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To: A World Within

When I pick up my son from the child watch at the gym, I enjoy watching him play before I interrupt his flow.  Sometimes I get lucky and get welcomed into his world that he is envisioning and experiencing.

As we grow older the ability to jump from our present world into a made up one in our mind diminishes and we are "stuck" here.  Perhaps can I say we jump into a worried future (anxiety) or into an unpleasant past (depression), much more often than diving into a playful imaginative world.

We still have that ability.  Children have a wonderful way about them keeping harmony within themselves.  Not only are they playing, but wonderful physiological changes occur within their body as they are lost conquering pirates or being the finest of princesses.

When you are physically laying upon the beaches of the Caribbean your body is able to absorb from its senses and by doing so, your equilibrium is balanced.  Smelling the fresh air, feeling the warm sand, tasting the salt in the air, seeing the calming scene envelopes the body.  On the outside our face smiles, our body relaxes, our brain slows down- but within, our body is a complex machine working to restore what has been lost.

Without getting too complicated our nervous system has two functions: to excite to action and to calm the body.  The sympathetic nervous system is just as important as the parasympathetic nervous system, but we need a balance.  We need the sympathetic system for intense physical activity for all the reflexes and reactions we need to survive.  Although, when we fire our sympathetic nervous system, or also known as the fight-or-flight response, we initiate bodily functions to occur to deal with high amounts of stress.  With prolonged exposure to stress, these effects can be long lasting, causing your body to work overtime.  This sounds okay, until we realize we are initiating this response when it is not necessarily needed.  The body does not know the difference between getting attacked by a bear or getting angry at getting cut off in a traffic jam.  The body knows to survive and it does it well.  But, we do not always need those functions turned on.

The parasympathetic nervous system has almost the exact opposite effect and relaxes the body and inhibits or slows many high energy functions.  This system gives the body an ability to wash away the effects stress has on our body.  These symptoms are very complex, but for now, this is all that we need to understand.

So, how do we balance these systems?  There are many ways, but the one I want to focus on today is guided imagery.  Guided imagery is a mental image that can be defined as a thought with sensory qualities.  It is something we mental see, hear, taste, smell, touch, or feel.  The term "guided imagery" refers to a wide variety of mind/body techniques, including simple visualization and direct suggestion using imagery, metaphor and story-telling, fantasy exploration, game playing, dream interpretation, drawing, and "active imagination," where elements of the unconscious are invited to appear as images that can communicate with the conscious mind.

Here are three different guided imagery exercises that I pulled from the website: http://www.stress-relief-tools.com/

3 Guided Imagery Exercises
Set aside some time when you won't be interrupted. You can pre-record these exercises first and then listen with your eyes closed. 
Your special place
Pick a favorite place. It could be a garden, a waterfall, a room, or anything else. A place where you feel good and safe. Now, close your eyes and go to that favorite place. Walk around slowly and notice the colors and textures around you. What do you see? ... What do you feel? ... What do you hear? ... What do you smell? Take your time while you walk around. Spend some time exploring each of your senses. And notice how good and relaxed you feel.
Remember these sensations, they are the sensations of your very special place. A place where you can relax. Say to yourself: "I am relaxed, my body feels warm and heavy, I am safe here". Enjoy the feeling of deep relaxation.
When you are ready, gently open your eyes and come back to the present moment.

Day at the beach
Imagine - It is a beautiful sunny day...you are walking on a beach...the sky is blue...the water is crystal clear...you hear the sound of gentle waves lapping, as the light breeze caresses your skin...the white sand feels warm on your bare feet and between your toes...you are wearing flowing light clothes and breathing deeply, inhaling the smell of fresh ocean air...a sense of freedom washes over your body...you lie down and let your body sink into the warm soft sand...your are completely relaxed...you sink deeper and deeper into relaxation...
When you are ready, gently open your eyes and come back to the present moment.

Imagery for tension release
Imagine an object or a color that represents stress to you. For example, you can imagine color red, or a rope with knots, or a loud startling noise. When you have your image, say to yourself: "I release tension". Imagine your image slowly transforming into something calming. The color red can slowly fade into a nice soft and gentle color pink. The rope with knots can slowly transform into a smooth and soft silk or velvet fabric. And the loud noise can gradually transform into a soothing sound of ocean waves. When you are done with the transformation, say to yourself: "I am relaxed".
When you are ready, gently open your eyes and come back to the present moment.

By practicing a guided imagery routine, the body is "tricked" into being on that beach, in the Caribbean, feeling that warm sand.  When the body is literally feeling that warm sun or if we are there in the mind, the body responds.  As we allow ourselves to dive into a playful, harmonious, welcoming world, our body is smart and follows our cues.  Our body's parasympathetic nervous system turns on and we regain balance in our nervous system.

As a child explores their world, their body too is following their lead and producing the needed chemicals and bodily functions to bring balance and restore their body.

So, perhaps, when you find your child in his world of play, go and join him.  Imagine the world he is in, jump in and and from there, your body will do it's job.  When in that dream like world, not only are you a prince or princess, but your body might now feel like one too.

Thank you,

Guided Imagery

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