Friday, March 28, 2014

Creative Visualization Practice

"If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it." We've all heard this quote ad nauseam. Who said it? William Arthur Ward, apparently. Also, your soccer coach probably said it, or your high school guidance counselor, or your uncle or your great aunt or your hypnotherapist. We hear this idea regurgitated in various forms all of the time. "If you build it, they will come." That one's a little different, but same principle. 

Is it true? Is it right? Is it a wive's tale or a fairy tale or a logical fallacy? Like a lot of "kitchen soup for the soul" advice, it turns out that this bit of oft-repeated wisdom is mostly legitimate. Brain scientists, doctors and mental health professionals have done the work to scientifically prove how we can retrain our brains and improve physical and mental performance through visualization. When we purposefully imagine a specific action before performing it, we increase our odds of success. This is a fact. When you imagine raising your right arm, the area of the brain responsible for performing that action in the body is activated. When you imagine your presentation going off without a hitch, you decrease anxiety and create a map in your brain of how you want the presentation to go. When runners visualize completing a race within a specific time, their brains get ready to channel the body's energy and resources to execute that plan. We have scientific proof of the positive results of what is commonly called "creative visualization." Most of this proof comes from research on the brain and neuroplasticity along with multiple studies conducted to see if visualization helped athletic performance. Does this mean we can sit and imagine winning the lottery and turn up the next day with a winning ticket? No. That's the logical fallacy and fairy tale part of the story. 

When I was 25 someone recommended I read the book, Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain. For a few years it was like a little bible for me. I forgot about it for a while in my thirties, then I ordered a lovely hard copy of the book a few years ago. The book provides simple explanations and techniques for harnessing the power of our imagination to shape and improve our lives. I love it. Creative visualization is simply using your imagination to custom design your experiences. You already practice it, even if only unconsciously. 

More recently the book and movie The Secret have been popular and drawn a lot of criticism. I will leave you to make up your own minds about the law of attraction, if it is a real law and if it may also be a cultural construct made to fit a materialistic definition of success. Think (or imagine) what you want to about The Secret

From years of personal experience, some of it good and some of it bad, I can tell you that creative visualization works. It also takes work. It takes a good deal of time and self-inquiry to consciously harness the power of your thoughts and imagination. Like most of us, I am easily distracted. I am lucky to take time out to meditate a little every day. Taking the time to ask myself tough questions about what I want and don't want, then taking more time to get myself into the right mind/body state to visualize specific outcomes...well, that's hard. But when I have done it, my dreams have materialized. All of them. For real. Why am I not rich and famous? I don't think about being rich or famous. I have vividly imagined, in great detail, each of the blessings I have in my life, from my spouse, to my former and current jobs, to the way I spend my days, places I have traveled, the house I live in now and the way my clothes fit. I don't think I have any sort of ideal life. In fact, I have jumped around a lot and done some kooky stuff. I have also imagined some negative outcomes, and those have come to pass as well--like what?--like getting into arguments, getting fired, getting sick, having a bad experience with a particular person...the list goes on. I have materialized fears as well as blessings. I sometimes wonder why I have imagined and achieved the things I have, rather than other things. I am happy with my life, though, and in moments when I am not happy, I do make myself get back to work with the tough questions and the visualization. 

I have used creative visualization to a small extent in my yoga asana practice. Why to a small extent? Because I haven't felt particularly driven to change anything in my practice. I usually just let it come and let it be what it is. Often yoga practice is simply a good way to create space in our minds that supports creativity in all of our other endeavors. 

Today, I am inviting you to think about and to practice using creative visualization before, during and after your yoga practice. First, in using the breath and some quiet time to get centered, we will access the spaciousness within ourselves. Then, we will bring a vivid image into that spaciousness, an image of something we'd like to achieve (it can be anything we are working on in our lives, as simple as a yoga posture or as complex as a better relationship with a family member). Next, as we move through our postures, we will stay connected to that vision and imagine that our movement on our mats is channeling our efforts to achieve that goal. We will dedicate our practice today to our dreams, using it to work towards the fulfillment of our desires. On the micro level, if we do a tricky posture today, we can take a moment before executing it to imagine how that posture will feel once we are in it and how our body will move and appear to achieve it. We will imagine a little video of our asana and then hit replay when it's time to do it. To close our practice, we'll do a special guided imagery visualization to seal the intention we formed here, adding the energy we spent today to the sum of energy we are putting into achieving our dream. When you go home, write down the details of the vivid image of your dream, and keep that paper in a place you can look at it often. And when you practice yoga at home, visualize your postures before you do them. I will try that too! "If we can do it on our mats, we can do it in our lives" -Michelle Garrison Hough (and every other yoga teacher in the world).

No comments:

Post a Comment