Imagery may be the oldest medicine of all, and yet it’s use in modern medicine continues to grow. Every ancient culture had imagery-based rituals involving prayer and ceremonies, drumming and dancing -- all aimed at bringing to life their desire to please the forces that determined their lives, health, and fortunes.
In shamanic cultures the shaman would travel into unseen levels of reality and interact with spirits or entities that were believed to be related to the cause and cure of what a person might be suffering. If you take away the belief system and the elaborate rituals that the shaman participates in—the days of fasting, the rattling, the dancing, the sacrifices and possibly the psychedelic substances—the process looks very similar to what we do with guided imagery.
Some of the Western roots of imagery go back to the ancient Greeks. Aristotle said that imagination was a window to the soul and the ancient Greeks considered the imagination to be an organ as real and important as your liver or kidneys.
They said that the senses take in the world, subtract the matter, and form an image in the psyche. Some of those images stimulated emotions, either positive or negative, and the emotions are what drove the circulation of the “four humors,” invisible circulating substances that greatly determined our state of health.
The sufficient and balanced circulation of the humors either supported your health or, through their imbalance, deficiency, or excess, made you sick. If you translate the term “humors” as hormones, neurotransmitters, and cytokines, all circulating informational molecules that the body uses in order to regulate its many functions, you have a pretty up-to-date model of mind/body medicine!
Mental imagery has been shown to be able to alter blood flow, muscle tension, heart rate, blood pressure, digestive, reproductive and mental function, so it’s well worth the effort to learn how to use your imagination, on purpose, to support and improve your health.