Visualisation- Does it really work?Heidi Hadley
(Plus my own visualisation process to help you get started with yours)!
Visualisation or motor planning is an expression I use and explain in detail with the Total Somatics online programme. It is a fundamental component to changing our neuroplasticity with somatics. We use visualisation to access a certain function or mode in the brain to bring the sequences to the forefront BEFORE we actually perform the movements.
Neuroscience has clearly identified this as a key feature to how sports people are able to perform on a mental and physical level.
As we have learnt from somatics, the name of the modality explains the approach to this area of health. The word SOMA comes from the the Greek word meaning the whole person, body, soul, psyche. So we cannot divide the mind and body away from each other. Hence the name SOMAtics.
However in today’s blog we are going to look at how we can use visualisation AWAY from our somatics practice. Remember, in order to be Somatically aware, we need to adopt this holistic attitude to all areas of our life in order to make lasting changes. So I would like to explain how I use visualisation to help calm and centre me when events can become quite challenging or overwhelming. When we elicit a relaxed feeling in our mind and body, we slow the actions of the amygdala (stress centre in the brain) and increase the occipital, temporal, parietal and prefrontal cortex. These areas are associated with focus, awareness, memory, sensory feedback from sensation, pressure and touch. The occipital lobe is crucial in visualisation and occupies 20% of the brain’s overall capacity. As this area of the brain is responsible for vision, it involves so much more than that! It also fosters imagination, pictures and visualises scenes. It will help you recall an event or imagine a future event which you would like to achieve.
I visualise one event to help me relax my mind and body from stress. This is where the photo comes in to the discussion!
Many years ago my husband and I enjoyed a hot air balloon trip for our wedding anniversary. It was a truly magical experience and something the two of us had wanted to do for several years. So when I want to relax my mind and body I visualise the hot air balloon trip. I make the event very real in my mind’s eye. As our subconscious mind cannot perceive the difference between reality and imagined, we can actually recreate that feeling again and be there again in our imagination. So let me explain how I visualise and recreate that feeling again.
MY VISUALISATION PROCESS
I close my eyes and start taking some really nice deep breaths to allow my nervous system to relax and induce Alpha brain waves to dominate (a subject discussed in detail with my online programme).
Then I start my visualization.
I recreate the events and feelings of that morning. I can imagine the English countryside on that April morning at 5am. I recall to mind that there was a light mist across the fields and as the sun rose, the mist cleared and there was dew glistening on the blades of grass.
I then think about the hot air balloon launch and visualise the events that morning. We had to sit down on the floor of the basket as we took off. All I could feel was lightness under my body as we gentle rose. Then after several minutes, the pilot of the balloon invited us to stand up. It is that feeling I will never forget.
As I stood up and looked out, all I could see was a beautiful blue sky and rich green fields with cattle grazing. It was so peaceful. A sense of calm came over me. As I looked at my husband, we both gave a look to each other as if to say “what an amazing experience to share.” That is another feeling that I find brings a sense of calm and centering.
A thought that I often recall was created in that balloon trip. As we floated high above, with the occasional noise of the flames to keep us at altitude, I could see all the cars at rush hour racing along the motorway/highway. It was then that a whole new level or perspective came into play. The cars looked like ants scurrying around, always in a rush. But to come out of that rat race and look down on it, made me think that life is short and we need to embrace life experiences. We need to get a balance between work and recreation. We can sometimes get so caught up in our own world and can seem so intense, but when we stand back; we see a whole new or bigger picture.
So the thought I associate with this part of my visualisation is that life will always go on, but we must take care and nuture our own health and wellbeing first before being available to others. Otherwise we continue running around being busy but not always productive. Our present or future health will be affected by a high pressured life.
I then allow myself to feel the sensations in my mind’s eye from that balloon trip and spend as long as possible in those thoughts until I feel really centred and calm.
The thoughts and feelings I bring to mind are:
I pay attention to how chilly the air was on my face.
I recall how I could see my breath early in the morning whilst looking at the mist on the fields.
I remember the blue sky as the sun rose with very few clouds.
It was perfect weather for flying.
I recall seeing a carpet of bluebells from the balloon.
I recall how my husband and I held hands due to the fact it always reminds us of our wedding photos being taken in a bluebell wood.
The sound of the cattle “mooing” in the fields could be heard as we ascended and descended.
The contrast of noise between the blast of the flames and the complete silence as we looked down on the world, floating in the basket.
The sensation of how magical it felt.
The sensation in my mind and body feeling calm and very peaceful.
I then start start to take several deep breaths. With every out breath I visualise the balloon going higher whilst my muscles are feeling looser as my body relaxes further in to this experience.
Then once I have finished my deep breaths (which I don’t count, I just stop when I’m ready), my lasting image is of the horizon. I see a feint yellow line across the horizon which the pilot informed us at the time is when the hot and cold air meet. It was spectacular to see. I hold that image in my mind as I feel calm and away from the hustle and bustle of life.
When I am ready to finish my visualisation, I start visualising the descent. I notice objects becoming larger, but because I feel so calm and refreshed, I am not concerned or stressed about landing back in to the “thick of it”, as it were. Rather I feel I have had respite from the world and I am recharge and ready to embrace my activities again.
As my visualisation comes to an end, I recall walking back to our car and seeing 2 deer among the trees, they looked across at us and ran off delicately into the woods. A beautiful way to finish such a grounding (no pun intended!) experience.
Then I bring my awareness back in to the room and become aware of noises such as the birds singing, cars, ticking clock and so on. Then when I am ready I take a couple of deep breaths to finish and open my eyes.
IN CONCLUSION - WHAT YOU CAN DO
Your visualisation doesn’t have to be long. It is very much led by you. I sometimes do my visualisation at bedtime to relax my nervous system and the next thing I know my alarm is going off the next morning!! So plan the best time of day for you.
Just find your favourite image, experience, location and make it real in your Mind’s eye. Remember visualising this relaxing setting helps to calm your central nervous system and allow your mind and body to rest and recuperate from the daily bombardment or stresses we have to contend with. We regularly service our car, perform software updates to our computers, and yet these things can be replaced. Why not care for your mind and body. We only have one and we cannot replace or upgrade it. Start caring for your SOMA and start living a holistic life to care and nurture your mind and body.
Take care, Heidi Hadley xx