Visual imagery meditation is a relaxation technique that uses imagination. Although it’s called “visualization”, it involves far more than your visual sense. It engages the whole body, the emotions, and all the senses.
Visual imagery can create harmony between the mind and body. The mind-body connection is an important part of pain management. In this post, we will look at how visual imagery can help to manage and reduce chronic pain.
Mental images are formed long before we learn to understand and use words. Mental images lie at the core of who we think we are and what we believe the world is like. We recall past events and imagine new ones by forming mental images of them. Words evoke mental images. Our dreams consist of mental imagery. So you see, we use visual imagery all the time.
People with chronic pain tend to experience negative thoughts about their pain. These thoughts often occur on a subconscious level. It turns out, people with chronic pain can have mental images linked to their pain as well. Chronic pain patients often describe their pain in ways that suggest vivid mental images.
Studies show that mental images of pain appear to be associated with higher levels of anxiety, depression, and catastrophizing. We can aggravate and intensify our pain by generating mental imagery that emphasizes its severity.
Visual imagery is a variation of traditional meditation. It is also called guided imagery, visualization, and mental imagery. Visual imagery involves creating a detailed mental image of a place where you feel at peace. A place where you feel free to relax and let go of all tension and anxiety. For example, a tropical beach, forest, or babbling brook in the woods.
Visual imagery meditation requires you to use all your senses. Not only your visual sense, but also your sense of taste, touch, smell, and hearing. If you are imagining the beach, imagine the warmth of the sun on your skin. Imagine the smell of the ocean. Imagine the sound of the waves, the wind, and seagulls. The more you can invoke your senses, the more vivid the experience will become.
Visual imagery is a two-part process. The first part is reaching a state of deep relaxation through breathing and muscle relaxation techniques. The second part is the imagery, or visualization, itself. There are many different types of visual imagery techniques. Some types include relaxation imagery, healing imagery, pain control imagery, and mental rehearsal.
Picturing something in your mind and actually doing it are experienced as the same thing by your brain. In fact, brain scans have verified that this is the case. Visual imagery can have a direct effect on your nervous, endocrine, and immune systems.
Soothing, peaceful images can slow your pulse and breathing and lower your blood pressure. They also trigger the release of endorphins. Endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body.
All imagery techniques produce a state of relaxation. One technique for pain consists of relaxation imagery followed by focusing on the area(s) that are causing the problem or pain. You then try to associate the pain with a specific image and imagine the pain as something over which you have complete control.
Visual imagery can be self-directed, where you put yourself into a relaxed state and create your own images. Or it can be directed by others. You can work with a therapist or listen to a video or an audio track that leads you through an imagery exercise. You can also write your own guided imagery script and record it.
As with any meditation, you will need a quiet place to practice, without distractions or interruptions. Make yourself comfortable. There are many different visual imagery scripts. Something like the following steps is often recommended:
- Take a few slow and deep breaths to center your awareness and calm yourself.
- Close your eyes. Continue to breathe slowly, smoothly.
- Imagine yourself in a place where you feel peaceful. Everything is as you like it.
- Imagine yourself becoming calm and relaxed. Imagine feeling happy.
- Picture it as vividly as you can. Everything you see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Try to use at least three of your senses.
- Enjoy the feeling of deep relaxation as you explore your restful place. Spend at least 5-10 minutes feeling fully relaxed.
- When you are ready, open your eyes and come back to the present.
Visual imagery for pain management involves concentrating on mental pictures of pleasant scenes or events or mentally repeating positive words or phrases to reduce pain. There are many different imagery scripts for pain management.
The important role the mind plays in chronic pain is recognized in pain management. The International Association for the Study of Pain’s definition of pain states that pain is always subjective and defined by the person who experiences it. The opinion is that the mind can also learn how to manage the sensation of pain.
Visual imagery is one of the easiest meditation practices for most people. By imagining yourself in a peaceful, beautiful place, you refocus and redirect your mind and feelings away from your actual situation. And your pain. It’s a place you can come back to, time and time again.
Do you practice visual imagery? Does it help your pain? Let me know in the comments below.
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