Chronic Pain

How Imaginary Light Soothes My Chronic Pain

I was skeptical that guided imagery could help my rheumatoid arthritis. I'm pleased to say I was wrong.

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I thought I misheard the instructions.

Visualize a white light entering the crown of the head and gently flowing down the spine. Let it settle where you feel tension or pain.

As I reclined on my yoga mat, confused, I wondered when we would get to the stretching and poses that would help the inflammation move away from my tender joints.

Instead of exercising, I’m painting pictures of wispy clouds with my imagination and trying to get them to permeate my body? Come, on! I need relief!

I took a long inhale and tried to make this work. The teacher must know what’s she’s talking about. Give this a chance, I told myself.

Give this a chance, I told myself.

So, I questioned everything. What does a spine look like? How do I get light to settle into my joints? Is anyone else actually doing this? What should I make for lunch? This is silly.

Breathe. Focus. You can do this, Angie.

I like a challenge and stuck with it. After all, this class is called therapeutic yoga and geared at folks like me, so here I am, surrounded by friends with rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s Disease and other autoimmune conditions.

The instructor, a certified yoga teacher and physical therapist, spoke with soothing confidence that kept me on track.

Light. Joints. Pain. Got it.

I kept visualizing and eventually changed my internal story from clouds to sun rays. They could somehow penetrate better and were ample for the harvesting from the glowing orb that took over my mental vision.

Feel the warmth of the light. As you inhale, bring it all in. Let the light flow through your body.

As the minutes ticked away, this weird-to-me exercise (known as guided visual meditation or guided imagery) started to play out like a movie, or maybe a dream. I simply noticed the images and observed.

Light. Joints. Pain. Got it.

Swirls of white light inhales coiled around my vertebra and came to a slow, floating halt around my hip bones, which looked like parts from a Halloween skeleton decoration in my mind’s eye.

Hmmm. I’ve got this.

My next inhale was robust and audible. I paused at the top to let the sunrays work their magic, then sighed long out my mouth. As the air exited, my body sunk deeper into the yoga mat, allowing my muscles to relax. Tension melted away.

I listened to the verbal cues and then as quick as it started, we were instructed to wiggle our fingers and toes to wake up the body.

What just happened? I didn’t have time to think and instinctively followed the next instruction, which involved getting on our hands and knees, in a table-top pose. The instructor’s voice began to fade as my attention moved to my physical body.

My hip pain was… almost gone. My wrists weren’t aching. What was happening?

My hip pain was… almost gone. My wrists weren’t aching. What was happening?

The Arthritis Foundation says guided imagery is a “scientifically validated way to relieve pain, stress, anxiety and depression.” The power of your thoughts indeed influences your physical health.

I know that visualization works, and now it’s a regular part of my yoga practice. This experience also planted a seed for a new habit — off my yoga mat.

When my body is physically uncomfortable or I feel overwhelmed with the tasks of the day, I take a few moments and visualize my body being bathed in white light from those sun rays.

I change my internal story from words of frustration and anxiety to hope and healing. I tell myself I’ll feel better.

You hear the old phrase “mind over matter”, and for me, it works. It takes time to trust the process, but once you can quiet your mind and conjure up images of healing, the brain somehow forgets to send out pain signals.

A little imagination and an ounce of curiosity is all it takes to give it a go for yourself.

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