The Healing Power of Imagination and Visualizations
Guided imagery is a simple tool which can empower you to become a participant in your own healing. It involves the conscious use of your imagination to create positive images in order to bring about healthful changes. While it cannot replace other medical treatment, guided imagery may be a useful accompaniment to restoring good health.
Whether you have a simple tension headache or a life-threatening disease, guided imagery may be able to help you. Through imagery, you can learn to relax and be more comfortable in any situation. You may be able to reduce, modify or eliminate pain or other symptoms. Imagery can also help you tap into your inner strengths where you may find the hope, courage, patience and perseverance to help you cope with or recover from an illness
The primary aim of guided imagery is to gently guide you to a state where your mind is calm and still. A common guided imagery technique begins with a general relaxation process where you slowly close your eyes and focus on your breathing. You are encouraged to relax, clear your mind and surround yourself with images that are peaceful and calm.
The use of guided imagery has been clinically proven to:
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Decrease pain
- Decrease blood pressure
- Decrease allergy and respiratory symptoms
- Decrease blood glucose levels
- Decrease the severity of headaches
- Enhance bone and wound healing
- Enhance sleep
- Strengthen the immune system
- Decrease the side effects of medication
Research studies suggest that the physiological impact of relaxation may be the result of its effects on cortisol, a hormone released by the body in response to stress. Some studies have shown that guided imagery is particularly helpful for patients preparing for and recovering from surgery. A 1996 study at the Cleveland Clinic demonstrated that patients who used guided imagery prior to colorectal surgery had less anxiety before and less pain after the surgery than did the control group.
Another study indicated that encouraging patients to listen to imagery during anesthesia induction and/or medical or surgical procedures decreased anxiety and stress levels significantly. It has also been demonstrated that imagery reduced the need for large doses of medication, thus reducing side effects and decreasing recovery time.
When using guided imagery by way of an audio tape, soothing music or sounds of nature may be added to create relaxation. You are encouraged to focus on the present moment and to tune out any thoughts or ideas that may be racing through your mind.
You are then taken to a "special place" in your imagination. This place is usually secluded, safe and free of interruptions. You are asked to focus on all the vivid details of the scenery; sights, sounds and smells, and the overall feeling of being in your peaceful, special place.
Practitioners say that guided imagery works because picturing something and actually doing it are experienced as the same thing by your brain. In fact, brain scans have verified that this is the case.
Stimulating the brain with imagery can have a direct effect on your nervous and endocrine systems and can ultimately affect your immune system as well. When you picture yourself lying on a beach, your muscles will actually relax and your skin may even feel the warmth of the sun. Likewise, if you imagine yourself recuperating quickly and effortlessly from surgery, you are more likely to heal faster and with less pain.
Soothing, uplifting images can actually slow your pulse and breathing and lower your blood pressure, as well as help trigger the release of hormones such as endorphins, which make you feel good and nurture your body's restorative powers.
All imagery techniques produce a state of relaxation. One technique consists of general relaxation imagery followed by focusing on the area that is causing the problem or pain. By focusing on the problem, you can then try to associate the pain with a specific image.
Another technique involves imagining a wise person or inner-guide who can help you through your healing. You would then ask your inner guide questions to gain insight into your pain and healing.
Through out my own journey through cancer I practiced every day with visualizations and found them vitalizing. In Getting Well Again, Dr. O. Carl Simonton, MD outlines eight components for effective mental imagery, which I found very useful.
1. The treatment is strong and powerful.
The imagery communicates the belief that the treatment is clearly capable of destroying the cancer. It is strengthened if there is ample interaction between the treatment and the cancer.
2. The healthy cells have no difficulty repairing any slight damage the treatment might do.
For people receiving treatments impacting all cells and not just cancer cells, the normal, healthy cells are seen as strong and capable of sustaining little damage and repairing minimal damage. The cancerous cells are destroyed by the treatment because they are weak and confused.
3. The army of white blood cells is vast and overwhelms the cancer cells.
The white blood cells are a symbol of the body's natural healing process. Visualizations and imagery reflect large amounts of strong white blood cells. The victory of the white blood cells over the cancer is seen as inevitable.
4. The white blood cells are aggressive, eager for battle, and quick to seek out the cancer cells and destroy them.
Since white blood cells are a symbol of defense and recovery, they appear intelligent, capable, and strong. The white blood cells overwhelm the cancer cells and leave no doubt about which cells are stronger.
