The Power of Imagery

How to Incorporate Visual Meditation to Help Physical Healing

By Cindy Williams, LMT

How much do you participate in your own healing?

Making that massage appointment was a great step, and sometimes blissing out is exactly the level of healing participation you need in that moment. But sometimes, fully participating in the therapeutic experience can change the outcome.

After 18 years of practicing massage, I’m of the mind-set that in order to receive a complete therapeutic experience, clients must participate in their treatment. One of my favorite ways to include my clients in their healing process is to educate them using imagery—first teaching what is happening inside their body, then giving them a take-home visual meditation to practice daily. 

Look Inside the Body

After a severe fall when mountain climbing, I participated in the healing process as I recovered from my own injuries. And, while bodywork, nutrition, and exercise all played a significant part in addressing my chronic pain, nothing advanced my healing process like using imagery. First, however, I had to understand how the compromised body part worked when it was healthy. 

Even though I had been trained in anatomy and physiology, after my injury, I still pulled out my anatomy books and studied the area that was causing pain. I memorized as much detail as I could from pictures. At the time, I was also seeing a pain-management specialist, so when I was in his office, I studied the chart on the wall detailing the spine (one of my primary concerns was a bulging disc in my lumbar region). I also noticed he had a model of a spine, so I touched the vertebrae so that my mind could absorb the shape of the bones and how the discs lay between them using not just my sense of sight, but also my sense of touch. Engaging as many senses as possible helps embed the information into memory. 

I asked the doctor to show me the MRI and explain how the disc bulged, how the nerves came off the spine, and how the muscles stiffened around the injured area. My entire plan was to use this information to envision how my body currently was, and then imagine the area changing and returning back to a healthy state. Even if you aren’t seeing a doctor for your pain, your massage therapist can help you learn about what is going on inside your body.


The Process of Creating a Vision

Below are three steps for using images and a visual meditation to support the unwinding of dysfunctional patterns in your body.

Step 1: Ask your massage therapist to show you pictures of the bones and muscles in your area of concern and explain how they work. 

Request a Lesson in “Big Picture” Anatomy

You can easily tell your therapist where it hurts, but you don’t necessarily understand why it hurts, or the domino effect one area can have on nearby and distant structures. When you see an image of the muscles that are present at your reported area of pain and are offered context for how the area functions with nearby muscles, you can tune in and support healthy function.

Your massage therapist might use online programs such as Primal Pictures, textbooks with clear and colored pictures, muscle charts, and trigger-point charts to educate you. They might even have skeleton, spine, or joint models that you can touch and feel. 


Step 2: Ask your massage therapist to help you touch and engage the area you are learning about while holding the image of it in your mind.

See It, Touch It, Move It

Now that you have a big picture in mind, touch the muscles you are seeing on your own body. 

For example, if you touch your pectoralis minor muscle with a picture of it in mind, the brain will direct a signal down the neural pathway to the pectoralis minor. Just this simple amount of attention can begin altering how it functions and promote the healing process. 

Next, have your massage therapist assist you in moving within the range of motion of the joint that the muscles are acting upon. Or, you could simply contract and relax a specific muscle, or group of muscles, that work together with your massage therapist’s guidance. Seeing, feeling, and now moving the area will create profound effects.

Commonly, pain resides in an area that is otherwise ignored, thus the reason for pain. Pain is the body’s SOS signal. Yet, far too often the call for help is ignored. Giving attention and directing the senses to an area of pain causes a near-immediate reduction in its intensity. 


Step 3: Practice visualizing and moving the structures you have learned, imagining the desired outcome, for 10–20 minutes per day. Keep a short daily log of any changes you experience so you can chart your progress and stay inspired.

Bring It Home

Few changes last without consistent practice. Commit to 10–20 minutes a day focusing on visualizing and feeling the movement pattern that is causing pain, and it will undoubtedly result in improvement. Your massage therapist can email pictures to you so you can look at them before each visual meditation and remember what you are to focus on.

Athletes have used visualization techniques to improve athletic performance with great success for a long time. Studies in brain patterns tell us the same patterns that activate while performing a physical activity are activated when simply envisioning the activity and not actually performing it.

From personal experience, I can say that combining images of anatomical structures with a visualization practice devised to alter those structures (such as softening a muscle, releasing a trigger point, or improving blood and lymphatic flow to an undernourished area) can be nothing short of miraculous for the healing process. Many of my clients have engaged in this process with amazing results as well. 


Does it Really Work?

Does understanding how the compromised parts of your body are structured and function help you to heal them? I absolutely believe it does. Is a massage therapist’s educated work alone enough to cause lasting results? Perhaps in a few cases, yes. But, in most cases, each individual that finds their way to a massage table carries more power to heal themselves than the therapist. Knowing this extends your therapist’s role from practitioner to educator.

I invite you to open yourself to this knowledge by asking your massage therapist to teach you about the parts of your body that hurt: showing you pictures, charts, and models, and explain simply how that part of you is designed to move. In this way, you will increase your body awareness and your healing power.


Cindy Williams has served the massage profession as a practitioner, school administrator, instructor, curriculum developer, and mentor since 2000. She enjoys the challenge of blending structure with creative flow to provide balance in her classroom, bodywork practice, and life.