Relaxation Imagery Exercises

Relaxing with imagery is fast and effective.

When you don't have time to do a full meditation session, relaxation imagery exercises are a helpful substitute.

Why Relaxation Exercises Help

The Mayo Clinic reports regular practice of relaxation exercises impacts the mind and body in a variety of ways.

  • You'll reduce your blood pressure.
  • If you feel muscle tension, deep breathing and periods of calm will alleviate it.
  • Many people reduce the frequency of headaches, back pain, and other physical symptoms of stress.
  • You'll have more control to avoid emotional outbursts.

Many people feel it's best to "press on" through stressful situations. In reality, that's counterproductive. The centering that relaxation imagery exercises provide builds your emotional strength and improves clarity. You may not be able to remove the obstacle or change the outcome of an annoying circumstance. However, practicing relaxation methods, even for a few minutes a day, will allow you to control your response to those situations.

Various Relaxation Imagery Exercises

The most important point to remember about relaxation exercises is that there is not a "wrong" way to do them. But, there are a few factors that contribute to success:

  • Sit quietly. If you don't have privacy at your workstation, try going to the bathroom or to your car for a few minutes.
  • Close your eyes. So if you're anxious while driving, pull over somewhere safe and shut off the vehicle.
  • Remember to breathe deeply. Taking long, slow breaths rather than quick, shallow ones is a proven stress reliever.
  • Allow yourself to focus. Thoughts flit constantly through our minds, but when you control them, even for a moment, it aids relaxation.

The following are some ideas for relaxation imagery exercises.

One Word

When you only have a couple of minutes, this method is helpful.

  • Choose a word that has significance for you or makes you smile. For this author, "chocolate" usually works.
  • As you breathe deeply, let the word float through your mind. If other thoughts come forth, repeat the word until the thoughts fade away.
  • Imagine this word in different styles: big, small, cursive, block letters, etc.
  • When you're finished, allow the word to slowly fade from view.

Following the Light

This is also a quick relaxation imagery exercise.

  • Focus your mind on a single speck of light.
  • With each deep inhale, the light grows larger. With each exhale, the light gets brighter.
  • Let the light build gradually until it shimmers throughout your mind.
  • If other thoughts come forward, pass them through one side of the light and out the other.
  • When you are filled with the light, release it throughout your body and out the top of your head.

Absorbing Nature

This exercise is a bit unusual, but very effective.

  • Find a flower or a leaf and hold it in your hand.
  • Study every detail of the object; the form, the veins, the petals.
  • As other thoughts pass through your mind, return all of your attention to the object.
  • After a few minutes, close your eyes, and allow the image of the object to be the only thing in your mind.
  • As you continue to breathe, visualize the object as clearly as you did when you looked at it.
  • When you open your eyes, make sure the first thing you see is the object, leaving an imprint.

Black Out, Color In

This method works well if you're trying to replace a negative emotion with a positive one.

  • When you close your eyes, capture an image of a swirling, black cloud.
  • As you breathe deeply, let that cloud build in intensity, drawing whatever you're feeling into it.
  • Then, imagine the very bottom of the cloud with a different color that is vibrant and uplifting: neon blue, seafoam green, cherry red.
  • Focus your intention on the bottom color, letting it rise and push the black away.
  • Continue to breathe, and with each exhale, the black cloud gets smaller and on the inhale, the color becomes larger.
  • Continue the exercise until your mind is filled with the new color.

Picturesque Scenes

This is a classic visualization technique and one of the basic strategies used in stress management.

  • Remember a moment of natural beauty, be it the ocean, a mountain-top view, or a rushing river tumbling over boulders.
  • Tap into each sense as you breathe. For example, the salty taste and scent of the ocean, the breeze on your face, the warm sand between your toes, the "shush-shush" of the waves.
  • When another thought enters your mind, acknowledge it briefly, and then replace it with one of the other sensations from your natural image.
  • To come out of the exercise, allow the scene to change from day to night, or vice versa.

A Note of Caution

Some people who have experienced deep psychological trauma might have difficulty slipping into relaxation mode. Occasionally, if an individual has unresolved issues, images of the trauma rise to the surface. If you experience any problems during practice, contact a mental health professional for assistance.

Relaxation Imagery Exercises