Guided Imagery is an immersive, hypnotic mind-body technique that consists of a soothing guided narrative, usually scored to music. It drives attention inward to help the listener experience, through words, symbols, images and metaphors, a desired outcome – either for improved health, wellness, performance or for a specific change in attitude or behavior.
It works easily and powerfully for most people without requiring much from them – they just have to press ‘play’ and half-listen in what will soon become a relaxed, altered state. Many people who have trouble meditating or relaxing are surprised by how well they do with guided imagery.
Hypnosis is a way of accessing an altered or “trance” state for healing, wellness or behavior change, and uses imagery or verbal suggestion after an initial “induction” that helps quiet the thinking brain, to encourage a relaxed reverie for optimal absorption of the positive suggestions.
The language of traditional hypnosis is usually more directive and authoritative than guided imagery, but some kinds of hypnosis can be just as permissive and choiceful as guided imagery, and it’s hard to always tell the difference. Guided imagery is actually a kind of hypnosis, and people who respond well to imagery generally do well with hypnosis, too. Research shows that they are both very effective and generally work interchangeably.
Meditation is a broad category which trains us to focus our minds on something very specific or on just a very narrow band of things, the result being to clear the mind, reduce stress, and achieve greater balance and clarity. For that reason, both guided imagery and hypnosis can be considered types of meditation.
Here are some of the main kinds:
- Observing the Breath is one of the simplest forms of meditation, where a person adopts a seated position of relaxed but aligned comfort and observes the inhalation and exhalation of his or her own breathing, sometimes accompanied by counting to help slow it down.
- Focused Attention on a candle flame, a spot on the wall or somewhere in the distance also achieves similar results. With focused, moment-to-moment awareness, we can turn peeling potatoes, grooming a horse or painting a wall into a kind of meditation.
- Mantra Meditation is focusing attention on repeating a word or phrase in the mind, usually something that has positive meaning to the meditator. This could be toning the word Om, or repeating words like Love or I am at peace or May all beings be healed. Often the words are combined with the breath, with phrasing like: Breathing in peace on the inhale; and Breathing out love on the exhale.
- Body Scanning or Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is another simple form of meditation, directing focus to sensations inside the body, usually starting with the head and moving down the body, section by section, to the toes. The main benefit is relaxation.
- Mindfulness Meditation or MBSR has us continuously observing and releasing awareness of our thoughts, our breathing, our physical sensations and our emotions, in order to create healthy detachment from our own reactivity and an astonishing ability to handle stress in a balanced way.
- Loving Kindness Meditation or Metta focuses attention on the heart and the sensations around and through the heart, deliberately evoking feelings of love and care for self and others or for any part of the world. As with the other forms, this has enormous health and wellness benefits.
- Moving Meditations involve moving the body with attention to the breath and to inner sensations involved. Benefits include relaxation, balance and mental clarity, plus physical strength, balance and toning muscle. These practices include walking meditation, yoga, tai chi and qigong, Moving meditations are especially good for fidgeters who loathe sitting still.
- Walking Meditation involves walking slowly, usually out in nature, sometimes following a labyrinth, with attention on the breath, on the feel of the muscle from walking and the feel of the feet touching the ground, and on the various sights, sounds, aromas and external sensations encountered.
- Yoga involves focused awareness and conscious breathing while stretching into and holding specific poses (asanas). There are many kinds of yoga that emphasize different aspects of the art, but the most popular form in the U.S. is hatha yoga.
- Tai Chi is a set of low-impact, relaxing, aerobic movement sequences. Begun as a Chinese martial art, it involves slow, gentle movements, deep breathing, and focused awareness. It was created to improve the flow of energy through the body, leading to focus, clarity, resilience and balance and an overall sense of wellness.
- Qigong (pronounced chi-kung) involves moving in prescribed, flowing ways, including slow, circular movements, regulated breathing, focused awareness and self-massage. It was also created in China, designed to train the mind to direct the body’s energy, or chi, and to balance it.
- Acupoint Tapping, Energy Medicine or Biofield Therapies are meditative healing practices that direct the flow of energy within the self or in others. They include Reiki, Healing Touch, Therapeutic Touch, acupressure, and acupoint tapping protocols such as Thought Field Therapy (TFT), Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming (EMDR).
- Aromatherapy involves the use of selected fragrant essential oils extracted from herbs, flowers and fruits, usually in the form of lotions, inhalants, sprays and patches, to affect mood, help with relaxation, improve sleep, promote health and enhance a feeling of well-being.