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“We are what we imagine ourselves to be.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

The sun is going down over the lake and hundreds of people have gathered to gaze at this majestic ball of fiery light as it sinks behind the horizon. For a moment, everyone is silent as we all share the deep calm together. I can feel my nervous system powering down as the busy-ness and worries of the day drift quietly into the background. What is it about these powerful sites of nature – a sunset, the ocean, or the mountains – that bring us back to our peaceful nature? Why do we search them out?

When we bring the body and mind into a peaceful and balanced state, healing can occur naturally

When our senses are engaged in beauty, it lifts our spirit out of the ordinary into the extraordinary and profound. We are then free to experience ourselves in more expansive ways. This can shift our consciousness and illuminate our awareness. This is why recalling these images of peace through our imagination can be equally healing for the nervous system, mind and heart. We can tuck these images into our cellular memory and use them to invoke a healing response when we need it. The practice is called Imagery and it allows us to use our mind and senses to heal ourselves. Studies have shown that Imagery can even stimulate changes in our bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory patterns.

A Better Life

Imagery can also help us to accomplish goals that make our lives more meaningful and productive. We are all using it all the time but we may not even realize it. Most of what we accomplish in life starts as a goal or vision that we reach through being able to imagine ourselves manifesting that vision.

Turning Around Negative Imagery

We also use imagery when we worry. Worrying is a form of negative imagery. If you have ever worried about anything you know first hand some of the physical effects of worrying. It can cause the palms to sweat, the mouth to dry out, and the heart to race, all from just thinking about a negative outcome. If “awfulizing” can affect the body in negative ways, consider that visualizing a positive outcome can truly have a positive impact on our health and well-being. Imagery is now being used widely as an intervention to empower patients in their own self-care and is becoming a part of many Integrative care clinics as it continues to be used in all aspects of health and healing.

Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Stress Management

ʺIn Ornish Lifestyle Medicine (Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation), imagery is one of the five stress management techniques used to help to reverse the disease process. Participants in the program use two kinds of Imagery Direct and Indirect. 

Direct Imagery

In the practice of direct imagery, you conjure a healing image that is specific to your own health and well-being. You might imagine a clogged artery opening up, or better blood flow to and from the heart. One of our Ornish participants used to imagine hitting the delete button on his computer and all of the plaque in his arteries would disappear. Another idea might be to imagine a cartoon like heart with bubbling neon flowing through the arteries as they become clean. Some participants chose to use a PET scan image of their own arteries to help them visualize what was going on and then imagine the blood flowing freely through the areas that were previously blocked. The more personal and relevant you can make the image, the more powerful the effect it can have. Allow yourself to be as creative as possible. Have fun with it.

Related Video playGuided Imagery | Ornish Reversal Program

Indirect Imagery

Indirect imagery begins with bringing the body and mind to a peaceful state. This state may be induced by thinking of that beautiful sunset or a place in nature that invokes a sense of calm and peace. From that place, you can direct healing to the whole body and mind. When we bring the body and mind into a peaceful and balanced state, healing can occur naturally. You may imagine healing light from the molecules of the sun or the energy of healing from ocean waves or a verdant mountain range. By sending these images to every fiber of your being, you bring yourself into a healing state.

In her book The Healing Path of Yoga, Nischala Joy Devi writes, “If we turn our powerful senses inward, we are able to mobilize our own immune systems healing potential – influencing our bodies, minds and emotions and entire lives…Through imagery, disease dissipates, and health reemerges, and we feel whole and complete.”

When we talk about what is possible in healing, imagery offers us endless possibilities. As we share our healing images with those we love and with others who are using these powerful techniques, we become more creative and more open to the greatest possible outcomes. Our creativity stimulates others and in turn their creativity inspires us.

What images are you using on your healing journey?

Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

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