Even though many scenarios are appropriate for massage therapists guiding clients with imagery, therapists have a lot of leeway in personalizing each experience. While guided imagery is more than simply telling your client to relax, it doesn’t have to include a fully illustrated journey. The goal of combining the practices of meditation and massage is to bring the client’s mind into harmony with a relaxed and stress-free physical state.
Bodyworkers may choose a recording to guide clients into relaxation or use their own voice to lead the way. Two examples of useful journeys are described below:
- Imagine warm sunlight coming down from above. The warm, golden light beams down, touches the top of your head and relaxes the tension held in your scalp. The golden glow moves down your body slowly stopping to warm each muscle group, draining any tightness into the earth below you.
- As you feel your body relax and release tension it becomes lighter and lighter. As resistance is removed, your body becomes so light it begins to float. You lift off the earth and float like a cloud up to the sky. The warm sun envelops you and a gentle breeze carries you through the sky.
Imagery is an effective treatment for stress. Relaxation techniques can release neurochemicals that act as natural brain tranquilizers and lower blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety. Because imagery relaxes the body, doctors specializing in imagery often recommend it for stress-related conditions such as headaches, chronic neck and back pain, high blood pressure, spastic colon and cramping from premenstrual syndrome.
Several studies suggest that imagery boosts immunity. Danish researchers found increased natural killer cell activity among ten college students who imagined that their immune systems were becoming very effective. Natural killer cells are an important part of the immune system because they can recognize and destroy virus-infected cells, tumor cells and other invaders. In another small study, researchers at Pennsylvania State University and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine found that seven people who suffered from recurrent canker sores in their mouths significantly reduced the frequency of their outbreaks after they began visualizing that the sores were bathed in a soothing coating of white blood cells.
Combining meditation with massage can elevate the recipient’s physical and spiritual well-being. As published in the October 2005 Journal of Palliative Medicine, Yale University researchers looked at the effect of meditation and massage on quality of life in people with AIDS. Study participants were allocated to either a massage group, a meditation group, a combined meditation and massage group or a standard care group. The researchers concluded the combination of meditation and massage demonstrated a significant favorable influence on overall and spiritual quality of life in late-stage disease relative to standard care, or either intervention component alone.
Leading your clients in a guided imagery meditation while you work requires practice. Below are five tips for getting started in guiding someone into a meditative state:
- Listen to Guided Imagery – Make sure you are familiar with different ways of guiding a meditative state to help you develop your own style. Experiencing it yourself will help you recognize its benefits and choose what process suits you best to make you a better meditative leader. You can either listen to someone else’s guided imagery recording or be the recipient of a guided imagery session.
- Practice on Friends First – Rehearse guided imagery with friends and family members and get their feedback before attempting to lead clients. It takes practice to guide a seamless opening, middle and closing meditation while simultaneously performing massage therapy.
- Center Yourself – You can only lead a client into the relaxed state of meditation if you are grounded. Taking several deep, cleansing breaths, releasing accumulated tension and feeling connected to the earth below is one way to get centered.
- Progress Slowly – When using imagery to guide someone towards relaxation, it is important to pause long enough for them to imagine each scenario you have set. Pace yourself so you don’t rush through the relaxation of a muscle group that may be carrying extra tension.
- Voice Control – Maintain an even, calm voice tone throughout the meditation. Guided imagery works best when the practitioner’s voice is liquid, soothing and free of expression so the client doesn’t get distracted.
Incorporating guided imagery into your massage sessions may not be desirable for every situation. Clients who are not open to being led on a cognitive trip may find your guidance clashing with their attempts at relaxation. However, clients who are receptive to guided imagery have a unique opportunity to participate in their own healing process.
By working with the above five tips for beginning guiding meditations, you can learn to deliver a memorable physical and spiritual session. With research proving the advantages of combining meditation with massage, verbally guiding your clients into a deeply relaxed state will render your massage treatments even more effective than they were before.
Williams AL, Selwyn PA, Liberti L, Molde S, Njike VY, McCorkle R, Zelterman D, Katz DL, A randomized controlled trial of meditation and massage effects on quality of life in people with late-stage disease: a pilot study, Journal of Palliative Medicine, October 2005.
www.amcollege.edu, Guided Imagery, Dr. Richard Browne, Acupuncture Massage College, January 2007.
www.eupsychia.com, Guided Imagery, Eupsychia Institute, Inc., 2007.
www.holisticonline.com, Guided Imagery or Visualization, ICBS, Inc., 2007.
www.intelihealth.com, Guided Imagery, Natural Standard and Harvard Medical School, Aetna InteliHealth, Inc., 2007.
www.spas.about.com, Partnered Meditation and Massage, Margaret Doner, LMT, 2007.