“Children have such a vivid imagination” – it’s one of those stock phrases that we use – but when do we ever hear it said about adults?
As we move into adulthood, we are taught to trade in our colourful imaginations for a more logical and practical mindset to help us navigate the adult world. Like Peter Pan, we believe that ‘growing up’ means letting go of our vibrant inner worlds.
However, this is not the case.
The power of our imagination stays with us; within all of us …even if it is underused. And, in fact, our ability to imagine can help to address a plethora of life issues from stress and worry, sleep, and even into the physical realms of performance and healing.
When we use the term visualisation, we are referring to more than mental imagery; it’s a holistic process that uses all of the senses. Bodily sensations, feelings, sounds and smells all help to create a stronger mind-body connection, necessary for the imagination to help heal or develop personal growth. Those who believe they can’t visualise very well can still use the power of their imaginations using their other senses. Perhaps, in this sense, the term visualisation might be seen as a generalised term for what could more accurately be described as ‘sensualisation’.
So how does it work?
Visualisation in practice
Evidence from MRI scans suggests that what we imagine and what we experience can stimulate similar parts of the brain. In other words, the brain processes events from our imagination – such as mental rehearsal – as though the events were actually happening. Pretty fascinating – and with great potential application for us all.
This is not news for sports therapists, who have been using visualisation for decades. Health professionals, also, are increasingly adding visualisation methods to their tool kit, as research continues to emerge on how they can positively impact our health and wellbeing. Alongside growing evidence on the effect of visualisation on those with mental health issues, there are studies that show how it can also improve outcomes for breast cancer patients, as well as those with phantom limb pains, and many other examples. We are finally opening up to what our imagination can achieve, and that power is available to us all, whatever our needs.
Sophrology and working with the imagination
For anyone who has used guided imagery on a sleep app, you will know that the brain can conjure up some incredible images, thoughts and feelings as we translate the words that are given to us, into our inner visual world. It can be a bit of a lottery, though, as we rifle through the many voices and storylines of these apps until we find one that suits our needs.
So, what if we didn’t use someone else’s story? What if we simply ‘listened in’ to our own?
In contrast to traditional visualisation techniques, Sophrology doesn’t dictate the journey that your mind takes. We believe that there is no need to ‘create’ a path and a backdrop to your mental journey. The Sophrology method teaches that we already possess the innate capacity to motivate, self-heal or relax – we just need to get better at accessing it! By allowing our minds to explore freely, rather than impose or direct guided visualisations, we are inviting our own images, ideas, and feelings to arise from within, using them to guide us on our path to better health and wellbeing.
To achieve this, we work in a relaxed state, where the mind is quiet and the intellect is less interfering, to find for ourselves, what is sometimes just below the surface. In this way, self-guided imagery can free us to become more of who we really are, releasing us from our conditioned ways of seeing and reacting. In her book, The Sophrology Method; Simple Mind-body Techniques for a Calmer, Happier, Healthier You’, Florence Parot explains further: “Take the example of imagining yourself in a safe, peaceful landscape – a classic visualisation technique. When we use this in Sophrology, the idea is not to give you a detailed version of what your landscape ‘should’ be like. We prefer to let you look for your own, searching inside yourself to see what really excites you, and working with that.”
Why does visualisation work? Put simply, the subconscious mind responds to instruction through images and sensations rather than words. And this technique (again, we would say ‘sensualisation’ rather than visualisation) used in Sophrology, employs as many senses as possible to enrich the images that come to us. This creates a more powerful influence on the whole mind – consciously and subconsciously, as we move in the direction necessary for our own growth and healing.
Visualisation and wider consciousness
In Sophrology, a crucial belief around manifesting this growth and healing within ourselves, is that it doesn’t end at our own fingertips. This view is voiced in the work of Shakti Gawain, well-known author on creative visualisation and its power.
In her book, The Path of Transformation, Gawain suggests that by learning to visualise and manifest a better version of ourselves, integrating all aspects of who we are, we are also working towards raising consciousness on a global level. Particularly at a time when the world is experiencing a healing crisis, the message here is intensely powerful; every one of us has the power to change – not only ourselves, but the world we live in. Importantly, this message runs through all that is taught in the Sophrology method, the aim of which is to integrate our learning into how we act in our environment in everyday life, resulting in changes in our choices and interactions with others, and the world around us.
Being free to create the change you want to see
One of the best things about your imagination is that it is infinite – and that’s what makes visualisation as exciting as it is powerful. As adults – just as much as children – we have the ability to create in our minds what isn’t there, and what could be. Allan Frater, psychotherapist, teacher and author, puts this concept wonderfully in his blog, “Childhood Enchantment”, as he discusses children’s innate ability to give life and lend sentience to any object that captures their attention. He suggests that, as adults, we are not given the opportunity to truly discover the wild and wonderful ways in which the imagination can change our lives – something that children accept naturally.
As an adult, we can learn to use our imaginations to help us flow into a life not yet lived, a skill not yet gained, or pain not yet healed. If you can visualise (with all of your senses) how you want to feel, you can bring it more into being – whether that’s a new beginning, a sense of calm, or finding gratitude in more areas of your life.
Using meditation, mindfulness and dynamic relaxation techniques, Sophrology can help us to access our inner world, working with the imagination in a way that allows us, with regular practice, to discover more of our potential. In doing so, we can create an experience of life that naturally promotes our wellbeing, is full of growth, and is richly rewarding.
‘We cannot create what we can’t imagine.’ Lucille Clifton