What do you see when you meditate? Perhaps your answer is a resounding “nothing!”–and this is perfectly okay. However, even though a state of meditation is often cultivated through the withdrawal of the senses, there are many practices that utilize your inner senses as the object or focus of your concentration. By practicing visualization, we can use our sense of inner-sight and imagination to help us go deeper into our meditation practice, connecting with both our subconscious and our daily lives.
Main types of visualization meditation
There are five main methods for visualization exercises. They can broadly be catergorized into two main types. Techniques that focus on visualizing something tangible outside of the body and those that encourage us to see from the mind’s eye within. To find a visualization practice that works for you, consider one or more of the following five types of meditations.
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1. Yantra or Mandala
A yantra is a diagram made of geometric patterns that, I’ve explained to students, is kind of like a mantra for the eyes (In fact, most yantras are related to a mantra and deity). Commonly used in tantric practices, contemplating a yantra can be a powerful tool for focusing awareness. However, even without a specific meaning attached, any mandala can serve as an object of meditation. By visualizing symmetrical and repetitive patterns, either with our eyes open or internally, we form new pathways in the brain and stimulate a sense of balance, clarity, and relaxation.
2. Guru or Deity
Many spiritual traditions focus on visualizing either a spiritual teacher or a deity and calling upon its qualities. Keep in mind that in both Hinduism and Buddhism, gods and goddesses represent different virtues of the divine and of ourselves. By visualizing deities, we focus on embodying these qualities in our own lives, so before beginning, find a deity that you can relate to and whose traits you wish to embrace in your life.
3. Anything Else that has Meaning to You
If the objects above don’t resonate with your interest, experiment with visualizing a candle flame, thee imagine of a flower, the sun or moon, your favorite place, or the eyes or face of a loved one. Anything that brings you a feeling of tranquility or ease can help you to come into a place of higher self-awareness and is a suitable symbol for visualization.
4. Chakra or Energy
A common internal visualization exercise is to focus on light or energy within your body. One way to practice this is by focusing on either a specific chakra (third eye, heart, etc.) or on all of the chakras sequentially as a spectrum of light and colors. If you’re unable to see colors, you can simply imagine these energy centers as lights, flames, symbolic lotus flowers, or high-density places of spinning energy.
5. Guided Journey
Typically scripted, journey-style visualization can be beneficial to those who have trouble keeping the mind focused or for those who are looking for insight into daily life. These meditations usually include a relaxation exercise followed by a walk through nature, suggested encounters of some sort, and symbolic objects or obstacles that you might find throughout your way. These practices are usually created with the intention to connect you with different aspects of your subconscious mind.
It can also be empowering to lead yourself through a journey of your choice, especially through a difficult situation in life, in order to see yourself choosing behaviors and actions that are beneficial to you. Various theories suggest the idea that our thoughts control our realities, so visualizing real-life scenarios can serve as a powerful exercise in overcoming challenges and creating the behaviors that you want to actualize.
Benefits of Visualization
Different types of visualization exercises offer different benefits. However, for those with wandering minds, any kind of visualization practice can offer a specific attention-grabbing focal point, along with guidance, either vague or detailed, depending on your needs.
We can use visualization exercises to help relax our bodies and minds, to get in touch with our own energy, or to connect with something greater than ourselves. Visualization also helps us to develop both creativity and concentration as we train our mind’s eye to work in new ways in order to form detailed images.
Visualization is also commonly used as part of reaching a state of yoga nidra, or yogic sleep, in the form of image recollection and release. By getting to know and utilizing the space behind our forehead known as Chidakasha (which translates to “the space of consciousness”), we become attuned to different facets of our own awareness.
Finally, the visualization process can be taken over to life outside of meditation as well. In essence, we can use visualization to facilitate healing, to overcome obstacles, and to envision leading our lives in the way that feels best.
While many of us are inclined to easily visualize objects, ideas, or energy, for many of us (myself included), visualization does not come naturally. If you fall into this latter category of people, worry not! Visualization, like all meditation practices and techniques, is something that can be learned through repetition, keeping a few tips in mind:
- If you’re using an object of focus, become familiar with this image beforehand. Keep the image or object in a place where you see it often, and look at it throughout the day to memorize its details.
- With a physical object of meditation, it can also help to begin your meditation practice with open eyes and, if the image fades from your mind quickly, to take a quick glance at your object from time to time.
- If it’s still hard to “see,” use your imagination and continue to practice.
- Finally, keep in mind that in any meditation practice, it’s essential to find a position where you can remain both alert and relaxed in a place that feels nourishing to you.
Is visualization something that you’ve found helpful for focusing your mind or seeing different facets of yourself? Please share your eye-opening experiences with our community!