Imagine yourself well

Photo of a fig

Because your brain often can't distinguish whether you're imagining something or you're actually experiencing it, you can use the power of your imagination to help your body heal and to reduce pain and other symptoms.

Some people are very visual and easily see images with their minds' eyes, but you can also add smells, tastes, sounds, and other sensations to make your guided imagery experience more vivid and powerful.

Just focus on as much detail as possible, use your imagination, and trust yourself.

How to get started

  1. Take several slow, deep breaths, exhaling completely after each.
  2. Now see if you can build your image. It might be real or imaginary.
  3. Allow your special image to take shape slowly. There's no rush.

Listen to a guided imagery podcast.

Choosing a useful image

You can use any image that's strong and vivid for you — it doesn't have to be physiologically accurate to work — but here are some images that some people have found useful:

Emotional wellness

Change

  • Are you a bit shy? Imagine a vivid, detailed image of yourself walking up to people and chatting with them confidently.
  • Want to improve your fitness? See yourself walking, riding a bike, taking a dance class, or joining a sports team.

Depression

  • Your troubles and feelings of sadness are attached to big, colorful helium balloons and are floating off into a clear, blue sky.
  • A strong, warm sun breaks through dark clouds.
  • You feel a sense of detachment and lightness that enables you to float easily through your day.

Tension and stress

  • A tight, twisted rope slowly untwists.
  • Wax softens and melts.
  • Tension swirls out of your body and down the drain.

Managing chronic conditions and symptoms

Arteries and heart disease

  • Water flows freely through a wide, open river.
  • A crew in a small row boat easily and efficiently pull the boat across the smooth water.

Asthma and lung disease

  • Tiny elastic bands that constrict your airways pop open.
  • A vacuum cleaner gently sucks the mucus away from your airways.
  • Waves calmly rise and fall on the surface of the ocean.

Cancer

  • Tumors shrivel up like raisins in the sun and then evaporate completely into the air.
  • You turn off the faucet that controls the blood supply to the tumor, and the cancer cells starve.
  • Radiation or chemotherapy enter your body like healing rays of light and destroy cancer cells.

Diabetes

  • Small insulin keys unlock doors to hungry cells and allow nourishing blood sugar in.
  • An alarm goes off, and a sleeping pancreas gland awakens to the smell of freshly brewed coffee.

Infections

  • White blood cells with flashing red sirens arrest and imprison harmful germs.
  • An army equipped with powerful antibiotic missiles attacks enemy germs.
  • A hot flame chases germs out of your entire body.

Managing pain

  • You place all of the pain in a strong metal box, closed, sealed tightly, and locked with a large padlock.
  • You use a remote control and slowly turn down the pain volume until you can barely hear it. Then the pain disappears entirely.
  • A cool, calm river flowing through your entire body washes away the pain.

Overactive immune system

  • Allergens triggered a false alarm, so the hyper alert immune cells in the fire station go back to playing poker.
  • The civil war ends with the warring sides agreeing not to attack their fellow citizens.

Weakened immune system

  • Sluggish, sleepy white blood cells awaken, put on protective armor, and enter the fight against the virus.
  • Millions of white blood cells rapidly multiply and burst out of a single, ripe pod.

Source: Adapted with permission from the Healthy Mind, Healthy Body Handbook (as published under the title Mind & Body Health Handbook), David Sobel, MD, and Robert Ornstein, PhD, 1996

Reviewed by: Andrew Bertagnolli, PhD, November 2015
Additional Kaiser Permanente reviewers

©2015 Kaiser Permanente