5. The dead cells are flushed from the body normally and naturally.
Flushing dead cells from the body is a natural process, and imagining it communicates confidence in the body's normal functioning.
6 By the end of the imagery, you are healthy and free of cancer.
This image represents the desire for the final outcome, and it is important to see the body clearly as healthy, vital, and energetic.
7.You see yourself reaching your goals in life and fulfilling your life's purpose.
This imagery communicates powerful reasons for living. It confirms confidence in recovery and a commitment to living.
Meditation for relaxing
Practice Mindful Relaxation. Relaxation is not an option, it is a necessarily!
Pressing your pause button will help you to heal. In a relaxed state, you have better clarity, make better decisions, and take better care of yourself.
Mindful relaxation is an effective way to combat stress. With a little practice, you can learn how to shift into a relaxation mode. When done successfully, the relaxation response increases alpha brain wave activity, lowers blood pressure, pulse, respiration rate, metabolic rate, oxygen consumption, anxiety, and produces a greater sense of well-being.
Over time, you will develop an ability to shift into a more relaxed state in the midst of stressful situations.
When you're feeling stressed, it's common to carry stress in your body in the form of tense shoulders, a stomach 'in knots', through shallow breathing, or in other ways. When people carry stress in their bodies, they're often not even aware of it! When we're really stressed, we may be feeling physical discomfort but not connect it with our emotions. A body scan meditation is a practice that can be performed daily or even several times a day, and can help you learn to identify what you are feeling and where you're feeling it, and learn to release the stress in your body and mind. Try a body scan meditation right now!
How To Do The Body Scan Meditation
You can do the body scan meditation technique once or several times a day for 20-30 minutes each time. Make sure that you will not get interrupted during the meditation and that your environment is quiet and devoid of any noises or distractions.
During the scanning process you might find that your mind has wandered away to some mundane thoughts. Simply return your focus to scanning your body. It is natural, especially early on, for the mind to wander. However after a few weeks of this practice, you will notice that your mind will tend to wander away less and less.
1. Lie down on the mat, tighten just once your muscles in the body and then release them all in one go. (It's the same idea as when you are feeling really cold and you tighten up your muscles when you start shivering.) Once you release the muscles, you will help them relax faster and easier.
2. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
3. Bring your attention to the toes of your left foot. Simply scan your toes with your mind and notice how they feels. Are they warm? Are they cold? Are they itching or twitching? Is there any tension in them? Just notice any feeling for a few seconds and then move on.
4. Now focus on your left arch and then your heel. Feel any sensations with your mind but don't try to change them. Simply notice them and move on.
5. Now bring your awareness to your left ankle following the same sensation scanning and becoming aware of it.
6. Continue with your left lower leg. Feel the sensation, ask yourself how it feels. Then move on.
7. Next go on to your knee and then your upper leg, thigh, following the same scanning and noticing and then moving on.
8. Once you have finished scanning your left leg, you move on to the right leg using steps 3-7.
9. Now focus on your hips and notice any feeling about your hips. Accept any feeling that you have and move on.
10. Bring your awareness now to your stomach. Notice how it is rising when you breath in and how it is lowering when you exhale. Does it feel warm or maybe cold? Take a mental note and move on.
11. Next you focus on your chest. Feel it rising and sinking as you breath in and out. Do you feel any tightness in your breath? Notice anything you feel, normal or unusual and then move on.
12. Scan your lower back now and feel any sensation as your back is touching the mat. Does it feel hard or soft? Notice whatever you feel and go on to the next part.
13. Go to your upper back and shoulders. Scan all the area going up your spine. Is your back tightly wound? Notice how your shoulders are slowly raising or lowering as you inhale or exhale. Just notice their regular job and move on.
14. Now move on to your hands. Start with the fingers of your left hands. Try to feel them with your mind. Are they itching? Do they feel cold or warm? Do they feel relaxed?
15. Next move on to your hands and palms. Scan them and notice any sensation that you get from them.
16. Now scan up your lower arm, your elbow and your upper arm. Notice anything you feel about them.
17. Move on to your right arm, including your fingers, your hands and palms, your lower arms, elbows and your upper arms. Gently scan them, feel anything, notice it and move on.
