Embrace the Healing Power of Imagery with Meditation

By Stephan Bodian

Mediation offers healing power through imagery. In her book Staying Well with Guided Imagery, psychotherapist and guided-imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek cites extensive research that establishes three basic principles behind the healing power of imagery. These principles help explain the effectiveness of meditations that use imagery extensively.

Incidentally, imagery may or may not involve visual images; if you’re more kinesthetic or auditory, for example, you may hear or feel the “images” rather than see them.

Here are the three principles:

  • Your body responds to sensory images as though they were real. If you’re not sure what this means, just recall the last time you had a sexual fantasy or reminisced about a vacation and had all the emotions and sensations of the actual event.

In one study cited in Naparstek’s book, 84 percent of subjects exposed to poison ivy had no reaction when, under hypnosis, they imagined the plant to be harmless. In other words, their bodies believed the images their minds evoked and didn’t break out in a rash! Other studies have shown that patients can use positive imagery to measurably increase the numbers of immune response cells in their bloodstreams.

  • In the meditative state, you can heal, change, learn, and grow more rapidly. Naparstek uses the term altered state, which refers (in her usage) to a calm, relaxed, but focused state of mind — precisely the state you cultivate in meditation. This principle also applies to problem-solving and performance enhancement: You can explore new behaviors, improve existing ones, and make tactical breakthroughs far more easily in a meditative state than you can in your ordinary frame of mind.
  • Imagery gives you a sense of mastery in challenging circumstances, which reduces your stress and bolsters your self-esteem. When you’re struggling with a health problem or a difficult assignment at work, you may feel flustered and helpless if you believe you can’t do anything to control the outcome. But if you know that you can use imagery to help your body heal or enhance your performance, you can regain your confidence and your hope in the future.

Numerous studies have shown that people feel better and perform more effectively when they believe they have some control over their lives.

In addition to these principles, Naparstek adds that emotion amplifies the power of imagery. When you allow yourself to feel the images intensely as well as experience them fully in all your senses, you give them more power to heal and transform you.