Silhouette of woman meditating against a sunset

Visualization Meditation: Transform Your Emotions (And Maybe Your Life)

I was about to present to the largest audience I’d ever presented to – about 5000 people. Previously I had only presented to a room of about twenty (and a Zoom audience of 36). My hands were clammy, my throat was dry; all the tell-tale signs of anxiety. This was back when I thought meditation was only for men that had hair buns and wore linen shirts with not enough buttons fastened.

I closed my eyes and imagined a beach I loved in Cyprus, I imagined the sound of the waves, the smell of the salty air, and the sun on my face. I didn’t know it then, but I was using a visualization meditation technique.

Visualization meditation is focusing on guided imagery to cultivate different psychological and emotional qualities. In short, it helps you feel different. In this post, we’ll look at what visualization meditation (or visualization meditation) is, how it differs from “visualization”, the benefits, and how to practice it.

What is visualization meditation?

Most people think visualization meditation simply involves images in the mind. But that’s only scratching the surface.

Visualization meditation focuses on using imagery to change how you feel and to center the body and mind (Matko, 2019).

Just like my example of being on the beach, Visualization is fully immersing yourself in the image in your mind. This includes using all of your senses; such as the sounds you hear, what you feel, what you see, and even what you smell and taste.

The more you practice, the more it can help alter the state of your mind. Some people find visualization meditation is enough on its own, while some add it as a compliment to other forms of meditation.

What is guided imagery meditation?

Guided imagery, as the term suggests, is where a practitioner guides the imagination to illicit desired feelings and emotions. The only difference between visualization meditation and guided imagery is that one is led by the self and the other is a guided visualization led by a facilitator.

You can try an example in my guided visualization meditation video “Leaves on a stream” which uses a visualization technique to transform and let go of thoughts in leaves.

RELATED: How Guided Imagery Can Help You Relax More by Doing Less

Is “Visualization meditation” the same as “Visualization”?

There’s always confusion between the two. There is some overlap between the two terms as both use imagery to manifest either an object of focus or a situation.

“Visualization” involves picturing in your mind the outcome of a situation before it has happened. This is popular with sports personalities such as the record medal-winning swimmer, Michael Phelps. Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman explained the process:

Each night he would begin with a body scan relaxing limb by limb, from head to toes. Then he would ‘put in the videotape’ of his ideal performance . . . Phelps made a point to visualize things going well, things going poorly, and of course, the best-case scenario. By giving himself countless dress rehearsals ahead of time, he was calm and ready when it came to getting down to business.

Bob Bowman

While Visualization has garnered a lot of publicity from sports personalities, celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, and business leaders, it provides value to achieving a specific short-term goal.

woman with short hair meditating - visualization meditation

How does visualization meditation work?

The brain enjoys visual stimulation. It’s why we love going to the movies, why we lose parts of our lives to Netflix series, and why we like photos and paintings soo much.

During the exercise, your amygdala — the structure in the center of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response — has trouble distinguishing between something that is simply being seen during a visualization meditation session and something that is actually happening in real life. It’s why we feel good when we had a nice dream the previous night, or why we sometimes wake up sweating or even screaming when we’ve had a nightmare.

So by imagining a situation during meditation practice, we are able to actually convince the brain that what is happening is real.

What are the general benefits of visualization meditation practice?

  • Improves psychological stability and well-being – Just like other forms of meditation, visualization techniques are suitable for treating and coping with stress, anxiety, grief, and depression.
  • Strengthen focus – Any form of meditation can improve mental focus as we spend prolonged time focusing on the present moment. With continued practice, this physically changes the structure of the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for controlling attention.
  • Nurture creativity – An added benefit of visualization meditation is that we exercise the creativity engine of the mind. As with any practice, the more you do it, the better you get. When you try to really evoke all of the senses in your imagination, you encourage creativity. This isn’t only beneficial to the creative types, but also to business leaders and project managers.
  • Social interactions – Visualization meditation is also used in compassionate meditation, a.k.a Loving-Kindness meditation. This is the practice of focusing on a person you have in mind or several people depending on the exercise and directing kindness toward yourself and them. This not only benefits your feeling of well-being but also improves your empathy for others.
  • Pain management – There has been moderate research to suggest that using visualizations meditation can help manage pain. In a 2017 study, they found that meditation could help cardiovascular patients and lower the risk of heart problems.
  • Improved sleep – another benefit shared with other forms of meditation is improved sleep. Where most other meditations focus on the breath, an object, or a chant, visualization meditation uses your imagination as the point of focus to keep the mind in the present and stave off wandering thoughts.
  • Improved self-image and confidence – As we discussed earlier, your brain sometimes can not easily distinguish between what is real and what is imagined. If we continually imagine ourselves in a position of confidence, that belief will translate into real life.

Promotes and maintains alertness compared to other forms of meditation – For those that normally feel drowsy, visualization meditation can help keep you alert as you focus on the mental images. One of the other meditation techniques that keep you alert is mindful walking meditation.

woman meditating - visualisation meditation

5 Tips to help you with visualization meditation

1. Try to be clear on what you want before the meditation

To really get the most out of the benefits of visualization, try to know exactly what emotion you want to achieve by the end of the meditation practice. This could be to feel calmer, more confident, or to feel differently towards someone that has been on your mind.

2. Give yourself space to explore

Although the emotion we want to achieve should be as specific as possible, the images we use don’t need to be. Unlike visualization imagery used by athletes that need to be very specific, the visualization should have a general idea of what you wish to imagine. This might be just starting by saying that you want to visualize a forest and then explore the image as you meditate. You don’t need to identify the type of plantation, whether it’s hot or cold, just that it’s a forest.

3. Use real images

If you are struggling to imagine the visualization, you might want to use photos to encourage your imagination to support the process.

4. Visualize often

This is common in all meditations – practice visualization often. Regular meditations are more effective in achieving the benefits than long practice sessions done occasionally.

5. Don’t rely on visualization as the only form of meditation.

Whilst regular visualization meditation practice can help with dealing with difficult emotions, it can not always deal with underlying issues. Deep meditation techniques such as mindfulness meditation should be used as a supplement to your practice.

How to practice visualization meditation

Try this:

  • Find a comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed. Make sure you are comfortable and your spine is tall so you can breathe easily.
  • If you choose, take a look at some photos to get started with your visualization meditation.
  • Take three deep breaths, and after the third deep breath, allow your breathing to return to the natural rhythm.
  • Start the journey by visualizing the image that you’ve chosen.
  • Try to keep your focus on the images, if your mind begins to wander, just notice that it’s happened and come back to the image. The goal of this meditation is to focus on the present image and come back to your visualization when your mind wanders.
  • If strong emotions rise during your visualization, use your breathing as a physical anchor to bring your mind back to the present.
Man on a beach - visualisation meditation

The key takeaway

I hope this article has conveyed some of the benefits of visualization meditation. 

By focusing on a particular image, we are able to reinforce positive thoughts and emotions.

If you find it difficult to maintain the meditation on your own you can perhaps try a guided visualization meditation, which you can find on the ZenGuided YouTube channel.

Have you tried visualization meditation before? Let me know in the comments.

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