18. Now move on to your neck. Feel any tightness in your neck. Scan up along your neck, up to the back of your head. Feel how your hair is between your scalp and the mat. Does your head itch? What is the feeling that you have there? Notice and move on.
19. Now feel the top of your head and then move on to your forehead. Feel the sensations in your forehead, then move on to your face.
20. Notice any sensation in your jaws, your your cheeks, your eyes, your nose and your mouth. Feel how the breath goes in through your nostrils and it goes out releasing the air from your body.
21. Now scan your throat. Feel the air going through your throat as you inhale and exhale.
22. Once you have gone through all your body parts, simply relax for a few moments.
23. Now do a quick scan over your entire body and see if anything feels tense, itching or anyhow unusual. Just notice it, don't try to scratch the itch or remove the tension by tightening up your muscles. Just be aware of your feelings and go with them. Let them be.
24. The final step is to feel your entire body connected. Don't try to feel each part separately. Feel your body wholly. Accept all the sensations as they usually come and go at their will, but you are still here, you are whole and perfect just the way you are.
Using the body scan meditation you will completely relax and by doing it on a regular basis, you will be able to de-stress quite effectively. The body scan meditation is one of the best and easiest methods for stress relief by simply focusing your mind on your body.
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Shoulders and neck relaxation
In addition, mindful movement practices such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong, are excellent for reducing body tension and stress and increasing flexibility and equanimity. These exercises are becoming increasingly popular and common, and are available at many local community centers, schools, and health clubs.
Try Breathing Techniques
Breath - Let Go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know have for sure.
You will benefit profoundly from giving more attention to your breath. Focusing on the breath brings calm through the cancer journey and in daily life. Breathing techniques are essential to support you in your life and throughout your cancer journey. Breathing is one of the simplest and most powerful strategies for health and healing.
Breath is your life force. Rhythmic inhales and exhales help regulate all of the functions in your body. Inhales provide life giving oxygen to your cells. Exhales expel the waste product carbon dioxide. When people feel panicked or unconsciously stressed, they tend to take short, shallow gasps of air. The resulting lack of oxygen restricts blood flow and causes muscles to tense. By allowing more air to enter your body, you slow down your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and break the stress cycle.
When we are panicked or unconsciously stressed, we tend to take short, shallow gasps of air. The resulting lack of oxygen restricts blood flow and
causes muscles to tense. By allowing more air to enter your body, you will slow down your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and break the stress cycle. Explore the following breathing techniques.
Basic Natural Breathing
- Sit, stand or lie comfortably with your back in a good posture. Slumping forward inhibits your ability to breathe deeply and fully.
- Identify anything that is stressing or worrying you. Only think about this for a few seconds, then let it all go. Imagine the tension taking flight like a flock of doves soaring into the sky. Hear their wings flapping as your worries leave you, lighter, freer.
- Consciously relax your arms and shoulders. Place one hand on your abdomen.
- Slowly exhale through your nose, expelling all the air you can without strain.
- Take a deep breath, filling first your abdomen, then your chest. Feel your abdomen inflate like a soft balloon, but not distend.
- Exhale slowly through your nose again.
- Repeat this, being cognizant of each breath until your breathing is steady and natural feeling.
Try imagining a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot and fill
your abdomen with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, then let it
out, like deflating a balloon.
With every long, slow breath out, you will feel more relaxed.
The next time you are in a stressful situation:
- Inhale through your nose with your mouth closed.
- Exhale through your mouth with your lips pursed (as if you were whistling or kissing).
- Make your exhalation twice as long as your inhalation (for example, inhale for two seconds, exhale for four). Use your abdomen when you breathe, consciously pushing your belly out. Try putting one hand over your stomach, to see how it rises and falls.
- Inhale normally and naturally.
- Exhale fully through a plastic drinking straw - make sure you have exhaled all of the air out of your lungs.
- Inhale normally (not through the straw).
- Exhale fully out of the straw.
- Repeat this exercise for 5 minutes.
- Ideally, do this twice a day.
Keep a pack of straws in your car and do this exercise whenever you're stuck in traffic.
- Focus your attention on your breathing. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly.
- Mentally scan your body. Notice areas that feel tense or cramped. Quietly loosen them. Let go of as much tension as you can.
