Visualization meditation is a simple technique that can help you relax and reduce stress levels. For some, it can even help relieve insomnia and ease headaches. Perhaps more importantly, it can be used as a way to shift one’s attention away from external demands and toward an internal experience of spiritual depth. “This type of meditation is a guided experience,” says Julie Haber, M.Div, director of spirituality at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. “You’re engaging your imagination by focusing on something that brings you peace—and then following it and exploring it.”
Visualization is a simple exercise that can be done anywhere, anytime. Do it for a minute, half an hour or an hour—whatever amount of time feels comfortable for you.
Here’s how to perform this technique:
Choose a setting that works for you. Whether you’re indoors in a quiet room or outside in a crowded park, you can learn to focus on your inner experience while tuning out any people or distractions. Settle into a comfortable spot, lying down or sitting up.
Before you begin your visualization, practice some mindful breathing for five minutes. Focus on each inhale and exhale, and let any thoughts you have pass by.
When you’re ready, visualize something that makes you feel calm, happy or comforted. It could be a place, person, animal or moment. Maybe it involves water or trees, or a specific room in a specific house. Maybe it is a memory from childhood or an instance that happened last week. Whatever it is, it makes you feel good.
“Recall it, relive it, explore it,” says Haber. “Give it your full attention by allowing your senses to become engaged. What do you see? Smell? Hear?” Take in every detail and enjoy the journey. Continue with the visualization until you start to be surprised by what comes to you.
Let’s say you’re visualizing your last vacation to the beach. Picture the turquoise blue color of the ocean and the smell of the salty air. Hear the chorus of seagulls darting above and the children playing on the shoreline. Feel the warm air blowing your hair and the sand beneath your feet—and so on. Engaging the senses helps us to more fully experience the visualization.
When practicing this technique on a regular basis, you may notice recurring images that move you. Keep anything that feels real or that nourishes you. You may find that a given scene that you imagine stays with you for a long time, even years. “Words by Ralph Waldo Emerson capture how I feel about this practice,” Haber adds. “‘What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.’”