Guided visualization is a mindfulness tool you can use to guide your imagination or mind’s eye towards your goals.
Guided visualization is a meditation or mindfulness technique where a person uses their senses and imagination to help them connect with something in their mind. This can include a feeling — such as self-confidence or calmness — a place, an action, or a goal.
Guided visualization can help a person control their thoughts and remain in the present. If you have anxiety, guided visualization may be particularly helpful, although anyone may find guided visualization helpful.
In most cases, it’s typical for your eyes to be closed or in a resting position, and someone will be talking to you rather slowly and gently like a story unfolding. But guided imagery is more than listening to someone speak and hearing relaxing music.
Guided imagery is a learning process and it takes time to build up many of the skills required for full immersion. These skills include learning to listen to someone’s voice without having your mind wander, steadying your breathing, and imagining images and sensations as vividly as possible.
Guided visualization may also be paired with other types of complementary stress-reducing or calming tools and techniques to enhance the experience. A common example is adding sound therapy or tailored frequency music (think spa music) in the background.
What you can expect from guided visualization will depend largely on your setting, which could be at home, in a group setting, in nature, etc.
In-person guided visualization can happen in a single session between you and the practitioner, or in a group setting like a meditation class. You may also experience some guided visualization during yoga or reiki sessions.
Virtual options include group distance meditation sessions and guided visualization meditation sessions via meditation apps.
Whether in-person or virtual, having a guide can be very helpful in focusing your mind, especially if you are just beginning.
Stephanie Wagner, a health and wellness coach and mindfulness teacher, explains, “Many people feel like apps or live guided meditations are supportive because it helps them keep their mind on track during the practice, and others will eventually move into meditating on their own. A lot of it depends on personal preference.”
Wagner offers the following guided imagery meditation exercises.
Visualization for Relaxation
Imagine that you are in your favorite place in the world — somewhere you feel safe and relaxed.
- What sounds do you hear?
- What do you see?
- Who are you with?
- How does your body feel when you bring this place to mind?
As you do this, see if you can connect with a sense of relaxation in your body and rest in this state for a few moments. Whenever you are ready, let go of the visualization.
Visualization for Tension
Settle into a position that feels comfortable and take a few slow, deep breaths. Notice where you feel tension in your body. Now, imagine a light in a color that inspires you, maybe a blue light or a bright white light. Breathing in, imagine that you bring that color into the different parts of your body that are tense.
As the color touches the area, imagine that the tension melts away leaving you in a state of calm. Rest in that feeling for a few moments and whenever you are ready, let go of the visualization.
Guided imagery may be a useful technique for lowering anxiety. A 2018 study found that guided imagery may be especially effective for lowering anxiety when it is performed in nature.
“Visualization helps to train the mind by activating the parts of the brain that the actual task does,” says Wagner.
“As it relates to anxiety, the mind/body connection can help us move into a state of calm and relaxation that can seem unavailable to us when we are stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed,” explains Wagner.
Wanger points to several potential benefits of guided visualization meditation, including:
- improved relaxation
- better stress management
- less fear and anxiety
increased athletic performance
- pain relief
Guided visualization is a mindfulness technique to help you remain in the present and focus your mind. This practice may also help your calm your nervous system to reduce feelings of stress, distress, anxiety, or even pain.
If you are practicing guided visualization at home, it may be helpful to follow along with a video, especially if you are new to this technique. Trying some of the exercises above can also help show you what to expect.
Some practitioners or meditation guides will add music or sound therapy to the experience. Others may incorporate guided visualization into yoga sessions or reiki energy life force work. There are many different ways to practice guided visualization, so playing around with what works best for you can be very helpful.