- Rotate your head in a smooth, circular motion once or twice (avoid any movements that cause pain).
- Roll your shoulders forward and backward several times. Let all of your muscles completely relax.
- Recall a pleasant thought, event, or place.
- Take deep breaths and exhale slowly.
Tension Release Breathing
- Do not let yourself think about any worries or anxiety provoking issues while doing this exercise. If the thoughts creep in, stop them by re-focusing on the breathing and counting.
- Begin breathing deeply, filling your abdomen first, then your chest.
- Sit quietly, scan your body for tension, and consciously tell any tense muscles to relax (tension often accumulates in shoulders, neck and back).
- Inhale deeply through your nose, pause, then exhale, count one.
- Repeat, counting your exhalations to five.
- Begin again, counting exhalations one to five.
- Continue this exercise 5-10 minutes.
You should be relaxed and the anxiety or tension greatly diminished.
This breathing exercise is used to tone your respiratory system and to send renewed energy to your whole body. If you have been sitting and feeling stagnant, this one will reawaken you. It can be used as part of a pre-ritual cleansing as well.
- Sit or stand comfortably.
- Inhale a complete, natural breath through your nose.
- Hold the breath for a few seconds.
- Pretend you have a straw in your mouth, and exhale a short burst of air forcefully, through the small opening.
- With each puff out, visualize an pollutants, negativity and detrimental germs going with the air, and falling harmlessly to the floor.
- Repeat until you have emptied your lungs via these short, strong puffs.
- Inhale, visualizing pure, cleansing air entering your body, filling you with purity.
- Practice natural breathing for a few minutes.
- Place your dominant hand on the part of the body that is injured or infected. Place your other hand ( receptive) on your abdomen.
- Visualize energy flowing into you with each inhalation, filling a reservoir in your solar plexus. Imagine this energy flowing into the selected area, washing through it, driving out the pain or infection. Cleansing, purifying, disinfecting energy being drawn from the universe and being channeled into healing light.
- Continue this until your feel ready to be finished.
- Place both arms at your sides, palms turned downward and let the excess energy in you hands flow back into the surface/ground beneath you.
- This exercise may be repeated as needed.
- Stand comfortably.
- Stretch several times, reaching higher each time.
- Trigger your yawn reflex while stretching.
- Begin breathing deeply and naturally, as above.
- Spin your arms backward, all the way around.
- Switch directions, spinning them forward.
- This will re-energize you!
In an era where everything has to be done yesterday, people are choosing slower forms of exercise to relax instead of hitting the gym. With the popularity of Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates ever increasing, the new celebrity exercise is Qi Gong.
Qi Gong (pronounced Chi Kung) is an ancient Chinese energy practice. It is a self-healing art that combines movement and meditation. Visualization is employed to enhance the mind/body connection and assist healing.
‘Qi’ literally means air which represents a kind of energy flowing through your body. ‘Gong’ means the great effort or work put into the Qi practice. Through working inside your body and mind, using the methodology of Qi Gong, you may achieve a perfect harmony in your body, mind, and spirit. So this may lead to a more energetic and healthier life. Therefore, this is the Chinese way of cultivating the human body and is the ancient Chinese methodology for health, therapy, and longevity.
Qigong is the study and practice of cultivating vital-life-force through various techniques, including:
- Breathing techniques
- Guided imagery
Qi means "breath" or "air" and is considered the "vital-life-force" or "life-force energy." Qigong practitioners believe that this vital-life-force penetrates and permeates everything in the universe. It corresponds to the Greek "pneuma," the Sanskrit "prana," or the Western medical conception of "bioelectricity."
Gong means "work" or "effort" and is the commitment an individual puts into any practice or skill that requires time, patience, and repetition to perfect.
Through study, the individual aims to develop the ability to manipulate Qi in order to promote self-healing, prevent disease, and increase longevity.
More about Qigong Techniques
There are two types of Qigong practice:
- Wai Dan - involves physical movement and concentration
- Nei Dan - involves sitting meditation and guided imagery or visualization
According to the traditional teachings of Qigong, beginners first learn physical movements coordinated with breathing techniques. They practice sets of exercises (similar to Tai Chi) until each movement or posture is perfected. Once they learn the form, the next step is to find the subtle flow or fluctuation of energy within the postures, movements, breathing patterns, and transitions. This is called moving meditation.
