Mary’s face showed complete surprise. “Since coming to the meditation group, I worry less. When I can’t sleep, have a headache or some other pain, I practiced what you taught me. It really worked!” Last week Mary told me it was not possible for her to relax. She attended the meditation group only because her friend insisted. This week, Mary is the first to arrive!
Two simple styles of meditation are commonly used in my guided meditation groups for older adults and caregivers. Breathing exercises follow the direction of a leader, slowing and deepening the breath until a state of relaxation is reached. With the assistance of a leader gently reading a guided imagery, this form of meditation involves using your imagination to create positive mental images including all of the senses to create a sense of calmness and well-being. I describe it as a very relaxing experience which may help you to feel better and meet your goals.
The benefits of meditation are starting to help Mary. Both occasional and regular practice is beneficial. Guided imagery content is written for general wellness or for specific conditions or symptoms, such as pain, motivation, stress management, and visualizing success with wellness or rehabilitation goals. For example, feeling state imagery shifts moods from stressed to peaceful. End state imagery is used to attain outcomes or goals, such as physical therapy goals, weight loss goals, or other wellness goals.
Medication needs may change as clients learn to relax and practice guided imagery regularly, so consult a physician before beginning. It is recommended that people receiving insulin, thyroid replacement medications, anti-hypertensives, cardiac medications, anti-anxiety agents, and sleep medications be carefully monitored with full awareness of their prescribing providers. (Dossey, 549)
Researched outcomes of guided imagery suggest many benefits for well-being. Guided imagery has been researched but generally lacks funding for large studies and additional research. The research shared here is supported by my personal experience working with clients for many years. Further study is needed before strong research conclusions can be drawn.
Headache: Initial research suggests that guided imagery may provide added benefits when used at the same time as standard medical care for migraine or tension headache.
Pain: Osteoarthritis research suggests a reduction in pain and mobility difficulties. Fibromyalgia research suggests possible reductions in pain and improvements in functioning. Additional research suggests that guided imagery may help reduce cancer pain, intravenous needle pain, and nerve pain from spinal cord damage.
Anxiety/relaxation: A small study reports increased relaxation outcomes in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema or chronic bronchitis) who use guided imagery techniques. Guided imagery relaxation audiotapes may reduce anxiety after surgeries, and may improve healing. Early research suggests that the use of imagery may reduce anxiety in persons with multiple sclerosis.
Sleeplessness: Early research supports the value of combining medications and relaxation training in the treatment of insomnia.
Memory: Early research suggests that guided imagery of short duration may improve working memory performance.
Quality of life: Preliminary studies suggest guided imagery may improve quality of life and sense of comfort with people with cancer and HIV. Techniques studied included relaxation/imagery training tapes.
Cautions and challenges Guided meditation is difficult for people who are unable to clearly hear the leader read. It is also difficult for a highly distracted individual. Visualization is not a good choice with someone who is disoriented to person or place, but such individuals may benefit from guided meditations with breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation. Caution is sometimes required; “Clients with a history of dissociated experiences, acute psychosis, borderline personal, and post-traumatic stress disorder are best cared for by professionals skilled in treating such clients.” (Dossey, p. 549) In other words, guided imagery may benefit residents with these conditions, but it would be best offered by a mental health professional because of the possibility of trauma flashbacks and dissociation/difficulty grounding a client. (Learn more) In rare instances, deep relaxation is a trigger for those with seizure disorders. Consult your physician!
Mary’s group chose ‘relaxation for caregivers’ as their meditation goal. I reminded them that all they need to do is listen, and if they don’t relax, that’s OK. Guided meditation participants nearly always relax, but like Mary some people believe relaxation isn’t possible until they try it. In a calm, quiet environment, we began with a deep breathing exercise. Then I read the guided imagery while assessing each group members’ relaxation response. Guided imagery may take from 5 to 30 minutes; the one we chose was about 20 minutes in length. Following the guided imagery, we took some time for those who want to discuss their experience. Some were surprised, as was Mary, to feel relaxed. One woman shared that she felt a heaviness lifted from her shoulders. Others in the group nodded in agreement. I noticed more smiles and more relaxed posture. When everyone was grounded, alert, and ready to go, I reminded them how to do the breathing exercise we practiced before the guided imagery, and encourage them to try it before we meet again.
Guided meditation is one example of calming and centering practices referred to as contemplative practices. It is easy and pleasurable. Give it a try, and tell us about your experience! You’ll find audio examples of breathwork at the online TLC Resource Center, specializing in contemplative practices for adults, older adults, and their caregivers.
Be calm and centered!