First Thing's First – Breathe
Guided imagery is a second-tiered relaxation technique. This means that you must learn at least one other relaxation to use it effectively. In this case, deep breathing is the primary technique.
The good news is that on its own deep breathing is highly effective in promoting relaxation and reducing stress and anxiety. When paired with guided imagery, you create quite a powerful team.
Deep breathing is the simplest and most basic relaxation skill available. Many other techniques utilize deep breathing skills as a step in their process, so learning and perfecting them now will be very helpful later.
Before you begin deep breathing, pay attention to your normal breathing patterns. Chances are good that you are a “chest breather.” Don’t worry, though. Many people are. Chest breathing, or shallow breathing, involves only inhaling enough to fill the top part of your lungs and chest.
If there are any newborn babies in your life, study their breathing. Babies typically breathe by pushing their stomach in and out. Somewhere along the line, you began to breathe in a way that promotes stress and anxiety. That needs to change.
To practice deep breathing, set aside at least five minutes several times per day. Assume a comfortable position either sitting or laying down. If sitting, put your feet flat on the floor to feel grounded and steady. Put your right hand on your stomach and left hand on your chest. As you breathe in, feel your right hand moving in and out while your left remains still. The goal is to fill your lungs entirely by using your diaphragm to suck in more air.
Most people move their shoulders when breathing deeply, but this only partially fills the lungs. Work to extend the seconds inhaling and exhaling by using your diaphragm and your stomach. Five seconds in and seven seconds out is a great goal but three in and five out might be your starting point.
Deep breathing provides access to extra oxygen which allows your heart to slow down. Repeat as needed to gain a sense of physical relaxation.
How to Use Guided Imagery
Now that your body is feeling calmer, you can target your mind. Guided imagery can be done in many places at many different times of day. To get the most out of your imagery session, set aside at least 10 - 15 minutes, though more may yield better results.
During the early stages of your experience with guided imagery, experiment with different rooms of your house that provide different levels of relaxation. Relaxing in nature can prove very beneficial, so you may want to complete several trials outdoors.
Before you begin, remember this: relaxation takes time. Guided imagery will feel uncomfortable and strange at first. Don’t fight this discomfort. Let it remind you that doing new things can be challenging; challenging but worthwhile.