It might sound counterintuitive to combine visualization and meditation. After all, meditation is all about letting thoughts come and go rather than consciously directing them toward a particular result, right?

When you visualize, you focus on something specific — an event, person, or goal you want to achieve — and hold it in your mind, imagining your outcome becoming reality.

Visualization is a mindfulness technique on its own, but you can also use it to enhance regular meditation. Adding visualization into your meditation mix allows you to better direct your relaxed mind toward specific outcomes you’d like to see.

Plus, visualization is linked to many potential health benefits, including:

Interested in adding visualization to your meditation or mindfulness practice? Here are five techniques to get you started.

This visualization technique can help with stress relief and general mood improvement.

To start, think of something you want to bring into yourself. This could be a specific emotion or just positive vibes. Now, assign this feeling a color. There’s no right or wrong answer here, but consider choosing a color you like or find soothing.

How to do it

Once you have your desired emotion and corresponding color in mind, follow these steps:

  1. Get comfortable, just as you would for ordinary meditation.
  2. Close your eyes and relax by breathing slowly and deeply.
  3. Visualize the color you’ve chosen.
  4. Continue breathing while holding that color in your thoughts, thinking about what it represents for you.
  5. With each inhale, imagine the desired color slowly washing over your body from head to toe. Continue breathing as you visualize the color filling your entire body, including your fingertips and toes.
  6. Imagine any unwanted emotions draining out of your body with each exhale, and replace them with your chosen color with each inhale.
  7. Continue the visualization as long as you like. You might feel lightened and more peaceful after just a minute or two.
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You can use color breathing as part of any meditation, but you can also take a few moments for color breathing even when you don’t have time for a full meditation.

Also called loving-kindness meditation, this visualization exercise can help you foster feelings of compassion and kindness toward yourself and others.

This type of meditation canbe helpful if you’re dealing with feelings of intense animosity toward someone and are looking for ways to let go.

How to do it

  1. Begin by finding a comfortable, relaxing position and close your eyes.
  2. Focus on your breath for several seconds, inhaling and exhaling slowly until you find a comfortable, natural rhythm.
  3. Visualize the person you want to extend compassion to — yourself, a loved one, a not-so-loved one, or even a pet. Picture them clearly and hold the image in your thoughts.
  4. Think of how you feel about this person. These feelings might vary from deep love to animosity. You might simply feel neutral, or have no specific feelings for them at all.
  5. Imagine challenges or pain they might be facing in their life. It’s OK if you have don’t have concrete knowledge of these difficulties. Everyone experiences troubles, whether they share them with others or not.
  6. Now, focus on the feelings you’d like to send — peace, calm, joy, healing, or happiness.
  7. Picture these feelings in the form of golden light that spreads from your heart to theirs.
  8. You may find it helpful to verbalize these feelings in the form of a mantra, such as “May I/you find peace and happiness,” “May I/you find wellness and freedom from pain.”
  9. Keep breathing as you repeat the mantra. With each exhale, imagine the golden light leaving you and carrying your feelings and good wishes toward the other person.
  10. If you’re directing the visualization toward yourself, imagine pain and other difficult feelings easing with each exhale, as the golden light travels through your own body.
  11. Continue the exercise for one to three minutes. You might notice feelings of compassion, warmth, and light-heartedness spread throughout your body.
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This visualization exercise can help ease stiff or tight muscles, which you might experience with anxiety and stress.

Relaxing your muscles can relieve physical and emotional tension, improving your mood and helping you get better sleep.

How to do it

  1. Lie on your back on a comfortable but firm surface. A floor with carpet or yoga mat may work better than a bed for this technique.
  2. With eyes closed, take a few seconds to relax and focus on your breathing.
  3. Start by tensing and then relaxing a group of muscles that aren’t currently troubling you. This helps you better recognize when your muscles tense and when they’re relaxed.
  4. Next, begin working your way through your body’s muscle groups. You can start anywhere, but it can help to pick a place where the progression feels natural, such as from your head to your toes or vice versa.
  5. Tense the first group of muscles as you inhale slowly. Hold that tension for about five seconds. Be sure not to tense your muscles so tightly that it causes pain.
  6. As you exhale, relax those muscles all at once. Visualize the tightness and tension leaving your body with your breath.
  7. Rest for 10 seconds between muscle groups, but continue slow, steady breathing as you rest.
  8. Proceed to the next muscle group and repeat.
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Progressive muscle relaxation can help you increase your awareness of physical pain and stiffness in your body.

If you notice a tense area, you can briefly use this technique to visualize the muscle relaxing and the tension leaving your body. As this tension eases, so might any associated feelings of stress.

You’ve probably heard someone say, “I’m in my happy place” before. Well, that’s basically guided imagery.

This technique can help you visualize positive scenes and images, which can help you relax, cope with stress or fear, and feel more at peace. It’s also a great way to boost your mood or unwind before bed.

How to do it

  1. Get into a comfortable meditation position. You can lie down or sit, whichever you prefer.
  2. Close your eyes and begin slowing your breath to a calming, relaxing rhythm.
  3. Visualize a place where you feel content and calm. This might be somewhere you’ve visited or an imagined scene of somewhere you’d like to go.
  4. Use your five senses to add as much detail to your image. What do you hear? Can you smell relaxing fragrances, such as trees, blooming flowers, or something cooking? Are you warm or cool? Can you feel the air on your skin? Is the sky bright, dark, stormy, full of stars?
  5. Imagine yourself moving forward, feeling calmer and more peaceful as you enter your vision more deeply.
  6. Continue breathing slowly as you look around the scene you’ve created, fully experiencing it with all of your senses.
  7. With each inhale, imagine peace and harmony entering your body. Visualize exhaustion, tension, and distress leaving your body as you exhale.
  8. When you feel ready, you can leave your vision. Knowing you can return at any time can help your newfound sense of relaxation linger throughout your day. This can help you feel more in control of difficult feelings and allow you to manage stress and frustration more easily.
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Here’s a little secret about your brain: It can’t always tell the difference between something you’ve imagined and something that’s actually happened.

That’s partially why visualization works. When you visualize yourself achieving goals, you brain may eventually believe you’ve already done those things. This can help you feel more confident and make it easier to achieve those goals in reality.

Visualization also helps create new pathways in your brain over time through a process called neuroplasticity. Say you visualize yourself getting a promotion at work and feeling excited and thrilled about it.

This image can help your brain start associating optimism and other positive feelings with the thought of a promotion, instead of feeling insecure about your chances of moving up.

Goals visualization works much the same way as guided imagery. But instead of creating a scene in your imagination, visualize the specific moment of achieving your goal.

How to do it

  1. Hold your goal firmly in your thoughts. Maybe your goal centers on winning a competition, learning a new skill, or developing a specific personality trait.
  2. Imagine yourself succeeding at this goal. Focus on your location, the other people around you, and your feelings in the moment. Add as much detail as possible to make the scene vivid and realistic.
  3. If doubts come up, such as “I can’t do this,” or “This just won’t work,” combat them with a positive mantra. “I can do this,” “I have faith in myself,” or “I have the strength to keep trying.”
  4. Focus on your breathing and your mantra as you visualize the scene of your success.
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Adding visualization exercises to your mindfulness practice can help you drive your brain where you want it to go, whether that’s a peaceful stream through a forest or a belief that you can (and will) achieve specific goals

It doesn’t come easily to everyone, and it might feel a little awkward at first. But with a bit of consistent practice, it’ll start to feel more natural.

Online meditation options

Read our review of the best online meditation options to find the right fit for you.

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Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.