What is Guided Imagery?


Guided imagery meditation is a gentle but powerful technique that focuses and directs the imagination in proactive, positive ways.

 The November Mind Matters News was about The Science Behind Guided Imagery by Beleruth Naparstek (who is a Psychotherapist, Author, and Guided Imagery Innovator). This paper was discovered by my friend Laurence Toltz during his research.


Laurence also "found" this article, reproduced below, by Beleruth Naparstek - I am sure you will find it useful and interesting.


In addition there will be 5 comments from me at the end of the paper.


What is Guided Imagery by Beleruth Naparstek

Excerpted from Staying Well with Guided Imagery: Naparstek, 1994 and Invisible Heroes: Naparstek 2005

Guided imagery meditation is a gentle but powerful technique that focuses and directs the imagination in proactive, positive ways. It can be just as simple as an athlete's 10-second reverie, just before leaping off the diving board, imagining how a perfect dive feels when slicing through the water. Or it can be as complex as imagining the busy, focused buzz of thousands of loyal immune cells, scooting out of the thymus gland on a search and destroy mission to wipe out unsuspecting cancer cells.

Although it has been called "visualization" and "mental imagery", these terms are misleading. Guided imagery involves far more than just the visual sense and this is a good thing, given the fact that only about 55% of the population is strongly wired visually. Instead, guided imagery techniques involve all of the senses, and almost anyone can do this. (See Comment 1 below)

Neither is it strictly a "mental" activity. It involves the whole body, the emotions and all the senses, and it is precisely this body-based focus that makes for its powerful impact.

So when someone asks us, “What is guided imagery?”, which happens hundreds of times each week, we never answer using those terms.

When properly constructed, guided imagery meditation has the built-in capacity to deliver multiple layers of complex, encoded messages by way of simple symbols and metaphors. You might say it acts like a depth charge dropped beneath the surface of the psyche, where it can reverberate again and again.

Over the past 40 years, the effectiveness of guided imagery has been increasingly established by research findings that demonstrate its positive impact on health, creativity and performance. We now know that in many instances even 10 minutes of imagery can reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol and glucose levels in the blood, and heighten short- term immune cell activity. It can reduce blood loss during surgery and morphine use after it. It lessens headaches and pain. It can increase skill at skiing, skating, tennis, writing, acting and singing; it accelerates weight loss and reduces anxiety; and it has been shown, again and again, to reduce the aversive effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, especially nausea, depression, soreness and fatigue. (See Comment 2 below)

Because of the brain structures involved when guided imagery techniques are deployed, it will often heighten emotion, laughter, sensitivity to music, openness to spirituality, intuition, abstract thinking and empathy.

And because it mobilizes unconscious and pre-conscious processes to assist with conscious goals, it can bring to bear much more of a person's strength and motivation to accomplish a desired end.

So, subtle and gentle as this technique is, guided imagery meditation can be very powerful, and more and more so over time.

One of the most appealing and forgiving features about imagery is that almost anyone can use it. Although children and women probably have a slight, natural advantage, imagery skips across the barriers of education, class, race, gender and age - a truly equal opportunity intervention.

Even though it is a form of meditation, guided imagery is easier for most to use than mindfulness meditation, as it requires less time and discipline to develop a high level of skill. This is because it seduces the mind with appealing sensory images that have their own natural pull. And because it results in a kind of naturally immersive trance state, it is rightly called a form of self-hypnosis as well. (See Comment 3 below)

People can invent their own imagery, or they can listen to imagery that's been created for them. Either way, their own imaginations will sooner or later take over, because, even when listening to imagery that's been recorded, the mind will automatically edit, skip, change or substitute what's being offered for what is needed, becoming a kind of internal launching pad for the genius of each person's unique imagination.}

Three Principles of Guided Imagery

Excerpted from Staying Well with Guided Imagery © Naparstek, 1994
Guided imagery works because of 3 very simple, common-sense principles. You already know them.

First Principle: The Mind-Body Connection

First of all, to the body, images created in the mind can be almost as real as actual, external events. The mind doesn't quite get the difference. That's why, when we read a recipe, we start to salivate. The mind is constructing images of the food -- how it looks, tastes and smells; it might even be evoking the sounds of the food cooking or the feel of its texture as it's being chewed. And all the while, the body is thinking "dinner is served", and is responding by generating saliva and appetite.
The mind cues the body especially well if the images evoke sensory memory and fantasy sights, sounds, smells, feel and taste and when there is a strong emotional element involved. So, for instance, a strongly evocative image might be remembering the sound and timbre of Daddy's smiling voice, telling you he's proud of you; or the internal bristling of energy all through your body as you realize that you are about to triumph at something that you are home free golden.
These sensory images are the true language of the body, the only language it understands, immediately and without question.

