Meditation Training and Support
Meditation is an activity that calms the mind and keeps it focused on the present. In the meditative state, the mind is not cluttered with thoughts or memories of the past, nor is it concerned with future events. When thoughts keep us distracted we can practice watching and observing the mind in the same way one would gaze at the sky and watch a cloud drift along on its path. Meditation seems to overwhelm many, but the truth is, we meditate often throughout our day and mostly we are unaware of this natural practice state. When you’re having a busy day and think that you cannot possible fit in one more activity, just sit. One can sit for five minutes and have a meditative experience that can be restorative in nature and allow you to return to your activities feeling balanced. Meditation produces a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind. It can give you a sense of calm, peace and emotional stability. And these effects don’t end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can have lasting effects on your emotional and physical well-being. Rigorous scientific research can measure the effects of meditation on a range of health variables and are currently being evaluated in such ground-breaking initiatives as a year long experiment combining Eastern and Western healing methods at Beth Israel Medical Center.
Developed more than two decades ago at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., mindfulness training helps a person live in the present moment to handle more easily the ups and downs of life. By intentionally bringing a non-judgmental awareness to breathing, body sensations, thoughts and feelings – including fears, anger, frustrations, desires, and self-doubts – a person is better equipped to deal with the challenges of life. This very special kind of attentiveness enables one to acquire new insights about life situations and, in turn, to develop ways to respond rather than react to the conditions in life.
People simply observe what arises in the body and mind, perceiving each experience as an event in their own field of awareness. This fuller, moment to moment, non-judgmental awareness known as Mindfulness frees a person to make clearer and more attuned decisions.
Most people report an increased ability to relax, greater energy and enthusiasm for life, brightened self-confidence and an increased ability to cope more effectively with both short and long term stressful situations.
Body scanning is a useful practice for bringing deep awareness to the many processes of the mind and body. While in a state of relaxation, allow the mind to focus awareness and just notice parts of the body. Many people like to begin with the feet and work their way up the body, noticing any sensations, tightness, agitation, softness, etc. Either before or after a body scan, practitioners often do a breath awareness exercise where the focus of attention is simply noticing breathing and any sensations or thoughts as you do this gentle exercise.
Guided Imagery is a therapeutic technique that is used by some clinicians during psychotherapy sessions to promote relaxation and healing. Imagery (thoughts or mental representations with sensory qualities) can help people achieve a variety of health goals, such as alleviating anxiety or depression, overcoming phobias, trauma recovery, reducing habits (overeating, smoking), healing from physical illness, and physical symptom reduction (i.e., high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, G.I. problems, chronic pain). Guided imagery is a two-part process. The first component involves reaching a state of deep relaxation through breathing and muscle relaxation techniques. During the relaxation phase, the person closes their eyes and focuses on the quiet, relaxed, in and out sensation of breathing. Or, they might focus on releasing the feelings of tension from their muscles, beginning with the toes and working up to the top of the head as one might do in progressive relaxation or body scan. Once complete relaxation is achieved, the second component of the exercise is the imagery, or visualization. Guided imagery is perfect for patients or clients who feel uncomfortable getting help in a traditional therapist/patient session or in addition to other therapeutic techniques.
Guided imagery was defined by Bresler and Rossman, co-founders of the Academy for Guided Imagery, as a “range of techniques from simple visualization and direct imagery-based suggestion through metaphor and storytelling” (2003). Though guided imagery is currently understood to be mainly an “alternative” or “complementary” therapeutic technique, it has been used in psychotherapy practice for over a century. Guided imagery is a flexible intervention whose efficacy has been indicated through a large body of research over many decades in counseling and allied fields. Clinicians and therapists integrate guided imagery into a variety of other modalities such as EMDR. When woven into an integrative psychotherapy approach, guided imagery helps clients connect with their internal cognitive, affective, and somatic resources. The goal is not to provide new-and-improved images for the client, but to facilitate awareness of the imagery that already exists and guide clients to work with this imagery as needed. Guided imagery can be used to calm the nervous system, learn and rehearse skills, learn to effectively problem solve through visualizing possible outcomes of different alternatives, and increase creativity and imagination. In addition to its use in counseling and psychotherapy, guided imagery has also been used with very positive results in sports training, performance enhancement, rehabilitative medicine, and healthcare.
Clinical observations suggest that an individual visualizing a calm imagined scene reacts as though it were actually occurring; therefore, “induced” images can have a profound effect on behavior. Guided Imagery has also been shown to affect physiological processes and has been used increasingly by healthcare providers in the medical field with impressive results. Medical practitioners such as nurses often use guided imagery with their patients to support patient healing and comfort. This is particularly true with Cancer patients but also with patients who have other medical concerns such as anxiety before surgery. Studies have shown that individuals who participated in Guided Imagery experienced higher numbers of activated T-cells which led to improved immune responses. Guided Imagery is one of many tools that an individual may use as part of a regular self-care practice.
The usefulness of guided imagery techniques have been shown to be effective in helping individuals learn or modify behaviors such as:
- Learning to relax
- Changing or controlling negative emotions in response to a particular situation
- Preparation for future changes (divorce, moving, job changes)
- Habit control and eliminating or reducing undesirable behaviors (smoking, obesity)
- Increased pain management
- Coping with difficult situations (relatives, family events, a difficult boss)
- Learning new and desirable behaviors (assertiveness training)
- Increasing motivation (work, homework)
- Learning to manage stressful or anxiety-producing situations (public speaking/presentations) by mentally rehearsing the needed behavior(s)
Guided imagery techniques have been found to be effective with a variety of concerns such as:
- Phobias (including agoraphobia, panic disorders, social phobia, and specific phobias)
- Generalized anxiety disorders (GAD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Sexual concerns
- Habit disorders
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Behavior disorders in children and adolescents
- Medical conditions
- Acute and chronic pain (and other physical disorders)
Guided imagery has also contributed to the achievement of skills and overcoming anxiety in normal life situations that include learning or improving skills, performance enhancement, test taking, and public speaking. In addition, visualization and imagery, along with hypnotherapy, EMDR and behavioral techniques, have been applied to the fields of business, industry, child rearing, education, behavioral medicine, and sports. In my Manhattan psychotherapy practice, I integrate guided imagery into psychotherapy and EMDR sessions with patients as needed.