Relaxation and Visualization Exercise
This exercise will take about 20 minutes and will help relax both your body and mind. Many people find that imagining a special, relaxing place helps them more easily relax. For this exercise, I’ve used the imagery of the beach. You can use whatever is your favorite place.
To get started, sit up straight in a comfortable chair, with your feet on the floor. If there is a more comfortable position for you, certainly use it. Unless you want to fall asleep, do the exercise sitting up. At bedtime, you can lie in bed and simply fall asleep with this exercise. If any step in the exercise isn’t comfortable, either physically or emotionally, just focus on your breathing during that step instead.
Slowly close your eyes, or focus on one spot on the floor or wall if that is more comfortable for you. Invite your body and mind to begin to relax. If worries or concerns come to you, now or during this exercise, imagine placing them on clouds slowing drifting across the sky. You might notice these clouds as they drift by, but you don’t have to get involved with these thoughts. Slowly your mind will settle down and begin to feel more relaxed and comfortable.
Begin to focus on your breathing. Take 2 slow, relaxed deep breaths, watching your breathing come in and then go out. Then return your breathing to a normal rate and normal depth, and continue to watch your breath. Imagine that with each breath in, you’re breathing in comfort and relaxation, and with each breath out, you’re breathing out any discomfort or worry.
Next I’ll have you turn your focus to a couple of different areas of your body, first tightening the muscles, and then letting them relax.
To start, I’ll have you focus on your hands. Tighten those muscles into tight, tense fist, and on the count of 3, relax, 1, 2, 3. Let any tension or discomfort flow out through your fingertips.
And next, focus on the muscles of your face. Tighten those muscles by tightly shutting your eyes and clenching your jaw, and on the count of 3, relax 1, 2, 3. Let your forehead become smooth and your jaw droop slightly.
Now I’ll have you focus on your feet. Tighten those muscles by pushing your feet into the floor, and on the count of 3, relax, 1, 2, 3. Let any tension or discomfort flow out through the tips of your toes.
Imagine a wave of relaxation starting at the top of your head, flowing down over your face and the back of your head, flowing down the front and back of your neck, down your shoulders, down your chest and stomach, down your back, and down your legs to the tips of your toes.
Now take 2 more deep breaths in through your nose, blowing the air out through your mouth. Then return your breathing to normal.
Next I’ll describe a scene that you can imagine yourself in. Imagine walking over the sand, heading towards the beach. You can imagine slipping off your shoes and feeling the warm, comfortable temperature of the sand. Notice how smooth the sand feels between your toes. As you walk towards the ocean, imagine looking out over the water, looking out towards the horizon. Notice the different colors of the water, the light blues and dark blues of the ocean. You might even see a cloud that’s reflected in the water. You might see some white caps on the waves away from the shore. And watch the water come into shore, and go back out again. You can also look up into the sky, noticing how many clouds there are, and if they’re fluffy.
As you reach near the water, imagine laying out a blanket on the sand and sitting down. Notice the comfortable warmth of the sun on your face and shoulders. Imagine picking up some sand in your hands and letting it drift through your fingers, noticing how smooth it is. You can again look out over the water and watch the waves come in and go out, in and out.
Now imagine lying down on your blanket and closing your eyes. Notice what sounds you hear, perhaps some seagulls calling, perhaps some children playing off in the distance. Listen to the water as the waves come in and go out. And take a deep breath, noticing what smells come to you, the clean, fresh smell of the ocean air, perhaps the coconut smell of suntan lotion. Enjoy resting on the beach for several minutes, noticing what each of your senses is experiencing. (Pause for several minutes.)
Then imagine sitting up again, looking out over the ocean, and then standing up and walking back away from the shore. You can brush off your feet with your blanket and put your shoes back on. Even as we get ready to end this exercise, you know that you can return here at any time. Invite your body and mind to continue to feel comfortable and relaxed, even as your attention turns elsewhere.
Now to bring this exercise to a close, I’ll count down from 10 to 0, and when I reach zero, you can slowly open your eyes.
10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5…
Continuing to feel comfortable and relaxed, and with energy to resume your day.
4… 3… 2… 1… 0.
Slowly open your eyes, take a deep breath in and out, and gently wiggle your fingers and toes. You are ready to continue your day.
When you use your own favorite places for this imagery exercise, imagine what each of your senses is noticing. The more sense you involve in your imagery, the more real it will be for you. Real or imaginary places are fine.
At bedtime, omit the ending countdown and the phrase “energy to resume your day,” and instead simply continue to imagine the beach scene, or whatever imagery you’re using.