Second Principle: The Altered State

Secondly, in the altered state,we're capable of more rapid and intense healing, growth, learning and performance. We are even more intuitive and creative. In this ordinary but profoundly powerful, immersive mind-state, our brainwave activity and our biochemistry shift. Our moods and cognition change. We can do things we couldn't in a normal, waking state lift a tree that has fallen on a child; write an extraordinary poem; replace our terror of a surgical procedure with a calming sense of safety and optimism; abate a life-threatening histamine response to a bee sting.
We wander in and out of altered states all through the day, as a matter of course. Sometimes it's not a conscious choice, and we drive past our exit on the highway. At best, the altered state is a state of relaxed focus, a kind of calm but energized alertness, a highly functional form of focused reverie. Attention is concentrated on one thing or on a very narrow band of things
As this happens, we find we have a heightened sensitivity to the object of our attention, and a decreased awareness of other things going on around us, things we would ordinarily notice. We are so engrossed, we lose track of time or don't hear people talking to us. Or we are so focused on our tennis, we don't realize we were playing on a broken ankle, and the pain isn't perceived until the game is over.
The altered state is the power cell of guided imagery. When we consciously apply it, we have an awesome ally, a prodigious source of internal strength and skill. (See Comment 4 below)

Third Principle: Locus of Control

The third principle is often referred to in the medical literature as the "locus of control" factor. When we have a sense of being in control, that, in and of itself, is theraputic, and can help us to feel better and do better.
Feeling in control is associated with higher optimism, self-esteem, and ability to tolerate pain, ambiguity and stress. Decades of research in ego psychology informs us that we feel better about ourselves and perform better when we have a sense of mastery over the environment. Conversely, a sense of helplessness lowers self-esteem, our ability to cope and our optimism about the future.
Because guided imagery is an entirely internally driven activity, and the user can decide when, where, how and even if it is applied, it has the salutary effect of helping us feel efficacy and mastery; that we have some control.
So, when you put all this together, you have a technique that generates an altered state, in which the mind is directed toward multi-sensory images that the body perceives as real. This is done exactly when, where and how the user wishes. And that's why it's so effective. (See Comment 5 below).

Numbered Comments From Sandy

1. The first significant time that Guided Imagery and Visualisation were used in sport was at the Olympic Games in 1960. Then in 1964 both Russia and East Germany used it. In 1968 nearly all sportspeople from countries attending the Olympic Games had heard of the new "secret weapon" - the sub-conscious mind. You will note that the author said "almost anyone can do this". I am of the firm opinion that unless one is mentally impaired, then all of us can use Guided Imagery and Visualisation. I am a prime example, as I cannot use any of the 5 senses - however all of us can use imagination and self-talk. People who can use any or all of the 5 senses can also use imagination and self-talk to enhance their own guided imagery and visualisation.

2. One of the main reasons that I continued to immerse myself in teaching about the power of the sub-conscious mind is because of the success that not only my son and I had from using the methods but the success that others have had - particularly in the area of health - have a look at these Success Stories.

3. Guided Imagery and Visualisation can be done in both the Alpha Brain Wave State (which is not the meditation state) and the Theta Brain Wave State which is the meditation state. (See Comment 4). The real key is that in either of these brain wave states the reticular activating filter is open and all thoughts go through the fiter into the sub-conscious mind. The sub-conscious mind is where all our memory, habits and self image reside. It is 88% of the mind. Visualisation and Guided Imagery are directed by the conscious mind but are most effective when done in the Alpha and the Theta Brain wave States. Note that the language of the sub-conscious mind is emotion and not words, sounds and pictures.

4. The second principle is that the Altered Brain Wave State can be either the Alpha or the Theta Brain Wave State.  Alpha can be reached using my Peaceful Place methods and can be achieved in less than 30 seconds, however it is the same state as when you are really focusing on something you enjoy such as your hobby or something you love and time flies - this is what is also called relaxed, focused state, focusing on one thing at a time. The meditation state (or Theta) is also an altered Brain Wave State - it is the same as the dream state and takes from 2 to 7 minutes to get into this "deeper" state.

5. I believe that the real key to understand is the science, whereby the sub-conscious mind does not know the difference between reality and imagination, so that we can pretend to achieve and this is what goes into the sub-conscious mind. What this also means is that we can use all our guided imagery and visualisation, pretending (in the Alpha State) that we are successful, and doing our best performance (in the Alpha State) at for instance the high jump, or perhaps reducing the size of a brain tumour - in this case it is done in the Theta state; and then feeling how happy (emotion) one is when that success is achieved.

So, my advice is to make use of Peaceful Place and Meditation to help manage your life. Have a look at my free resource page.

All the best

Sandy MacGregor

"Your gift from God is your potential – Your gift to God is to use it."


I have yet to update the websites (and I am working on it) with the fact that I am no longer doing live seminars however they are available on CDs, DVDs and workbooks plus the CHI Seminar can be done from the CHI book and downloading the relevant CDs plus really peruse my Life Purpose website. It’s not quite the same as an actual seminar, I know, but the book does have all the exercises in it and I am always here to assist with queries.


Some Important Feedback From My Previous MMN

Sandy, thank you for this very timely Mind Matters News. A friend of mine has just recently had a deterioration in the condition of his prostate cancer and in the course of our discussion he mentioned that he and his wife had never been able to meditate successfully. Of course your name came up. I participated in a 3 day seminar in Crows Nest about 10 years ago. I have forwarded this MMN email on to my friend.

On another matter, you were the first person to alert me to the fact that I was in that 45% (?) you mention that are not wired for visualising. I thought that everyone was like me in that I never see an image, only blackness, but I somehow have managed, probably with relying on the other senses  as I think you are saying. (My art teacher can not only conjure up a detailed image but she says she can turn that image around in her mind’s eye! I am so envious).  

The reason that I am mentioning this is because just over a year ago I became aware that this condition is known as Aphantasia and I sought out the people who were researching this condition in England. I completed questionnaires on-line and just today I have received a request regarding passing my contact details on to an Australian Research Associate, a Dr Pearson at UNSW. Apparently they require Australian subjects for research. I thought you may be interested. I can forward the contacts on to you if you would like me to.

Kind Regards

Daune Scott 


Be on the lookout for my email announcement on this soon - you may like to participate in the Research


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