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What to Expect from Guided Imagery

Excerpted from Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal © Naparstek, 2005

Here are some general facts and user-friendly tips about how to best use guided imagery techniques, and what to expect from it.

Your skill and efficiency will increase with practice. You'll improve from whatever skill level you start with. Guided imagery functions in a way that is the opposite of addictive substances the more you use it, the less and less it will take for it to work.

Guided Imagery Tips

Imagery works best in a permissive, relaxed, unforced atmosphere. So try not to get too intense about "doing it right". There are many ways to do it right

Your choice of imagery content needs to be congruent with your values, so don't try to impose imagery on yourself that doesn't sit right. Let your own images come up and work for you. Don't get stuck in somebody else's way.

It's best to engage all the senses, especially your kinesthetic or feeling sense. Remember, only a little over half of the population is strongly visual.

Imagery is generally more powerful in a group setting, mainly due to the contagious nature of the altered state. So a support group, special study group or healing group is a nice place to work with it (and try to sit next to a yoga instructor or some other heavy-hitter meditator!)

Music, when properly chosen, will increase the effects of imagery. You will intuitively know what music is right for what you need. A small percentage of people prefer no music at all.

Imagery that elicits emotion is generally more effective than imagery that doesn't. Responding with emotion is a good sign that the imagery is working for you in a deep way.

If you're using self-talk with your imagery, try to avoid the imperative verb form on yourself, so that inadvertently "bossy" language doesn't get your back up and marshal unnecessary resistance.

You do not have to be a "believer" in order for imagery to help. Positive expectancy helps, but even a skeptical willingness to give it a try can be quite sufficient.

Touch may be the most powerful accompaniment to imagery you can employ, both to help with relaxation and to increase the kinesthetic power of the images. Imagery combined with therapeutic massage, energy work, or other kinesthetic modalities is very potent, and more than the sum of its parts.

Using the same posture cues, gestures or hand-positioning with each imaging session creates an "anchor" that conditions you to respond immediately to the posture. You can then adopt the posture in a meeting, or while waiting in traffic, or while resting, and your body will respond the way it did during the imagery.

If you aren't used to being both relaxed and awake at the same time, you will routinely fall asleep during an imagery session, especially if you're listening to a tape. If you want to stay awake, you might try sitting up, standing, walking or listening with your eyes half-open.

Even asleep, though, you'll benefit from repeated listening, as demonstrated in test results with sleeping diabetics and unconscious surgery patients.

Don't worry if you keep "spacing out" or losing track of a guided imagery narrative. This is not an indicator that you're listening wrong. On the contrary, a wandering mind often comes with the territory.

You may tear up, get a runny nose, cough, yawn, feel heaviness in your limbs, get tingling along the top of their scalp or in your hands and feet, or experience minor, involuntary muscle-movements. These are entirely normal responses.

Other indicators of a strong response to imagery are unusual stillness, increased coloring in the face, and an ironing out of lines and wrinkles. After some imagery, your voice will be deeper and lower, slower and more relaxed.

Usually an imaging exercise, regardless of what it's for, will clear a headache, relieve stress, lift mood and reduce chronic pain.

What is Guided Imagery?

Three Principles of Guided Imagery

Guided Imagery Tips & Techniques

Eight Types of Guided Imagery Content

Guided Imagery and Intuition

Guided Imagery Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)