"Guided imagery" is an umbrella term to describe a number of techniques and exercises that incorporate visualization, story-telling, and the imagination to achieve states of peacefulness and happiness. The Academy for Guided Imagery describes guided imagery as an opportunity for the conscious mind to interact with the unconscious mind for healthful and spiritual benefits. Deep breathing exercises involve intentionally taking longer, slower breaths that draw air not just from the chest, but from the diaphragm. Separately and together, guided imagery and deep breathing can be useful for reducing stress.
Focusing on a peaceful story or series of calming images (often nature-related) can distract a preoccupied mind from daily stresses, upcoming problems or general “busyness.” Guided imagery advocates say that regular practice can lead to transformative emotional, psychological or spiritual experiences. Deep breathing can also promote relaxation and calmness by bringing fresh drafts of oxygen to the body, lowering the heart rate and blood pressure.
CDs and DVDs vs. Classes
It’s possible to purchase CDs, DVDs and other media to assist in guided imagery and deep breathing exercises at home. One benefit is that this strategy is often cheaper and more convenient than paying to attend classes or engage the services of a guided imagery counselor. A downside might be that the media becomes repetitive over time, so that the mind is anticipating the next recorded directive rather than remaining in the moment. Paying to attend a class is a good way to learn new guided imagery and deep breathing exercises that you can replicate at home.
To try deep breathing exercises at home, choose a comfortable seated position in a quiet location. Some people prefer to sit on a cushion or pillow for longer sessions. Sit up straight, keep the shoulders level and exhale all of the air out of the body. Relax the belly, keep the chin slightly tucked and keep the chest slightly uplifted. Consciously draw a breath that initiates from the low abdominal area moves up through the chest. Reverse the process by exhaling just as slowly. Try a simple guided imagery, alone or with a partner, by naming each body part and suggesting that it be relaxed. For example, “Relax each foot completely, even the toes. Now relax the knees. Relax each finger.” Or, use colors to describe breath movement. For example, “Breathe in, imagining the warm color yellow filling the body. Now breathe out, imagining a cool blue color leaving the body.”
Although people sometimes refer to guided imagery, meditation and deep breathing exercises in the same breath, they are slightly different. Deep breathing can sometimes be a purely physical exercise with no imaginative or meditative qualities, for example. And while guided imagery relies on the imagination and thoughts generated by the mind to achieve relaxation, the goal in meditation exercises is often to release thought and controlled consciousness from the mind.
Not everyone embraces alternative medicine exercises, and it’s fine to maintain skepticism about some of the transcendent metaphysical rewards described by the mantra crowd. Keeping an open mind might help develop a new healthy habit that promotes quiet time and relaxation, at the very least.
- Academy for Guided Imagery: What Is Guided Imagery?
- Harvard Health Publications: Take a Deep Breath
- UC Irvine Health Education Center: Guided Imagery
- Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide: Relaxation Techniques
- Project-Meditation.org: Guided Imagery Meditation
- MayoClinic.com: Be an Open-Minded Skeptic
- Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images