Using the Mind to Heal the Body

In guided imagery, you use your “mind’s eye” to picture the situation you are dealing with or the disease that is affecting you. Guided imagery connects the mind and the body by activating the parasympathetic response. The body does not discern the difference between an image and reality and reacts with the same response of relaxation. In a state of total relaxation, the mind and body respond more to healing and growth.   Research has found that athletes that use guided imagery as part of a comprehensive program for healing after injury heal faster (Ievleva and Orlick 1999). 

COLOR BLOCK: Imagery involves using all of the senses to create an experience. There are two types of imagery: direct (when you choose a specific part of the body to heal), and indirect (when you have an image of something healing to promote a response in the body). 

Using guided imagery in the medical field has been studied in different areas. For example, cancer research on using imagery (psychoneuroimmunology) has found that patients report improvement in mood, decreased anxiety, decreased pain after surgery and improvement in quality of life (Baider et al., 2001; Burns, 2001; Donaldson, 2000). Patients with cancer were asked to visualize an army of soldiers (macrophages in the immune system) surrounding an enemy of invaders (cancer) and eventually subduing them. In other cases, patients were asked to visualize more abstract non tangible images, like certain colors, or flowing water as a source of healing going through the entire body. Dr Martin Rossman (Integrative Medicine) lists some areas where guided imagery can be used for, including preparing for surgery, coping with chronic illness and managing pain and fear. 

Guided imagery can be done alone while listening to a recording or with an experienced guide. A guided imagery script usually includes starting at a calm place. The guided imagery script has the listener imaging how s/he may approach a problem, or visualize the challenge the listener is facing take a different form. COLOR BLOCK: While engaging in guided imagery, the listener  becomes active in his/her own healing process, rather than being passive. 

Anyone can benefit from guided imagery, including adults and children. It may be harder at the beginning for adults to listen to a guided imagery as they tend to analyze the script. However, with continued practice, the benefits of guided imagery increase.  Guided imagery is not meant to replace getting medical care or working with a healthcare professional, but is rather meant to enhance recovery and healing. People that have a history of trauma or psychosis should be cautious when using guided imagery and consult with a healthcare professional. 

Some resources that you may want to check out are:

  • Guided Imagery podcast- health videos and podcasts- Kaiser Permanente
  • The Healing Mind
  • Health Journeys Library
  • Apps: Insight Timer, the Mindfulness App, Wellscapes, Calm

So, what are you waiting for before trying guided imagery? After I tried it myself, I have not turned back and I suspect, neither will you after you try it out. 


Nesrin Abu Ata, MD, is a family medicine physician, a psychiatrist and a yoga teacher with an interest in integrative psychiatry and functional medicine. She has a private practice and can be reached on

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