How to Make an MRI Relaxing: Ideas from My Personal Experiences

In 2016 I sat up after an MRI and said, “Wow. That was relaxing.” It blew my mind. I’ve had 2 MRIs since then that were also pleasant experiences. I will be getting another MRI next month, and frankly I’m looking forward to it. Huh? Here’s the story of how this happened, and how it might help you concoct ways to make unpleasant medical tests or treatments a little less unpleasant.

I’ve been getting regular MRI’s since 2009 when a chance finding discovered a large unruptured aneurysm in my brain. I had my first brain surgery 2 weeks later. Since then I’ve had regular MRIs, as well as another brain surgery to treat a new aneurysm found during a follow up MRI in 2012. I hate MRI’s. They aren’t relaxing, mine last an hour and a half, and all that loud noise is right at my head. MRIs test my sanity every time. I tolerate them, as many of you do or will in the future, only because they can be instrumental in the diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of diseases.

I happened to have started studying acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in 2010, not long after my first brain surgery in 2009. By 2016, I was emotionally exhausted with the idea of getting yet another MRI. Between 2014-2016 I had finished acupuncture school, had a 2nd brain surgery, studied and then passed the acupuncture board exams, got a doctorate degree, opened a medical clinic, and started a new career. I knew I was at a tipping point, and decided I needed a better approach to my new reality of regular hour-and-a-half MRIs.
I did not over complicate this effort, and neither should you if you apply the same kinds of ideas. I assembled together some simple visualization and meditation techniques I knew and had used during treatments and recoveries, and flipped the script entirely for the MRI. I figured it couldn’t go any worse than usual, so I gave it some thought and made a quick plan.

Curious? Here’s what I did.

I left early for the hospital and stopped to buy a $50 Ukulele. (you could read a book, curate funny videos to scroll, just plan something you like to do in the downtime, see below.) While driving, I reminded myself continuously to concentrate on just the things in front of me: the sky, the traffic, the trees, a piece of trash on the freeway, anything to keep me focused in the Now. Anytime I noticed I was thinking of something else, I would gently bring my mental focus (besides driving) to the blue sky or the breeze through the window to return me to the Now.

Walking into the hospital, I consciously slowed my breath. While sitting in the 1st waiting area, I opened the Ukelele App I bought the day before and learned to tune a Ukulele. By the time I got in the 2nd waiting room, I was able to learn a couple chords. It kept my mind occupied, and the waiting didn’t increase my anxiety or worsen my mood.

Walking into the MRI room, I visually imagined the MRI machine instead as a high-tech healing machine, something at home in Star Wars, Dr. Who, or Jimmy Neutron. As I laid down before this high-tech healing machine, I closed my eyes and relaxed my body, feeling the pull of gravity as the warm blanket was gently placed. When the IV for contrast was put it, I breathed deeply, letting myself wince at the poke, and then letting the pain dissipate until gone. The whole time, I consciously breathed slowly.

While laying down but before being pulled into the tube, I imagined all my loved ones gathered around me, smiling down with adoration for my strength, telling me that this procedure is necessary, beneficial, and making me healthy. They all wished me luck as I felt the gurney pull me into the tube. Once I was positioned, I imagined myself cozy and warm, “snug as a bug in a rug,” safe, awaiting the force of the Star Trek health machine to begin. I continued to remind myself to breathe deeply and slowly.

Instead of tightening and tensing when the loud sounds started, I gently reminded myself the sounds were not harmful. I started to imagine them as powerful healing pulses massaging my muscles. I saw each pound of a sound as a big rock being thrown in the ocean of my body, with powerful ripples flowing through all my muscles with every sound. When the sound was on one side, I saw the vibrations pounding the clumps of stress in the muscles of that side. Noise near my head became a vigorous neck massage. Different rhythms and tones became boulders, rocks, and pebbles of various sizes, reaching all crevices of tension. I was no longer listening to horrible sounds, but instead seeing and feeling the waves of ripples bouncing through my body. I noticed periodic interruptions, such as the prick of contrast being put into the IV or the attendant saying some things, and then let it all pass. Time melted away.

Then I heard, “OK, Kim. It’s over.” I couldn’t believe a full hour-and-a-half had gone by. It was truly one of the deepest meditations and relaxations I had ever been able to attain. Recovering from the brief startle, I stayed relaxed with my eyes closed, and again brought my awareness to seeing myself in a high tech healing machine, as it mechanically pulled me out. I opened my eyes, and saw two lovely health technicians looking at me. That’s when I sat up, and said, “Wow. That was relaxing.” They looked at me kindly, but unable to hide the look of “Huh?!”

Because of my aneurysms, I’ll forever need periodic MRIs to monitor the clip and coil surgical treatments, and check for any newly developing aneurysms. But, I’ll never dread MRIs again. In fact I look forward to them now, as they are opportunities for me to attain some of the deepest meditations I’ve been able to have in my life.
I encourage you to apply these ideas to your next medical scan, test, or procedure. Of course, your visualizations may look differently. You don’t have to overthink it, and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do this. Be easy on yourself. I didn’t continue learning the Ukelele, and each MRI afterwards I do some things a little different, but the basic script I use each time is the same. And the relaxing effect has been the same in both the MRIs I have received since this experience.
I hope by sharing my story that you may be inspired to incorporate visualizations and meditation techniques into your healthcare experiences, and certainly your next MRI! If you need help with making a plan, or want to discuss applying these ideas for your own healthcare situation, please feel free to reach out and schedule an in-person or telehealth appointment by calling the office at (619) 501-7626. We can use that time to develop a plan for you.
Dr. Kim Drolet, DACM, LAc
Kim Drolet

Kim Drolet

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