Dr Michael Finkelstein, former chief of integrative medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital in New York and founding director of the holistic center SunRaven, says imagery can encourage you to stay in the present and cherish the life you have now. Even in dire situations, such as a recent death or upsetting diagnosis, positive images can inspire hope and boost self-esteem.
"One can visualize almost anything. In particular, it is useful to conjure up an image that produces stimulating emotions of a positive nature," says Dr Finkelstein. "One can also develop a more complex story to visualize images to promote healing. These images can be literal, for example imagining a tumor dissolving; or figurative, such as imagining waves on a beach slowly washing away a sandcastle." In this case, the sandcastle represents something negative, like stress, grief or a cancerous tumor, that you hope will diminish.
Dr Finkelstein also recommends appreciating the beautiful things you see in your life. He suggests, "Once you are outside at the start of your day, observe and record five things that are beautiful and keep a written record of these." He also recommends revisiting them before bed as a way to end your day with happy thoughts. He adds, "Do not underestimate the power of positive thinking."
Connecting with nature in and of itself is extremely beneficial for physical and mental health. (How often have you taken deep breaths of fresh air amidst trees or near the ocean and instantly felt less stressed?) Dr Finkelstein recommends, "Once a week, spend some time near water and write down a few things on a leaf that you either wish for or want to let go of, and toss it into the water." The essence of all life is represented in water, and tossing in leaves that carry your hopes and dreams is a symbolic way to give them life. Sure, you can sit by the water and simply think or meditate on your aspirations, but writing them down makes them concrete. Dr Finkelstein explains, "I believe that transforming our thoughts to something physical, for example writing them down or drawing pictures, brings our dreams one step closer to reality."
Your wallet has pictures of your husband, your kids and your dog -- all of whom evoke a smile (most of the time!) -- but did you know that a warming photo of the sun should be in your photo flap, too? According to Dr Finkelstein, simply looking at a photo of a gorgeous sunrise or sunset has uplifting -- even medicinal -- effects.
"The sun is responsible for all life as we know it. If you think about it, the sun's energy not only heats our planet, but the energy of the sun is captured by plants and other organisms that convert its energy to produce the foundation for our food chain. In this way, we can consider the sun our source of nourishment on all levels," he explains. That means basking in the sunlight, taking the time to watch the sun rise and set, as well as gazing at a photo of the life-giving star can brighten your mood and improve your well-being.
Keeping a journal and revisiting points in your life is a proven method of helping people create action plans to reach goals and better their lives. However, writing things down with no intention of rereading them can be a form of therapy and relief from stress, too.
A good example is dealing with the pain of a recent breakup or divorce. Being in the throes of heartbreak, the last thing you feel like doing is writing about how much you hurt. It can be beneficial, however. Dr Finkelstein recommends quickly writing whatever comes to mind without processing it. "There is a time for raising one's consciousness to deal directly with painful experiences, and then there is a time when this may contribute to more suffering. Thus, this advice needs to be individualized. In general, however, writing things down, especially by writing things as a 'stream of consciousness,' often with a plan not to read it again, can be quite a release and have therapeutic and salutatory effects."
By all means, follow through with your resolutions to visit the gym, follow your diet and use your newly purchased sleep aids, but don't overlook the power of your mind and simple activities to improve your health.
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