Try this yogic practice for visualization.
While yoga has become exceedingly popular as a health and fitness endeavor, the larger yoga tradition is an incredibly vast and comprehensive approach to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being with hundreds of useful methods and practices for self-discovery, healing, personal development and spiritual attainment, including visualization techniques for exploring and influencing our inner worlds, re-imagining ourselves and transforming our lives.
Imagination precedes transformation
To create something new, you have to be able to imagine it. Every significant change (internally and externally) begins with an act of imagination; you have to first imagine something different for yourself, then go about making the necessary changes. In order to transform your life, you have to be able to make the leap from the familiar to the unknown—imagining not only a different future for yourself from the past but also a different self-sense, or perception of who you are, then the one you are currently experiencing.
Your sense of self immediately impacts how you experience the various circumstances of your life. For example, if you believe yourself to be strong and capable, you will have a radically different experience of the same stressful or overwhelming situation then if you perceive yourself as weak and incapable. If you want to change your experiences, you’ve got to be able to imagine yourself differently.
Yoga is a process of self-realization, revealing and connecting us to our true selves—a self that is present, clear, connected and complete just as we are in this very moment. Through reflection, contemplation and meditation, we not only begin to recognize ourselves as such, shifting our sense of who we are, but we also have the felt-sense experience of the calm, still, wholeness of our being. The more often we give ourselves the opportunity to experience this, the more likely we are to live our lives from a place of connection and clarity.
According to yoga philosophy, our outer worlds are mere reflections of our inner worlds; our thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories and so forth directly influence how we perceive and experience our immediate circumstances. In other words, our worlds are constantly being created by what we’re thinking, feeling and experiencing on the inside. Yoga invites us to pay close attention to what’s taking place in our inner terrain and the many ways in which that influences our external experiences—empowering us to grow as individuals and consciously create new ways of being and acting out in the world.
Yogis have long used the power of imagination to intentionally influence their internal states, as well as generate their outer worlds, through various visualization techniques and meditations. There are visualizations for relaxation, opening your heart, becoming grounded, building your center, feeling safe, invoking compassion, cutting ties to unhealthy relationships and so on.
The most powerful visualization practices, known as “bhavana” meditations, go beyond mental imagery to include the actual feeling of what you’re imagining. Sanskrit for “development” or “cultivating,” the term bhavana is derived from “bhava,” meaning “feeling” or “emotional flavor.”
Bhavana practices work with your emotions to cultivate certain characteristics such as optimism, kindness and self-compassion, as well as develop new ways of being to create positive change. They are particularly powerful for re-imagining your sense of self and reconnecting the true nature of your being. For example, one of the most common bhavana meditations involves visualizing being in the presence of someone who you love, and then focusing on the feeling that image evokes. You then allow the felt-sense experience of love to permeate your entire being, shifting your inner perspective, at least while you meditate.
Yoga poses the question: What do you want?
Bhavana is also a potent tool for manifesting what you want for yourself, not only mentally visualizing what you want your life to look like but also feeling it in your body—experiencing it as if it were already true in this very moment. But first, you’ve got to know what you want.
So go ahead and ask yourself, What do you want? Not what you don’t want but what you do want.
When you start paying attention to the types of conversations people are having and the language they use, it becomes apparent that our society is perpetually pessimistic, focused on the negative and knows exactly what they don’t want. But when we focus on what’s missing or what we’d like to be different in our lives, we are only attracting more of it to us. Focus acts like a magnifying glass and magnet; it’s all we can see or think about, directing our brains to seek out and produce more of the same—reinforcing exactly what we don’t want. If we focus on not messing up, for example, we’re eventually going to make a mistake. It’s the way our brains work.
When you shift your focus to what you do want (something positive), you begin to imagine creative ways of being and living. You start thinking about and imagining what’s possible for yourself, the first step toward transformation.
We are also a culture that has become vague, using blanket terms such as abundance, authenticity, joy and bliss. We must define these terms for ourselves if they are to mean anything. In order to visualize more joy and abundance in our lives, we have to be able to imagine what that specifically looks like to each of us. Once we can imagine the life we want, we can step into the feeling of it.
Ready to give it a try?
Practice: Bhavana Meditation
If you’re newer to meditation, don’t stress. Visualization is one of the easier forms of meditation there is and doesn’t require anything other than your imagination. Feel free to sit comfortably in your chair, or lie down if you prefer, and gently close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths, release the muscles of your face and relax back.
Begin to visualize yourself living the life you want. See yourself there, surrounded by all the things that make you happy, doing the things you love doing with the people you love. Imagine as many details as you can, what you hear, the way it smells, the temperature and air. Experience all the sensations and feelings as if you were there right now in this very moment. Really feel it, allowing yourself to get carried away by the felt-sense experience of it.
After a few minutes, return your focus to your breath, and just notice the way you feel. Has anything shifted? Having had the felt-sense experience of what you desire to manifest, you can now tap into the feeling more often.
Photo credits: Monika Wisniewska, Savvapanf Photo, Julie, nickolya, Coka, Adobe Stock