How to Practise Visualisation Meditation
Harnessing the powerful effects of visualisation meditation in recovery from addiction.
Have you ever envisioned what a life of sobriety would look like?
How would you walk, how would you talk, knowing that you overcame the single toughest battle of your life?
What would long-term sobriety feel like… would you feel free? Weightless?
What would it feel like when you wake up in the mornings?
Where would you be if you were clean and free from addiction?
Who would be surrounding you?
If you can see any of this in your mind’s eye right now, then you can make it happen, all with the help of visualisation meditation.
What Is Visualisation?
Visualisation itself involves seeing an image in our mind of the desired outcome of a specific goal that we have. Research has shown that practising visualisation consistently has incredibly powerful effects, and can help us actualise our dreams and even achieve healthy bodies.
If your current goal is to achieve one month of clean time, you would visualise yourself already there. You would imagine how you would feel with one entire month of recovery under your belt, and hold this feeling in your mind’s eye. What would you think of yourself? Where would you want to be? How would reaching this milestone make you feel?
Visualisation Through The Years
Visualisation has been used by famous athletes, high-powered CEOs, spiritual practitioners, and many others for decades. It first gained popularity in the 1980’s when the Russian Olympic teams began using it to transcend in sports .
Notorious UFC champion Conor Mcgregor is well known for practising visualisation before a big fight. Whether he was driving a brand new Bentley or holding two championship belts simultaneously, Mcgregor identifies his practising of visualisation as being a key element of his accomplishments. He once stated,
“In this struggle, when things are going good and you visualise good things happening, that’s easy. What’s not easy is to do it when things are going bad and you’re visualising the good stuff. And that’s what I was able to do. Visualising good things in times of struggle, when you can do that, that really makes the law of attraction work.”
Whether you’re an athlete training to win the championship belt, or someone with an addiction who is struggling to remain clean and sober, visualisation is a powerful tool that can help you achieve your desires.
What propels us towards change is having specific ideas of where we want to be and what that looks like. Visualisation harnesses the power of our subconscious mind and helps us move towards our goals. Not only that, but it creates physical changes in our brains that help us also.
Visualisation and Brain Behaviour
Though visualisation was once deemed a mystical “woo-woo” concept, it has now been backed by research and science, giving us a deeper understanding of how the brain works in conjunction with our reality.
The amygdala is a part of our brain that controls our flight or fight response. Imagine thinking deeply about a time in your life when you were truly terrified - do you feel your heart beating faster? Is your breathing becoming more shallow? Do you feel yourself tensing up? 
Your body responds in this way because the amygdala can’t tell if something that we imagine, or visualise, is really happening or not. In this way, visualisation is so powerful because we can tell our mind and body anything that we want them to believe, and then that is what will begin to appear in our world.
The brain has something called a reticular activating system, or RAS. This part of our brain filters what we see, and only shows us what’s in our consciousness.
For instance, if you start thinking about Range Rovers often, or you keep thinking about a blue flower, you may start noticing that you begin to see Range Rovers driving on the road more frequently, or that you happen to notice a blue flower.
Programme your brain with visualisation
This happens because the RAS has filtered that specific information in so that it gets presented to you. When we visualise, we programme our minds with what we do want, rather than what we don’t want.
When we focus more on what we do want, opportunities that will help us achieve our goals get filtered through to us by way of the RAS. Visualisation essentially feeds the RAS to show us opportunities that are in line with our desired outcomes .
The visualisation also encourages neuroplasticity, which is the formation of new neural pathways in the brain. This can be especially beneficial to a brain that is recovering from damage caused by ongoing substance abuse.
What Is Visualisation Meditation?
Visualisation is a mindfulness technique as it is, but it can be combined with meditation to help us relax while working towards achieving a specific outcome, such as gaining clean time or getting a new job.
According to Ariel Van Alstyne, reiki practitioner and meditation guide, "visualisation meditation is the method of picturing positive images, ideas, symbols, or using affirmations and mantras to help calm the mind while the body is in a relaxed state .”
While traditional meditation focuses on clearing the mind and accessing our awareness, visualisation meditation takes a more active approach. In visualisation meditation, we are actively creating and manipulating the imagery within our minds. We are then stepping inside that imagery, becoming it, and feeling the feelings associated with it.
Visualisation meditation can be used not only to achieve goals, but also to help relieve pain in the body, and even to send love to someone. We can also use visualisation meditation to help us reduce stress and find a safe space in the middle of a hectic moment.
The Power of Positive Visualisation in Overcoming Procrastination
How often do we play out a scenario in our heads of something that hasn’t even happened? It can become second nature to imagine a worst-case scenario in a vain attempt to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead. How helpful is this kind of thinking to our physical and mental well-being?
During active addiction, we came to expect the worse, and all too often that expectation turned into a similar kind of reality. This way of thinking has to be abandoned during our recovery. Negative thinking not only causes unnecessary stress and anxiety but can also deter us from stepping outside of our comfort zone, a must for personal growth.
Flipping the coin, instead of negatively projecting, we can visualise positive things happening in our lives and to those around us. As a result, not only do we automatically feel more optimistic but we increase the chances of positive things happening.
Our brains never switch off, but we can choose positive or negative trains of thought and the images that accompany them.
Play the tape forwards
To demonstrate the power of positive visualisation, imagine a task you’re putting off due to feeling overwhelmed or feeling fearful of the result. Now imagine competently completing that task and the utter relief and pride you feel in yourself for having done so. Imagine the freedom you will feel after and what you will do with the time you have saved by putting in action against procrastination. Imagine the details of the feelings attached, as everything falls into place and goes to plan… keep visualising this until you do the task.
