Guided Imagery

What is Guided Imagery?

800px-Polarlicht_2Guided Imagery or Creative Visualization is a significant healing method and dates back to ancient times in all cultures across the world. It can help one to direct one’s concentration on images held in the mind’s eye. This therapy takes advantage of the connection between the visual brain and the involuntary nervous system. When the visual cortex (located at the back of the head) is activated, without receiving direct input from the eyes, it can influence physical and emotional states. This, in turn, can help elicit physiological changes in the body, including therapeutic goals((

The Mind-Body Unity

Our body has been described as a vehicle for the manifestation of mind in the world of concrete reality((Epstein, Jerry, MD: Healing and Imagination, ReVision, Spring 1980)). Hence the word mindbody is a better descriptor of ourselves as it is one unit of interaction. What happens in our mind is directly reflected physically on our body and vice-versa. If you’ve ever blushed from embarrassment, you know that your skin can reflect what you’re feeling inside. It makes sense, then, that emotional trouble might show up as skin trouble. There is compelling evidence that Mindfulness Meditation and Visual Imagery alone has an effect on skin problems((Collins MP and Dunn LF: The effects of meditation and visual imagery on an immune system disorder: dermatomyositis, Journal of Alternative and  Complementary Medicine, New York, 2005 Apr;11(2):275-84)).

A powerful mental action will thus have an effect on the body that can be physiologically measured. This has been amply demonstrated in the laboratory by practitioners of Yoga who are able to control autonomic functions like heartbeat, blood pressure and body temperature.((Green, Elmer and Green, Alyce: Beyond Biofeedback, Knoll Publishing Co. 1977, Chapter II, pp.197-218))

Is it science?

While there is no scientific explanation as to how Guided Imagery or Creative Visualisation works, Dr. Gerald Epstein, MD, proposes one model based on embryological basis((Epstein, Gerald MD: Journal of Imagery International, July 2010, Vol. 14, No.2)). Dr. Epstein builds on an established embryological fact that at about three to four weeks of embryological development, the nervous system begins to develop((Langman’s Medical Embrylogy (2000), ed. T.W. Sadler and J. Langman. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins)). This primal brain/ spinal cord formation is called the neural crest. Here a tremendous number of cells are produced that virtually explode, migrate and differentiate into cells that develop our sensory, sympathetic, parasympathetic nervous systems, the adrenals, cardiac tissue and practically every known organ.

Thus every organ has a “little brain” which constantly communicates with the “brain-in-the-skull”. Eventually the brain-in-the-skull sends its messages to the brains-in-the-organs, which in turn send messages to the brains of other organs, which in turn send instructions to supporting cells and tissues as to what to do. Thus by ordering the brain of an organ to come into order, we order the organ to come into order. When we are “in order” we are healing!

Show me the evidence!

Dr. Andrew Weil MD believes in the power of the mind-body connection to facilitate healing, and frequently recommends guided imagery to augment the recovery process for surgical patients. He cites over 200 studies offering compelling evidence that guided imagery can effectively help decrease pain and the need for pain medication, reduce side effects and complications of surgery, lessen stress and anxiety before and after procedures, reduce recovery time, improve sleep, strengthen the immune system, and boost self-confidence and self-control.

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Nursing recently conducted a study on the potential of guided imagery in patients with osteoarthritis. Thirty older men and women with osteoarthritis were enrolled in a 4 month trial comparing the efficacy of guided imagery with relaxation vs. “a sham intervention”. The participants who engaged in the guided imagery protocol reported “a significant reduction in pain from baseline to month 4 and significant improvement in mobility from baseline to month 2″. There was also a documented reduction in the use of pain relieving medication in those practicing guided imagery.((Baird CL, Murawski MM & Wu J: Efficacy of Guided Imagery with Relaxation for Oseoarthritis Symptoms and Medication Intake. Pain Management Nursing, Vol. 11, issue 1, pp.56-65, March 2010))

Children too can benefit

RCT children

BMC Pediatrics Research: Children show improvement with Guided Imagery

An Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) of guided imagery as treatment for abdominal pain in children demonstrated that children who learned guided imagery with progressive muscle relaxation had significantly greater decrease in the number of days with pain.  During the two months of follow-up, more children who had learned guided imagery met the threshold of less than four days of pain each month and no missed activities.((Weydert JA et al: Evaluation of guided imagery as treatment for abdominal pain in children: a randomized controlled trialBMC Pediatrics 2006, 6:29  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-6-29))

I can help you learn Guided Imagery. A typical session will begin with relaxation and meditation and that is followed by imagery of the healing objective you have in mind.