How To Enhance Your Health With Your Imagination

Here's a way to use mental imagery to improve your mind, body and mood.

Posted Apr 25, 2018

Leon had a demanding job and often felt stressed out. He grew concerned when his doctor told him that his blood pressure was too high. He discussed the situation with a close friend who mentioned a mental imagery method he had learned from a psychologist. At first, the process struck Leon as rather ridiculous, but he decided to give it a try. He found the result most satisfactory.

People who can use their imaginations have a ready-made skill that can be put to good effect in many situations.  Because the mind (psychology) and the body (biology) are different sides of the same coin they can (and do) affect one another in many important ways.  To appreciate the profound influence that even minor imbalances in our physiology can have on our mental state one need only experience mild dehydration that often results in headaches, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, reduced motivation, and feeling generally blah.  

And because of the two way street that connects psychology and biology, the mind itself can affect the body in many powerful ways because the nervous system weaves into all of its systems (e.g., the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, and genitourinary systems).  That’s why even mildly anxious thoughts and images can increase our heart rate, and produce sensations in our guts, muscles and bladders.

(At the end of this post is a fascinating way to personally experience some amazing “mind power” using a method called Chevruel’s pendulum.) 

As for using imagination as a therapeutic tool, there are a variety of proven techniques that use visualization or mental imagery.

One very effective method is to:

• create your own, peaceful, soothing, tranquil place in your imagination.

A very special place exactly the way you want it to be.  Perhaps a perfect beach, or a cabin in the woods, or a scenic meadow, or maybe just a gently swaying hammock.

But no matter where you travel to in your mind’s eye, involve all or your senses in the image.  For example, if you visualize yourself being on a beach, see the hypnotic rhythm of the surf, the waves rolling onto the shore and then gliding back out to sea.  Picture the deep, blue sky and notice where it meets the ocean at the horizon.  Hear the sound of the surf.  Feel the warmth of the sun or the air (ideally in the shade of an umbrella) and a gentle wind that brings a subtle scent of salt in the sea breeze.  Maybe even imagine the unique taste of the atmosphere at this marvelous beach.      

This then becomes your own private and distinctive place, a sanctuary that you can visit any time you wish. When you need a refuge, when you need a place to recharge yourself, to lick your wounds, to get yourself together, to go and think, or for any other reason, you can quickly and easily go there.

As you might discover if you try the pendulum demonstration outlined below, when we imagine or visualize our bodies doing something, they react as though we are actually doing the activity we picture.  (Although not as strongly, of course.)  Hence, if you find relaxing on a wonderful, soothing and peaceful beach a very pleasant experience, it is likely that when you actually do it, your body revs down and your physical systems all come into a better balance (e.g., blood pressure, digestion, nutrient absorption, etc.).

Thus by visualizing being at that beach and, very importantly, involving your full sensorium in the image, the very processes that occur in your body when you are actually at the beach happen during the visualization, too.

The process is simple.  Get as comfortable as you can, close your eyes, relax your muscles, breathe deeply but naturally (i.e., don’t take in any more air than is comfortable for you) and then visualize being in your very special place.  Remember to involve all of your senses in the image, the sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes.

Beyond relaxing deeply, in this imaginary place you can be totally yourself… You can get in touch with your inner resources… You can be aware of your strengths and positive feelings… You can determine what will be in your best interests… You can make any changes you want to make… You can do anything at all that you want to do at that moment (e.g., create a rainbow, a brief burst of rain over the ocean, see fluffy clouds and birds riding the thermals high above the surf, etc.).  The best part is you can go there anytime you so desire.

• Visit your special place often.

The more you practice this, the quicker and easier it will be achieved.  Even brief five-to-ten minute visits can be highly comforting, centering, and/or energizing.

When you leave your special place, you should feel alert, very refreshed, and ready to go about your business.

It has been said, “No matter where you go, there you are.”  By developing your own private imaginary sanctuary, no matter where you find yourself physically, you will have an emotionally safe, mentally and physically balancing place to go to.

Chevruel’s Pendulum:

One neat way to personally experience our amazing mind-body connection is with a method first used in hypnosis called Chevruel’s pendulum.  If you’d like to give it a try, tie a small, lightly weighted object (like a metal nut or bolt) to a thread about 12 inches long.  Then hold the tip of the thread between your index finger and thumb so the object hangs straight down.  Next, place the elbow of your arm holding the thread on a surface, like a table top, while sitting so the object hangs about ¼ inch above the surface.  Sit up straight and let your fingers holding thread hover about 6 inches in front of your nose.  Breathe and blink naturally and start to imagine the object on the bottom of the pendulum start to move in small circles like it’s orbiting a point directly beneath it.  While keeping your eyes open (remember to blink naturally) picture in your mind’s eye the circles getting bigger and bigger as the pendulum sweeps out larger and larger concentric orbits.  It might take a minute or two for the pendulum to start moving, but it does in most cases.

This very cool phenomenon is called the ideomotor response (“ideo” for idea or mental representation, and “motor” for muscular action) and happens because by visualizing movement in the pendulum, the brain sends imperceptible signals to the muscles of the fingers causing then to contract, thus imparting movement to the pendulum.

In this way, a clear and concrete demonstration of how the mind can influence the neuromotor system can be seen.  But it’s not just the motor system that the mind can exert control over.  As stated above, any system of the body can in theory be affected by mind power.

Remember: Think well, Act well, Feel well, Be well!

Dear Reader: The advertisements contained in this post do not necessarily reflect my opinions nor are they endorsed by me. — Clifford

Copyright Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D. This post is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional assistance or personal mental health treatment by a qualified clinician.