A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Guiding your imagination to help with healing

Woman relaxing on couch with eyes closed“I’m so overwhelmed.”  “I feel powerless.”

People diagnosed with cancer often share these feelings of stress and anxiety.

If you are experiencing this yourself, you might benefit from guided imagery to feel empowered and able to participate in your healing.

Benefits of guided imagery

Guided imagery is like daydreaming, although it’s more intentional and engages all your senses. The technique has been shown to improve quality of life by reducing stress, decreasing nausea, improving pain relief and promoting healing.

Can the mind truly influence the body through guided imagery? Here’s a convincing example:

Slowly and deliberately imagine a lemon in detail. Feel it. Smell it. Take a big bite of the lemon. Chew the lemon pulp. Taste the tart juice squirting in your mouth. While imagining, did you salivate? Most people do.

Guided imagery can range from simple visualization for overall health promotion to actively imagining healthy cells overcoming cancer cells. Licensed practitioners are trained in the technique and many self-help books, audio tapes and CDs are available from which to learn more.

Clear your mind

Try this guided imagery introductory exercise:

  1. Play an audio tape or CD of guided imagery, calming music or nature sounds.
  2. Position yourself comfortably in a quiet, private place where you will not be disturbed.
  3. Close your eyes and breathe deeply and slowly.
  4. Focus on breathing in “peace” and breathing out “stress.”
  5. Once relaxed, picture yourself in a favorite place. Perhaps you’re soaking up the sun on a sandy beach or sitting in front of the fireplace in a remote cabin.
  6. As you imagine your place, involve all your senses. What do you hear, smell and feel?
  7. Stay in this place for as long as you like. Let your body, mind and spirit be restored.
  8. You also may add a component of actively visualizing your healthy cells eliminating cancer cells, or target healing thoughts where your body needs them most.
  9. When you’re ready, slowly become aware of your surroundings.

Imagery and relaxation will become easier with practice.

*This post submitted by Monica Hanvelt, R.N., survivorship coordinator, Marshfield Clinic Rice Lake Center.

Breathing exercises also can help take stress and anxiety away. Try this 4-7-8 breathing technique, a natural tranquilizer.

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