Health Column: Visualize Your Way to Better Health

By Stephanie Vilendrer

Regardless of how well you eat, you will sabotage your health if you are consistently under stress. About 90 percent of doctors visits are stress-related, according to one study. Stress itself, however, is not harmful and can even be beneficial at times. Extreme stress gives animals the energy they need to escape from predators. Yet humans are not like other animals; we lead complicated lives. We tend to feel stress chronically, which has poor consequences on our health. Stress changes delicate hormone levels, damages cells, and can contribute to a wide variety of diseases ranging from obesity to cancer. For example, stress induces the release of cortisol, an important hormone, but too much of it can reduce insulin sensitivity and increase your risk for blood sugar problems, such as hyperglycemia and diabetes. It can also contribute to weight gain, increased appetite and food cravings. To prevent disease and increase general well being, learning how to effectively manage stress is critical. Visualization is one of my favorite and lesser-known stress-reducing techniques. It is similar to meditation in that it utilizes the important mind-body connection to bring a sense of calm and clarity to the practitioner. Visualization is done by simply closing your eyes and imagining a calming image. That could be picturing yourself lounging on the beach, surrounded by friends and family, or being anywhere and doing anything that brings you joy and relaxation. I have found visualization to be especially useful in expediting healing of illness and injuries. Two summers ago, I badly pulled the rotator cuff in my shoulder doing acrobatic yoga. My partner and I had been performing in front of a large group at the Pizza Luce block party when I suddenly felt my shoulder pop out of its socket and slide back in. The next morning I couldn’t even move my arm. It took about six weeks to heal, and I was doing fine until I unfortunately did the exact same thing again. This time, however, the injury was worse but having been though it before, I was prepared for how to handle the situation. I had read a book called You the Healer, which taught me how about visualization as a method to improve health. After the injury occurred, I spent about 10 minutes each day visualizing that my shoulder was mending itself. I would imagine a cascade of cool, blue light seeping through my shoulder as the muscles repaired themselves and became strong again. Incredibly, despite the fact that the first injury had taken over a month to heal, my shoulder felt strong again within a week! It felt so good that I actually went rock-climbing just two weeks later. You can use visualization for practically anything: curing stomach aches, improving skin clarity, relieving anxiety, and becoming more athletic. This can be done in whatever way works best for you, but a general guideline is to imagine a scenario that would promote healing. If you want to focus on something specific or general, I highly recommend this method. Plus, it’s easy, completely safe, and price tag free. Suggested Reading: You the Healer and You are the Healer (Yes, they are two different books). Optimum Practice Time and Tips: 10 min/day (to be ideal) in a favorite location (i.e. sauna, your bed, outside, on your bedroom floor…). Consider listening to the same soundtrack every time you do it. I always choose “Glosoli” by Sigur Ros. Happy relaxing!