Guided imagery originated in France, where it was called "forced fantasy." It is a technique by which a person is started on a daydream and then allowed to finish on his own. A typical session will start with the subject lying down or sitting comfortably with his eyes closed. Then the "guide" will start to tell a story (called a "script") and stop the narration before it has gone very far. Music often is playing in the background. The subject finishes the story on his own. This is often done in a group and then discussed afterward by the participants.
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The modern American version of guided imagery is based on the popular French practice, but the roots of guided imagery go back to the roots of civilisation. Similar techniques are mentioned in tantric yoga texts that are thousands of years old. Guided imagery is also mentioned by both Freud and Jung and is an important part of Freud's famous 1923 paper "The Ego and the Id."
Today, guided imagery is used mainly as a relaxation and stress-reduction technique. Throughout history--and to some modern practitioners--it has been a technique for achieving self-awareness. Guided imagery promotes a certain openness of mind that also makes it an important tool for the creative process.
A guided imagery session typically last an hour or less. It must be done in a relaxed manner, so the sessions usually start with a short t'ai chixercise as a transition between the real world and the fantasy world. Breathing exercises are a common gateway into the guided imagery session, because nothing is as personal and immediate as breathing. It has been used for centuries to help turn a person's focus inward. The script part of the session should take only a few minutes. The actual imagination part lasts as long as a daydream lasts: It may seem like hours but usually lasts only a few minutes.
The effects can be both relaxation and an openness of mind. Many scripts have symbolic elements that encourage creativity. For example, a script might mention seeing a piece of paper without saying what is written on it, or it might state that you were given a gift without saying what the gift was. These kinds of "blank markers" encourage you to fill in the blanks. Having your imagination stimulated in a relaxed atmosphere can be a profound experience. People often leave guided imagery sessions with a peacefulness that lasts the rest of the day.
The most commonly reported benefit is stress reduction. There is something about turning your back on the world and taking a trip within that is deeply relaxing. Self-awareness is another benefit for some people. The images you come up with are a way (Jung would say) that your subconscious communicates with your consciousness. Another benefit that is often reported is increased creativity. Guided imagery is very popular in the artistic community.
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