Visualization Can Speed Rehab And/Or Improve Physical Movement
In the worlds of traditional Asian medicines basic visualization has been a well known mechanism for supporting the healing of injuries for long years. The mechanism has, thanks to new brain imaging capabilities and advancements in the new mind-body medicine, been more fully understood. As a result our use of visualization in personal and professional healthcare has come a long way. And this mechanism is something we should be paying attention to.
Visualization has a powerful role in all types of healing — emotional and/or physical. For this article, however, I want to focus on psycho-motor skill and strengthening. Visualization can help sharpen and speed accuracy movement. This element has been mined by the sport world for years, as a key element to training both mind and body to hit peak performance automatically and fast. But it is useful to health and performance goals beyond sport.
A major tool in holistic psychology and mind-body medicine, visualization has a lot of potential for PT (physical therapies) and OT (occupational therapies). It is important to understand that by visualization I am not talking about meditation in which you “visualize” a certain area of the body recuperating from injury or disease. I repeat, I am not talking about seeing yourself healthier, healing or healed.
What I am referring to is imaging (with your mind’s eye) yourself performing certain movement — e.g. walking, standing, or lifting and so on — if this is for athletic improvement, then the precise movement you are trying to master or improve. This “visual” or image can be enhanced by “seeing” the movement (the coordinated involvement) of all muscle groups supporting the activity. For example, various muscles in the feet, legs, torso, arms, and hands, etc are coordinated in helping an individual get up from a chair or a couch.
By using the mind’s eye like a camera to provide images of the specific role of muscles and joints supporting your selected movement, a person can deepen the entrainment needed for enhanced muscle memory, coordination, strength, and speed.
Visualization for this purpose needs plenty of repetition to send the mind the message that you want it to ingrain this specific muscle memory.
On another note, it also helps the individual “practice” therapeutic exercises during “off” times, which will work handily especially for the elderly who may not have the stamina for longer training periods. In fact, the visualizations can help build the energy, confidence and feelings of reward needed for longer “workouts.”
The “additional practice” they provide helps to continue to change the body’s electro-chemical activity to support your intended movement and your goals. It cascades the release feel-good hormones in your “off-time.” The rewards increase feelings of positivity, confidence and self-esteem and again, help improve the movement itself. A positive mindset also improves healing at all levels — even the efficacy of other treatments including pharmaceutical. So visualization is a win-win practice.
Note: You don’t have to be injured to use this technique. In fact, you can use it to improve any physical activity from improving your golf swing to helping you sit more comfortably at your desk at work.
Always check with your physician or healthcare professional(s) first before attempting techniques such as visualization or any other complementary tools to see if they are right for you.
There are many body-energy techniques you can combine with visualization to ramp up its effectiveness. For a more thorough look, you may wish to check out my newest book, BODY INTELLIGENCE — Harness Your Body’s Energies for Your Best Life.
© By Joseph Cardillo, PhD