Procrastination is one of our worst enemies in recovery and is usually brought about by fearful thinking. Visualising success, completion, competency and the feelings that go in hand is an infinitely better way of motivating yourself to tackle a task or tasks, you have been delaying or avoiding.
Guided Imagery as Visualisation Meditation
One form of visualisation meditation is called guided imagery and encourages relaxation and stress reduction. This practice is a great tool that is used to wind down before bed. It can help quiet the mind and creates a sense of ease. When practised over time, guided imagery can help reduce levels of anxiety .
A study conducted in 2018 tested the effects of nature-based guided imagery on people suffering from anxiety. Contact with nature has many stress-reducing effects, could visualising being in nature reap the actual same benefits?
The study revealed that participants did indeed experience a significant reduction in anxiety following nature-based guided imagery sessions, even more so than those who followed non-nature-based sessions .
During the middle of a hectic day or when difficult emotions come up, you have the ability to mentally take yourself to the place that you go to during your guided imagery meditations, regaining a sense of control, peace, and relaxation.
This form of meditation also elicits many powerful benefits in addition to stress reduction.
The Benefits of Visualisation Meditation
There are many benefits to regularly practising visualisation meditation, not only for the mind and spirit but also for the body. Practising visualisation meditation has been scientifically proven to relieve chronic pain, reduce migraines, and boost immunity .
When someone has a stroke that is caused by a blood clot within a brain artery, blood can no longer reach the tissue that the artery fed, and that tissue dies as a result. Studies have shown that if someone who has had a stroke visualises moving their limb, this in turn increases blood flow from the brain, even if the limb is paralyzed. This practice decreases the amount of tissue that dies .
A separate study was conducted to see if people could become stronger by simply visualising working out and not performing any physical exercise. The results of the study were profound and revealed that participants who only visualised strength training experienced a whopping 13.5% increase in muscle strength .
These examples provide a mere glimpse into the compelling and miraculous benefits of visualisation.
Benefits of visualisation meditation:
- Reduces stress
- Great for beginners
- Decreases symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Helps in achieving goals
- Increases self-confidence
- Relieves pain
- Encourages relaxation
- Can enhance creativity
- Improves physical performance
- Increases focus
- Improves overall wellbeing
- Increases positivity
Step-by-step visualisation meditation for beginners
Below is a step-by-step guide to help get you started with your visualisation meditation practice:
Find a comfortable, quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Put your phone on silent and remove any potential distractions. Get into a comfortable position, either sitting or laying down.
Allow your body to relax. If your shoulders are tense, loosen them. If you feel any tension in an area of your body, release it. Lean deep into a relaxed state.
Focus on your breathing.
Take a deep breath through your nose. Hold your breath, and then gently release it through your nose. Once again, take another deep breath in through your nose, hold it, and then gently release it. Do this several times, focusing on slow, deep breaths.
Clear your thoughts.
Now, begin to clear away the mind chatter that may be going on internally, and focus on an image of your choice. For this example, let’s say you want to focus on getting a new job. You can visualise everything that this process would entail as if it is happening now exactly as you want it to. Visualise nailing a job interview, getting the call that you’re hired, celebrating with people you love, going in for your first day at work, and performing job-related duties.
Step into it.
Step into the visualisation by feeling the emotions of everything that is happening. Feel the excitement of getting hired, and the joy and pride of being able to celebrate with loved ones. Feel the gratitude of going to work on your first day as a new hire, and the productivity and importance you feel while performing job-related duties. Really put yourself in the visualisation in first person, as though you are truly seeing and feeling everything happening.
Let yourself stay in this visualisation meditation for as long or as little as you want. The more details that you see and the more feelings that you can conjure up, the more effective the visualisation will be. You can set a timer before you start to keep the meditation within a set time frame.
Pro Tips for Visualisation Meditation
- Consistency is key. Like all forms of meditation, practising consistently will reap greater benefits, and this is especially true for visualisation meditation. Start off with a 5-minute visualisation, and then work your way up to 10 minutes, and then 20 minutes. This form of meditation is generally easier for many beginners to practise because it is more active and involves engaging the imagination, rather than clearing the mind.
- Feel the feelings. Although it is important to visualise the image of your desired outcome, it is crucial to make sure that you are embodying the emotions that you will feel when you achieve your goals. Emotions are the catalyst for transformation.
Beyond Visualisation Meditation
If you feel that visualisation meditation isn’t in alignment with your needs, there are so many other forms of meditation to check out.
From focused and body scan to present moment awareness, Recoverlution offers information and guidance on some of the more effective forms of meditation that can really help to anchor your recovery and encourage personal growth. We also offer an abundance of meditations and Breathwork within our Wellness Hub, along with so much more.
The most important element of creating a meditation practice is to find one that you enjoy, that you can do consistently, and that works for you!
Author - Thurga
Reflection Meditation: Learning Through Your Experiences in Addiction Recovery
- Visualisation Meditation - https://www.headspace.com/meditation/visualisation
- The Neuroscience of Visualisation - https://www.mindmovies.com/blogroll/the-neuroscience-of-visualisation
- Visualisation Meditation is the Key to Achieving Your Goals - https://www.wellandgood.com/visualisation-meditation/
- Nature-Based Guided Imagery as an Intervention for State Anxiety - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6176042/#__ffn_sectitle
- The Science of Visualisation - Maximizing Your Brain’s Potential During the Recession - https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-science-of-visualizat_b_171340
- From Mental Power to Muscle Power -- Gaining Strength by Using the Mind - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14998709