A Vacation In Your Mind’s Eye!
In the previous installments we have been talking about conscious or intentional breathing to calm the body. In our Three-Legged Stool approach, we practice in the three areas of body, mind and soul. Relaxing the body can be done in several ways. The first, and I believe most significant is what we have focused on, which is training ourselves to do what I call “BASIC BREATHING FOR BEGINNERS“. Breathe slowly and intentionally by always inhaling through the nose and becoming aware to exhale longer than you inhale.
Another way to calm the body is to gently engage (i.e., your body, mind, and your senses) in a pleasurable activity, such as a vacation in your mind’s eye. This is called, guided imagery. Each of us has untapped resources of imagination at our disposal. In the comfort of our own home, we can harness the benefits of a vacation with the power of thought to stimulate relaxation and healing, helping us stay calmer and in greater focus.
Once you know your “vacation destination” well, it can be a quick getaway for just a few moments even in the midst of a hectic day at work or home. This becomes a skill which requires practicing thinking in images, invoking all of one’s senses — hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, and touching, as well as one’s emotions, awareness of the body’s position, sensations, location, and movements. Describing a place in your mind’s eye(s) (ears, nose, mouth, etc.) can actually stimulate the same areas of the brain that are stimulated with the real deal (i.e., actually going to such a place or doing an imagined activity). This is called guided imagery, guided meditation or imaginal rehearsal.
Guided imagery is often used as a relaxation exercise for short internal excursions, lasting from mere seconds to several minutes. Athletes and other performers do imaginal rehearsals (or mental simulations) as a “dry run” before their performances. After these mental dress rehearsals, brain scans show proof that there is a similar effect on the body and brain as in the actual performance of the imagined activity!
Here’s Jack Nicklaus’ take on acing golf tournaments (1974):
“Before every shot I go to the movies inside my head. First, I see the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then, I see the ball going there — its path and trajectory and even its behavior on landing. The next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous image into reality. These home movies are a key to my concentration and to my positive approach to every shot.”
In my practice, I advise clients to use guided imagery to enjoy short vacations in their minds. Clients who try this tell me they felt as if they were “there.” Sometimes it feels like a few minutes. Sometimes it feels like days. With a little practice, it is possible to feel as though you are on your own getaway! Easily recognizable places in nature are good departure (and arrival) points. These places may include a beach, a meadow, a farm, a forest, or a boat ride, etc. Frequently, clients already have their own “safe place” without even realizing it. Explore your imagination to find a great vacation destination that is optimal for you!
Here’s an example: Imagine you’re sitting on a warm stone in a meadow on a warm sunny day. You see the beautiful colors of the grass, trees, sky, and flowers. You enjoy the fragrant surroundings of the field flowers and blossoms on the trees. You imagine the warm breeze against your neck and the sun on your cheeks, and the warmth of the stone supporting you. You might imagine hearing the wind through the trees, or the sound of birds chirping, or water trickling in a nearby stream. You may even picture yourself tasting a sweet wild strawberry you just picked, etc. Try creating your own special, custom, relaxing, safeplace where you would like to go. See my SAFE PLACE GUIDED IMAGERY WORKSHEET.