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Why Meditation & Visualization Aren't The Same (And How To Use Them)

September 10, 2015

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.

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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:

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Emily Fletcher
Emily Fletcher

Emily Fletcher is the founder of Ziva Meditation, the world's first online meditation training program, and the author of Stress Less, Accomplish More. Ziva's mission is to make meditation attractive and accessible to modern people who are ready to up-level their performance and their life. Recently featured in the New York Times and regarded as one of the leading experts in Vedic meditation, Fletcher has been invited by companies like Google, Barclays Bank, Viacom, Chanel, Coca-Cola, and sweetgreen to help up-level company performance through meditation.

Fletcher has had the honor of speaking at Summit Series, Awesomeness Fest, and the Omega Center. She began her nine years of training in Rishikesh, India, and was inspired to teach after experiencing the profound physical and mental benefits meditation provided her during her 10-year career on Broadway, which included roles in Chicago, The Producers, and A Chorus Line.

With her high-performance background and intensive meditation training, Fletcher is perfectly suited to teach busy people how to incorporate meditation and visualization into their life, and she's an mbg course instructor! You can learn with her by joining her course, Guided Visualizations: How to Overcome Your Fears, Excel at Work, and Have Mind-Blowing Sex. She has also created a powerful guided visualization called zivaDETOX. It's a simple, downloadable audio that is designed to help you release thoughts and stress that are not serving you and to get you on the right path to leaving the stress behind.

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