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Elevate Your Mind-Body Connection With Guided Imagery

May 28, 2021

By Duke Integrative Medicine Programs Team

Guided imagery, or visualization, encompasses several techniques meant to explore our beliefs and
attitudes about ourselves and the world around us by tapping into our subconscious mind. This exploration is intended to impact our physical and mental well-being, bringing about positive changes such as relaxation, better focus, and improved performance. Guided imagery has many uses that include: stress reduction, sleep improvement, pain management, promotion of healing with surgery or illness, behavior change (e.g., losing weight, smoking cessation), and enhancing performance (e.g., athletics, public speaking).

Guided imagery works by utilizing our imagination and the mind-body connection.

Guided imagery works by utilizing our imagination and the mind-body connection.

Guided imagery works by utilizing our imagination and the mind-body connection. It involves eliciting mental images that allow us to re-create memories or visualize future and hypothetical experiences. Using our senses – sight, sound, taste, smell, movement, and feeling – we invite our minds to imagine every detail related to our visions. In doing so, we can influence our behaviors and responses to help achieve the desired outcome.


The body tends to respond to visualization in the same way as if it were an actual experience. For example, we will soon begin to salivate if we imagine slowly sucking on a lemon slice with great detail – the sour, tart taste and the soft, juicy texture. Research has shown mental rehearsing or motor imagery to be as effective as physical practice in athletics or other types of performance.66-71 Guided imagery has also been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, pain, nausea, depression, fatigue, insomnia, and fear of medical procedures in patients with arthritis, cancer, sickle cell, and other chronic conditions.72-77


Guided imagery can be led in person by a trained practitioner or audio recordings to facilitate the technique with participants. No special equipment is needed, though cushions or mats may be desired if your practice takes place while sitting or lying on hard surfaces.


Easing into Sleep

  • Find a comfortable position. (PAUSE)
  • For the next few minutes, I invite you to experience a gentle way of easing into sleep. (PAUSE)
  • So your task right now is only to listen (PAUSE) as you begin finding a sense of comfort. (PAUSE)
  • You might start by noticing the support beneath your body, allowing your muscles to soften and let go. (PAUSE)
  • You might feel that support down your body from your face and neck, into your back, chest, and belly, into your arms and legs, and into your toes. (PAUSE)
  • As I begin to lead you in a period of deep relaxation (PAUSE), you might also prepare yourself mentally. Some people do that by thinking of a time when they felt extremely comfortable. When they felt cocooned by covers.
  • Other people do that by remembering a place where they were safe and comfortable, where nothing was asked of them. Just a sense of peacefulness and well-being.
  • So however you choose to prepare yourself, it’s just nice to notice how the mind has access to many wonderful relaxing sensations and memories. (PAUSE)
  • How the mind can support muscles unwinding and the breath easing comfortably and effortlessly. (PAUSE)
  • Tucking into that soft, supportive space into a position of ease and a deeper state of relaxation. And that state of relaxation is such a nice place to be, an inviting opening into rest. (PAUSE)
  • As you rest, you could imagine yourself somewhere with the beginning of a sunset. You may notice how the light changes and how the colors begin to paint the sky. It’s fascinating as you watch the sunset just how much you can become absorbed in its incredible beauty. It’s restful to notice how the colors blend from one moment to the next and how the pinks and oranges with this moment may become purples and blues in the next.
  • And that whole process of allowing the sun to set and your job is only to watch and become absorbed. And it’s such an interesting process. You can’t speed the sunset. You just have to experience it as it unfolds, softly and gently. Allow yourself to be there, easing comfortably and thoroughly into the moment. And as you become gently cocooned in this image of a sunset, it’s nice to remember that deep inside, the body and mind are at rest, watching as the colors change and begin to fade into the night.
  • During a quiet moment, your mind can make whatever associations are most helpful to you to support your sleep and allow you to become fully absorbed in the setting sun. (PAUSE)
  • The mind can find what is most supportive and what part of this most resonates as a way to support you even more deeply than you would imagine. Knowing that the sunset happens every day. It’s nice to know that you can choose to watch it whenever you wish. Breathe in and out gently, softly as you rest.

MIND-BODY TOOLKIT | CULTIVATING RESILIENCY | Copyright © 2017 Duke Integrative Medicine

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