Monday, August 8, 2016

Guided Visualization for Birth

How Does Guided Imagery Work? Practitioners say that guided imagery works because, in terms of brain activity, picturing something and actually experiencing it are equivalent. Brain scans have verified that this is the case. Stimulating the brain with imagery can have a direct effect on the nervous and endocrine systems and can ultimately affect the immune system as well. If you picture yourself luxuriating at the beach on a tropical island, your muscles will actually relax and your skin will feel the warmth of the sun's rays. Likewise, if you imagine yourself recuperating quickly and effortlessly from gallbladder surgery, you are more likely to heal faster and with less pain. The brain's visual cortex, which processes images, has a powerful connection with the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary activities such as pulse, breathing, and physical responses to stress. Soothing, uplifting images can actually slow your pulse and breathing and lower your blood pressure, as well as help trigger the release of hormones such as endorphins, which make you feel good and nurture your body's restorative powers.

What You Can Expect From Guided Imagery? Although you can learn guided imagery techniques on your own from books, it is best to work with a midwife, doula, or other health care practitioner or purchase an audiotape dealing with the issue important to you. If you're a creative individual, you can write your own guided imagery script, read it onto a tape, and then use the tape as your guiding tool.

If you work with a practitioner, it will probably take only a couple of sessions to learn a technique that works well for you. The sessions may be as short as 30 minutes or as long as 90 minutes. It will speed the process considerably if your practitioner allows you to tape the session for home use. During the first session, the practitioner (who may also be a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, or psychologist) will take your medical history and ask you why you want to use guided imagery. The practitioner will probably ask you questions about your favorite vacation spots and times of year, and about experiences that have made you feel confident and secure. Your answers will help you and the practitioner develop images that make you feel good. Next, the practitioner will ask you to lie on a couch or sit in a chair. You will want to wear comfortable clothing and may want to take off your shoes. Before beginning, be sure you are warm enough or cool enough, and that pillows support you in a comfortable desired position. You can have soft, sustained music playing in the background, maybe one with ocean sounds, if you want to do the ocean visualization recommended below. The music should be soft enough to hear your own breathing. Once you are settled in, the practitioner will guide you through a visualization exercise, using all five senses and perhaps focusing on a special place where you usually feel happy and peaceful. The suggestions could be spoken in a low, soft tone, with long pauses. The pauses allow you frame the image, relate it to yourself, and then to experience the sensations of that image. The practitioner may suggest some ideas, but will leave most of the imagining up to you. The best images are the ones you conjure up yourself because they will have personal meaning for you. The amount of touch involved depends entirely on the individual situation. It is possible that the midwife or doula may not touch the mother at all, or that her birth partner may be holding her hand or stroking her lightly, in concert with her breathing pattern. With practice, you will be able to bring up healing images quickly - anytime, anywhere. You'll be able to use guided imagery to help yourself relax during stressful moments, such as being in labor, as well as to treat a particular health problem.

The belief that the power of imagination can help people heal has ancient roots. Traditional folk healers known as shamans used guided imagery to treat ailments. In Eastern medicine, envisioning well-being has always been an important part of the therapeutic process. In Tibetan medicine in particular, creating a mental image of the healing god would improve the patient's chances for recovery. The ancient Greeks, including Aristotle and Hippocrates ("father of modern medicine") also had their patients use forms of imagery to help them heal.

It was not until the 1960s, however, that psychologists exploring the emerging field of biofeedback first began to appreciate the powers of the mind on the physical body. Through biofeedback, they could teach patients to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure, or open lungs stricken with asthma. Then, in the 1970s, O. Carl Simonton, M.D., chief of Radiation Therapy at Travis Air Force base in Fairfield, California, and psychotherapist Stephanie Matthews-Simonson, devised a program - today known as the Simonton method - that utilized guided imagery to help his cancer patients. The patients pictured their white blood cells attacking their cancer cells (sometimes in scenes that resembled the popular video game "Pac-Man"). Simonton found that the more vivid the images his patients used (for example, ravenous sharks attacking feeble little fish), the better the process worked.

Since then, a good deal of research into mind-body connections has appeared in mainstream medical literature. And while many conventional physicians remain skeptical that the mind has an actual physical effect on the reversal of an illness, guided imagery (often conducted by psychiatrists or psychologists) is now used in many medical inpatient and outpatient programs throughout the world. Furthermore, many holistically oriented psychologists and other counselors routinely employ guided imagery for stress reduction, smoking cessation, weight reduction, immune stimulation, and the relief of both physical and emotional illness.

Sweet Pea in the Pod

Sedona, Arizona

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