Mental Imagery and Autogenic Training for Relieving Neck Pain

Autogenic Training for your Spine and Head

Mental imagery is one form of autogenic training.  Autogenic training is defined as a form of relaxation therapy involving autosuggestion.   

Autogenic training can be used relax the kind of muscle tension that could be contributing to your chronic neck pain and/or your headaches.    

In a 1999 study published in the May issue of Headache, researchers report that guided imagery (i.e. mental imagery, and autogenic training) may be an effective tool for managing chronic tension-type headaches. 

From my experience - both personally as well as when I work with clients who experience  chronic pain - I know that mental imagery and other autogenic training techniques can sometimes be quite effective for releasing muscle tension that is located in the face, jaw, shoulders and neck.

Below are 3 easy to do autogenic techniques you might wish to try.  These techniques combine mental imagery with simple breathing and movements, and they may just help you relax!

(Note: It's always a good practice to speak with your doctor, physical therapist and/or other licensed health provider to be sure exercises you try are a good fit for your particular condition.)

Imagery for Tension in the Head

  • Start by imagining your head is like a balloon. Inhale, and as you do, perceive in your mind's eye the balloon inflating.  Tip: For best results, visualize the balloon as a round shape.
  • When you exhale, use a long slow hissing action with your tounge lightly resting against the back of your top teeth.   Hissing is very simple:  It's just like making a very lazy "S" sound until the air is out of your lungs.
  • As you exhale and hiss, see your head-balloon float away into the distance.

Imagery for Tension in the Head and Neck

This exercise is a continuation of the imagery for the head as described above.

  • With your fingers, find the indentation in the back of the neck. It is located just under the skull, where the skull joins the neck. This is called the 'neck pit'.
  • Inhale as described above, filling the balloon (imaginarily.)
  • As you exhale and hiss, allow this indentation you are touching to become softer. Allow the neck pit to deepen.

Focused Movement

Marc Montemerlo, a trainer of fitness trainers, offers a simple movement to release muscles of the face, neck, jaw, head and shoulders:

  • Touch your tounge on the roof of your mouth.
  • Now bring your tounge down to touch the bottom of the inside of your mouth.
  • Repeat this alternation several times to relax the surrounding muscles.

Sources and Bibliography

Asher, A. Personal Notes from Creative Body Alignment Class taught by Andre Bernard. Oakland, CA.  Summer, 2000

Mannix L.K., Chandurkar R.S., Rybicki L.A., Tusek D. L., Solomon D.D. Effect of Guided Imagery on Quality of Life for Patients with Chronic Tension-Type Headache Headache. 1999 May; 39(5): 326-34.

Montemerlo, Marc MFITT Website Retrieved from: May 25, 2005.

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