Have you ever been in the middle of a freak out and just closed your eyes, picturing yourself on the beach? If you really let yourself go, you can hear the waves crashing and birds chirping; you can feel the sun beating down on you and the warm, gritty sand beneath your toes. For a moment, it seems as though you transported yourself to another place in time. This technique of creating a vivid mental image of a relaxing place on cue is the bare bones of guided imagery meditation—a practice in which an expert leads you to that calm place in your head.
"The techniques are in essence a non-verbal instruction or direct suggestion to the body and unconscious mind to act 'as though' the peaceful, safe and beautiful (and thus relaxing) environment were real," suggest Harry Mills, PhD; Natalie Reiss, PhD; and Mark Dombeck, PhD. Similar forms of guided imagery techniques have been used for centuries and are particularly revered in Chinese medicine. However, the concept only gained popularity in mainstream Western culture in the 1970s and 1980s when David Bressler, PhD, and Martin Rossman, MD, founded the Academy for Guided Imagery. They pioneered the use of guided imagery meditation to treat those with chronic pain, cancer, and other illnesses.
Now individuals can channel the healing properties of guided imagery meditation to treat anxiety and stress too. "Guided imagery is designed to impact the body as well as the mind, and breathing typically becomes slower and more controlled during the process while muscles relax, creating a state of calm and relaxation," write Mills, Reiss, and Dombeck.
Traditionally, guided imagery meditation requires individual or group visits with an expert guide to help you find that calm place, using as many of your senses as possible. Once they teach you how to get there, you can relieve pain (or stress) by calling on those vivid images. Experts and enthusiasts are now creating guided imagery meditation videos that anyone can access from home or on the go, and most don't cost a penny. (Note: Although some of these videos often have beautiful, relaxing images on the screen, it’s not the picture on-screen that you are concerned with watching—it’s creating the calming scene in your mind).
What do you think about the practice of guided imagery? Tell us in the comments below, and be sure to scroll down to view some of our favorite guided imagery meditation videos.