What if you could leave behind the worries that make you tense, sad or restless and travel to your favorite place in the world to get away from it all?
A relaxation technique called guided imagery, or creative visualization, can help you do just that. And it’s easy to learn.
“Guided imagery can make you feel more in control of your mood,” says Mary Rose, Psy.D., C.B.S.M., assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “It can calm you and help you sleep. You can use it to lift your mood when you’re feeling depressed and to soothe yourself when you’re anxious. Studies have shown it to be very effective.”
Our memories, our worries and our fears exist in images and you can use images to manage your mood. It’s an age-old method of meditation.
To begin the meditation, loosen your clothing and sit or lie comfortably with the lights dimmed. Take a few slow breathes, listening to your breathing. Then, begin to imagine.
You might want to imagine biking or walking to your safe place. Once there, use all your senses in your mind: hear the birds, feel the breeze, smell the pines. “You can visualize a place you’ve visited or an imaginary one,” says Dr. Rose. “Once you’ve developed a scene, go back to the same place each time you need to relax.”
Spend about 20 minutes in your visualization experience, she says. “As you immerse yourself in the experience, you’ll feel your heart rate coming down.”
You can use the method on your own, whenever you need it. After you’ve practiced it a few times, you may be able to take yourself to your safe place just for a moment when you’re feeling stressed. Or, you can work with an experienced therapist who will guide you through the meditation.
Try it on your own
With practice, you can learn a guided imagery routine that will take you to a place of deep relaxation where you can heal and be soothed. It might go something like this:
You park your car on the bluff. You leave your telephone behind, along with thoughts of work and schedules and problems. You leave the weight of yesterday and tomorrow behind, because for now it is today. You walk away from your car and drop your shoes at the edge of the beach where the city disappears behind a dune.
Feel the warm sand between your toes. Smell the salt. Hear the waves crashing softly. The ocean is vast. Beside it, everything is small. Close your eyes. Breathe.
When you're ready, open your eyes, turn around and retrace the faded footsteps disappearing in the surf behind you. Return to your shoes and your car and your life. Suddenly, you're back on the road with places to go. Tomorrow is tomorrow, today is today. The sea is what it is and so are you. You are here and you are ready.
How to relax
Stress and the mind-body connection
I Can't Sleep
Mary Rose, Psy.D., C.B.S.M., assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Holistic Online, holisticonline.com
Holistic Education: Spirituality in Education: Visualization, Relaxation and Connection, Sue Stack, Holistic Education Network, hent.org
Page updated June 1, 2010