My First Experience with Visualisation
When I was in junior high and high school I played volleyball. I had a love hate relationship with the sport because my competitive mindset was often misdirected. I would often lose sight of what was important by getting lost in jealous thoughts about team members who were better than I was or longing to be in a another position. It wasn’t until I embraced the position I was made for and developed an important tool that my volleyball life transformed.
I have no memory of anyone specifically telling me how to visualise. However, in grade ten, at night before I would go to sleep I would visualise myself serving and hitting the ball wherever I chose it to go. I would see myself spiking the ball all over the court and around players, much taller than me, who were trying to block the ball.
I am short, so I was the setter, the person who sets the ball for the tall people who smash it over the net. I distinctly remember times when I had the opportunity to spike the ball over the net. I would get the picture in my head of exactly where I wanted the ball to go and it would happen!
In one instance, my team played one of the best teams in the province and I found one person on the opposing team who couldn’t hit my serve. This girl was even on the provincial team. I served the entire game, that is 15 points at that girl and we won. We lost the match because they were a much better team than ours but in that moment, I knew what was possible.
Connecting to the Present Moment
That was over 25 years ago now but visualisation is a tool I use daily to support me in many areas of my life. Over the years I have read about countless athletes and other successful people who credited their ability to visualise and focus on a certain outcome as the secret to their achievements. This skill can easily be taught to children.
Visualisation is a powerful tool that can be used for healing, letting go and creating amazing things in your life and the lives of the children around you.
Before you begin, it is important that everyone connects with the present moment. Start with Mindful Breathing.
Mindful ‘Belly’ Breathing– Sitting up nice and tall, inhale slowly through your nose. Let your breath fill up your stomach. Watch as it fills up like a balloon. Then exhale slowly through your mouth, pulling your stomach muscles in, like the balloon is deflating. Repeat five times.
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Six Visualisation Activities
1. Visualising an Inanimate Object
Observe the flower. Now, close your eyes and see the item inside your mind’s eye. Repeat. Each time looking and noticing more details. Then try to notice the same details when you close your eyes.
Discussion: What did you notice when you closed your eyes? Did any thoughts come? We often have a thought or a memory attached to the most basic of objects. This sometimes makes it difficult to observe something without a whole other memory file being retrieved from your memory bank. The key is to try and picture the item in all its detail. When another thought comes to your mind you simply say ‘thank you for sharing’ and go back to visualising the item you are focusing on. Repeat 4-10 times.
Follow up activity: Have the student draw the item without looking at it.
2. Water Visualisation
Imagine you are next to the ocean, a stream or a river. (To add another quality to this process you could provide a sound-scape for the students.) Imagine you are sitting next to the ocean. Get a picture in your head of the waves coming into shore and then moving out again. Let the sound wash over you. If your thoughts start to wonder say thank you and then shift your attention back to the waves. Now visualise you are a part of the waves. You have merged with the water and are now water.
Follow up activity: Have the student draw the scene they visualised.
3. A Past Event that Made You Smile.
Think of something that has happened over the last couple of days that left you feeling happy. Put as much detail as possible into the vision of this event. Who was there? How did you feel? Were there any smells that you can remember? What was the temperature like? Fill in any details that you can remember.
Follow up activity: Share this happy moment with a friend or family member.
4. Guided Visualisation
The idea for this short guided visualisation came from one of Maureen Garth’s books. She created four beautiful guided visualisations books that touch on themes to support the development of children. Using a nature sound sound-scape is useful in helping the students to connect with this exercise.
The Worry Tree -Close your eyes. We are going to a safe place in nature. In this safe place, there is a large tree with big strong branches. This tree is called the Worry Tree. We can put any worries we may have upon the branches of this tree and they will all be taken care off. We are now going to sit in stillness and enjoy the calm of this beautiful space. If while you are here more worries come to mind simply let them drift up to the worry tree like a butterfly on the breeze. As you sit there an animal is going to come and visit you. This is a special friend who wants only to see you smile. You can come back and visit the worry tree and your new animal friend any time you choose.
Follow up activity: Make a Worry Tree using wire and other materials or draw the tree or the animal that they met.
5. Happy Thoughts In and Unhappy Out
This is a quick exercise that teaches kids we have power over our own thinking. Sometimes students come into class, or home from school, with a range of problems, worries or distressing issues that haven’t been solved. Using a T chart write happy on one side and unhappy on the other. On one side of the chart write down all the things or situations that could happen before school, at recess or lunch that would make the you feel unhappy. On the other side of the chart write down all the things or experiences that could make you feel happy. With the chart complete here is an activity I use after recess, lunch or when my kids come home from school.
Standing in a circle. Hang down to your toes, knees slightly bent, breathe in a happy thought (or situation from the day), following the breath your hands slowly move up your body above your head. On the exhale, we turn our bodies to face the outside of the circle and visualise that the bad thought, or experience that happened at some point in the day is in our hands and we are throwing it out of the circle. Repeat 3 times. *I then ask if there are students who still feel like they need to talk about any situation that happened. I write their names down and let them know I will see them at some point when everyone is working.
6. Visualise a Future Event
- Familiar event- This future event could be something they know will happen. Start with something familiar. For instances, going to swimming lessons, a party or to a friend’s house. We are going to think of an event that you know is going to happen soon. Think about this event in as much detail as possible. You will be thinking about it like you are actually there now. Who is there? What are you and the other people doing? How do you feel? Look around what else do you notice? What’s the temperature? Is hot warm?
- Achieving a goal– The goal could be sport related (riding a bike learning to swim), school goals (writing, reading, mathematics) Hobbies, art, dance, etc. Set the goal by using affirmative language- I can ride my bike. Then have the student visualise the moment they have realised they have achieved their goal. Who is with them? How do they feel? What’s the weather like? What time of day is it? Fill in as much detail as possible.
Follow up activity: Have the students write about or draw this moment. This activity could happen before or after. Sometimes talking it through ahead of time can set the students up for success during the visualisation process.
I hope you find these visualisation activities useful. Just like mindfulness they will take time to develop but the benefits of cultivating this skill enhances creativity, focus, confidence and empowers children to cultivate a more optimistic outlook on life.