Psych Central

Practical Tips for Using Imagery

By Martin L. Rossman, MD

sing imagery on purpose, whether for relaxation, energy, problem-solving, healing or planning, is something you learn to do — and, as with anything else you learn to do, the more you do it, the easier it gets. The more you learn about it, the easier it gets, and the better the quality of the instruction you have, the easier it is to use. Here are some tips to get you started on the right track.

Relax

Getting relaxed while staying alert is often the first step in learning to use imagery for stress reduction, serenity, and health. Sometimes you may relax easily but find that you fall asleep and wake up not knowing what happened. Usually this isn’t a problem, since you probably needed the rest, but if you are going to use your imagery for specific purposes, like deep relaxation or encouraging healing, you need to cultivate the ability to relax and stay alert at the same time.

Some people are not able to relax enough during imagery. If that’s your problem, try these tips:

  • Pick a time of day or night when you are tired and drowsy.
  • Try doing your imagery after a meal.
  • Try lying down rather than sitting up.

After you get comfortable, give yourself five to ten minutes just to do a “mind drain” — take a few deep breaths and just let your thoughts go where they will, but don’t try to follow them. Just watch the thoughts like you’d watch seagulls flying in and out of your field of view at the beach. Don’t try to stop them from coming and don’t try to stop them from leaving. After a few minutes, you’ll notice that the thoughts come less frequently, and you’ll start to slow down — then you can start your imagery process.

Sometimes people experience what we call “threshold phenomena” when they relax — these can range from yawning, to non-emotional tearing, to feeling like you are spinning for a while, to becoming sexually aroused. You might also have some involuntary muscle twitches or feelings of lightness or heaviness. All these can be signs that your nervous system is shifting gears; they usually disappear within a few minutes if you continue to relax.

Whenever you feel like you’re “trying hard” to focus on your imagery, take a couple of deep breaths and relax a little more. Let it come to you instead of chasing it — it works better.

Stay Alert

The opposite problem is falling asleep consistently when you do imagery. If that’s your problem, here are some tips:

  • Pick a time of day when you are well-rested as opposed to just before bed or a mid-afternoon slump.
  • Don’t do your imagery after eating, or drinking alcohol.
  • If you do your imagery lying down, then try sitting up in a chair or cross-legged on the floor.
  • Try doing guided imagery with your eyes half open rather than closed.

Find a Quiet Time and Place

While you can do imagery anywhere, it’s usually easier, especially at first, in a quiet, safe place, where you can close your eyes and relax. Ask your roomies to get you if there’s a fire, but otherwise consider you “off the planet” for twenty minutes or so while you relax. If your living quarters are crowded and there’s no place or time when you can get some quiet time, look for a local church, hospital, or library with a quiet room.

Establish a Routine

If you really want to cultivate your ability to relax with imagery most quickly, commit yourself to doing two sessions a day (15 – 20 minutes each) for three weeks. If you do that, you’ll be very confident in your ability to relax when you need to, and your sense of inner peace will begin to become evident during your daily activities. It conditions your nervous system to be less reactive, especially to small things, and most of what irritates us are small things.

If you can’t (or won’t) commit that time, then practice daily for that three-week period. The brain actually rearranges its hard wiring to facilitate new learning in about that time, so groove your ability to access the relaxed but energetic state!

It’s All About Attitude

Approach new imagery techniques with an attitude of experimentation. Do it as a journey — see where it takes you, and learn from each experience. There’s always something to learn — and this attitude takes the pressure off you to have a certain kind of experience. Learning to focus inside, to stay aware yet relaxed, to ask your own questions and pay attention to what comes up, is an acquired skill, and an extremely valuable one to have.

Adopt an attitude that is free of judgement, and give yourself plenty of time to experiment and learn how to work with this process. Be your own best friend and let your self-talk be kind and supportive.

Remember, there are lots of resources available to help you learn to do this: books, audiotapes, classes, and individual guides that can support you while you learn these invaluable skills!

 

APA Reference
Rossman, M. (2007). Practical Tips for Using Imagery. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 18, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/practical-tips-for-using-imagery/000975
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

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