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It might have begun with a picture in your mind's eye of a sea shore at dusk. You pictured the large blue waves rolling over the shoreline…the pristine sand in the foreground…the sun gently setting in the west. You might have imagined sea gulls gently flying past and children building sand castles along the shore. This was the image you might have taken with you as you began your labor for childbirth. It might have been one of a number of relaxation techniques you learned in your childbirth preparation classes.

Or perhaps you envisioned white blood cells swallowing up the cancer cells in your system. You imagined the cancer cells slowly disappearing from view, with healthy cells taking their place in your body. You even imagined your doctor saying, "You're cancer-free" with a big grin on his face.

Guided imagery is used in a variety of different settings. Its primary purpose is to allow you to imagine relaxing images in order to calm your mind and refresh your body. If you envision a peaceful scene, and couple that vision with controlled breathing, you can achieve deep relaxation. Nearly anyone can learn to exercise his or her imagination this way. It costs nothing, and it can benefit you greatly in terms of lowering your stress level.

One of the most popular relaxation exercises is the peaceful scene. You imagine a place of comfort, the kind of place you would go to if you were in trouble and needed solace. For many people, this is a beach or a forest. You then imagine what the experience will mean for your senses—what you will see, what you will hear, what you will feel, and perhaps what you will smell. You become a part of the scene, drinking in the tranquility. Whenever you're stressed out, you can return to this scene and a feeling of relaxation should occur.

Another well-known imagery exercise is the feather. Imagine a feather drifting along a mountain…by a river…and over a field. Picture yourself as that feather. Notice how light and airy you feel as a feather. Imagine that you don't have a care in the world, you have nowhere you have to be, no appointments to make. You're just a feather enjoying your place in the sun.

Or picture yourself as a drop of water in the ocean. Gently sway back and forth as the water moves peacefully along the shore. Let nothing worry you. Your only goal in life is to be happy.

But what if you try imagery and it doesn't seem to work? The trick may be practice. The more you imagine your quiet place, the easier it should be to get there. You may have to try it for a week before you can determine if it is actually impossible for you. Also, it is vitally important that you maintain deep breathing throughout the exercise. It is no surprise that pregnant women often practice relaxation exercises every week.

Where should you practice this imagery? The good news is, you can do it practically anywhere. However, you should choose a place where your comfortable, such as your bed, an easy chair, or a chaise lounge. At times, it may be easier to do the exercise if you're outside rather than inside, although it would also be appropriate by the fireplace. Try engaging in imagery for five minutes before you go to sleep or five minutes after you wake up. Imagery is a skill like any other; you must do it consistently in order for it to be effective.

Initially, you might be skeptical about imagery. You might have a difficult time with your imagination and you might be uncomfortable at first. In order to be successful with imagery you need to be committed. Continue your imagery, even when you feel like quitting. In this way, you should be able to get past any trepidation you might have. In time, the imagery will become entirely natural to you. Whenever you encounter a stressful situation, you can simply move back to your peaceful place…imagine yourself as a wave of the ocean…or picture yourself as a feather. While it may seem corny, it is a highly effective method for reducing your stress level

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