You often hear the words meditation and visualization used interchangeably, but they’re really not the same thing. Meditation and visualization affect the brain and body in completely different ways. Below I break down the differences and similarities, and how you can use each practice to make your life better:
1. Meditation is restful while visualization is active.
There are many different styles of meditation, but the style I teach is all about giving the body deep rest so it can heal itself from stress. We sit quietly and let the assigned mantra do the work for us, making no effort to control our thoughts, breath, or any other aspect of our experience. We have a theme: Do less, accomplish more.
Visualization, on the other hand, is more active. We guide the breath and mind in a specific direction for a desired result such as a mindset, a feeling, or a body sensation. We use visualization as a tool to prepare our physical, mental, and emotional state for high performance, increased immune function, or better sleep.
2. Meditation can calm your nervous system whereas visualization can reprogram it.
Meditation de-excites the nervous system in a way that gives the body rest, which is even deeper than sleep. This rest helps the body heal itself from many things, including physical ailments, but most commonly from stress.
Alternately, visualizations can help us reprogram old fight-or-flight stress reactions and help us move into a "stay and play" mindset. Fear affects the breath first, so many of the visualizations I use in my new mindbodgreen course start with breath work, then lead you through guided imagery and usually end with a power pose (which is a handy way to usher your body into a more confident state of being).
3. Meditation is beyond consciousness whereas visualization requires you to be alert.
Vedic meditation, which is the foundation of what I teach, helps you access a verifiable fourth state of consciousness, different from waking, sleeping, or dreaming. We move beyond the realm of thinking into the realm of being.
By contrast, visualization is more of a waking state practice. We are more fully conscious when it is happening. We guide our thoughts to visualize the best-case scenario, or use our imagination to have a full-five sensory experience of how your next high-demand situation would ideally play out. Just as Olympic athletes use visualization before competitions to improve their outcomes, I recommend you incorporate visualization prior to your big life events: public speaking, business negotiations, first dates, or anytime you want to relax and perform at the top of your game.
The bottom line? Meditation and visualization are not the same thing BUT they’re both great for you, and they can be practiced in tandem. To learn how to strategically use these complementary practices, check out my brand-new course here at mindbodygreen. If you're looking for more resources on how to start a meditation or visualization practice, read these stories to get you on the right path: