own images that work best for you.
  • Use all your senses, especially your feeling sense.
  • Imagery works best in a group environment, as people are influenced by the effects of other people’s altered states.
  • Appropriate music will increase the value of imagery.
  • Imagery that evokes emotion is better than imagery that doesn’t. Responding with emotion is a good sign that the imagery is working for you in a deep way.
  • If you’re using self-talk or affirmations with your imagery, try to avoid using verbs that tell you what to do. This could result in unnecessary resistance within yourself.
  • You do not have to believe in imagery for it to work. Healthy scepticism is fine.
  • Imagery combines with touch therapies, such as, massage and healing touch can be extremely powerful as a whole.
  • Using anchors in the form of posture cues, gestures or hand-positioning with each imaging session helps you to respond immediately to the imagery. You can then adopt the posture in a meeting, or while waiting in traffic, or while resting, and your body will respond the way it did during the imagery.
  • If you aren’t used to being both relaxed and awake at the same time, you will routinely fall asleep during an imagery session, especially if you’re listening to a tape. If you want to stay awake, you might try sitting up, standing, walking or listening with your eyes half-open. Although being asleep, still has positive effects with repetitive listening sessions, as recognised in unconscious patients.
  • Don’t worry if you find it difficult to focus or pay attention during a guided imagery. Like with most new habits and skills, it takes time and practice.
  • Physical changes, such as, watery eyes, a runny nose, coughing, yawning, feeling heaviness in your limbs, feeling a tingling sensation along the top of your scalp or in your hands and feet, or experience minor, involuntary muscle-movements. These are entirely normal responses.
  • Other indicators of a strong response to imagery are unusual stillness, increased colouring in the face, and ironing out of lines and wrinkles. After some imagery, your voice will be deeper and lower, slower and more relaxed.
  • Guided imagery can in some instances clear a headache, relieve stress, lift mood and reduce chronic pain.