Can the mind-body connection lead to mind-body health? Let's imagine it’s early, but you’re up and energized by the sun streaming through your window. You move easily. Your joints are supple, limber. You live without pain, stress, stiffness and fatigue.

Yeah, right. For those who experience the grating, aching and stiffness of arthritis, that scenario is hard to imagine – yet your imagination just might be the thing to turn this dream into reality. Creative visualization, experts say, can influence psychological states, perception and even everyday reality, enabling you to create a life with less stress and pain, as well as bring about more of the things you do want: mind-body health, happiness and success.

Sometimes called guided imagery, creative visualization helps you to imagine circumstances in your life unfolding exactly as you want – perfectly. As the scene plays out in your mind and you feel the powerful emotions that come with those positive images, the scenario actually will begin to play out in your life, says Joe Vitale, one of the teachers featured in the best-selling self-empowerment book and DVD The Secret (Atria Books/Beyond Words, 2006).

The Mind/Body Connection

Researchers long have believed that thoughts affect physical health. For thousands of years, medicine men, Hindu masters and other ancient civilizations worldwide have used visualization techniques to harness the power of their minds to reap physical manifestations. World-class athletes, such as Tiger Woods, and even NASA astronauts have adopted the practice to achieve peak performance.

Guided imagery is used in more than 3,000 hospitals nationwide, including Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, the Cleveland Clinic, health centers in California and cancer care centers in Portland, OR. When used in combination with other therapies, the technique helps patients cope with chronic pain, cancer, chemotherapy treatments and other debilitating illnesses.

And it works. Research shows that creative visualization can reduce stress and diminish depression. In one study, published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, levels of the stress hormone cortisol dropped significantly after participants engaged in guided imagery. Researchers concluded that when anxiety-producing information is replaced with happier, more positive images, people relax and feel better.

"The mind is so powerful,” says Vitale, who is also a certified hypnotherapist, with a degree in metaphysical science. “What you think makes an imprint on your subconscious. If you feel it, you can imagine it, and that will accelerate the process.”