Among the exercises, there are many postures that are held for long periods of time. These postures are somewhat similar to those of yoga. They are practiced to strengthen the limbs and increase energetic flow. These postures fall into the category of still meditation.
Sitting meditation focuses on becoming more acquainted with the breath, body, and mind.
Moving, still, and sitting meditations can all be practiced with or without visualization. Visualization enhances the scope of practice by allowing the practitioner to guide the energy in accordance with the visualization.
Qigong uses combination's of these practices in an effort to promote health and improve digestion; boost the immune system; and relieve headaches, sinus congestion, aches and pain, and stress - to name a few.
What are the types of Qigong?
There are many forms and styles of Qigong, but they all fit into one of three main categories:
- Medical Qigong to heal self and others
- Martial Qigong for physical prowess
- Spiritual Qigong for enlightenment
Generally, all Qigong practitioners incorporate exercises and techniques from all three categories--the only difference is their focus.
This is the most popular of the three categories. It is the oldest of the four branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the energetic foundation from which acupuncture, herbal medicine, and Chinese massage originated. Thus Qigong shares the foundational theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine and uses similar diagnostic and treatment methods.
There are two types of medical Qigong:
- Self-Healing Qigong, during which individuals practice Qigong exercises to enhance their health, prevent disease, and address illness.
- External Qigong or Qi Emission, during which Qigong practitioners emit Qi with the intention to heal others. (See more about this below.) In addition to emitting Qi for healing, a good Qigong practitioner usually prescribes specific exercises designed to help regulate Qi. The patients incorporate these Qigong exercises into their daily practice as well as receive occasional sessions from the Qigong healer/practitioner.
This type of qigong uses mantras, mudras (hand positions), sitting meditations, and prayers to pursue enlightenment. These techniques are heavily influenced by Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Spiritual Qigong teaches discipline and leads to self-awareness, tranquility, and harmony with nature and self.
Spiritual practitioners train their Qi to a much deeper level, working with many internal functions of the body. They practice to obtain control of their body, mind, and spirit, with the goal of escaping from the cycle of reincarnation.
How might Qigong benefit your health and well-being?
All living organisms give off a bioelectric field. It is believed that a Qigong healer can detect these fields, as well as their imbalances. The goal of Qigong is to correct the imbalances that have accumulated throughout a person's lifetime. Imbalances occur from deep-seated emotions (stress, anger, anxiety, depression, grief, etc.), trauma or injury, improper diet, excessive sexual activity, lack of exercise, etc. Imbalances may also be acquired from our parents (both constitutional and emotional).
Qigong practitioners believe the Qi that course through our entire being must flow properly, like a river. If there is a block, Qi becomes stagnant and prevents other parts of the body from being nourished. If the Qi flows too rapidly, it causes degeneration or exhaustion of the internal organs. The practice of Qigong helps to balance these energies: filling deficiencies and removing excess. Practicing Qigong and receiving Qigong healing activates acupuncture points, meridians, and organ systems, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Therefore, practicing and receiving Qigong is similar to a powerful acupuncture treatment. Qigong also likely works in the same manner as other physical exercise to relieve emotional stress
Exercise Your Shoulders and Neck Muscles
- Shrug your shoulders. Stand up or sit. Push your shoulders up around your ears and tighten the muscles as much as possible. Let them drop and relax. Repeat.
- Stretch up and overhead. While sitting in a chair, bring your arms overhead, holding them straight with fingertips pointing toward the ceiling. Elbows shouldn't be locked. Reach skyward with your right hand and then with your left hand. You should feel the stretch, but nothing should hurt. Breathe comfortably throughout.
- Swing your arms. Stand up. Let your arms stand loose at your sides. Lean forward slightly and swing your arms back and forth and from side to side across your chest. Relax. Stop swinging. Lift one arm up over your head, and look over your right shoulder. Hold that position. Relax and breathe deeply. Then try it with the other arm.
- Walk. Go out for a walk, but leave your pocketbook behind; if you carry a bag, you might throw your body off balance. Walk briskly and throw your shoulders back as you move. Don't race. Hurrying may make you slouch forward unconsciously, creating tension in the curve of your shoulders. Throw your shoulders back, expand your chest area, and breathe deeply.
I wish you the very best as you continue to progress on your journey through cancer into remembrance of well - being and health.