In his brand new book, Philip Carr-Gomm will show you how to bring about a renewed zest for life with the latest self-care practice that connects mind and body - sophrology.
Tipped as "the new mindfulness" and already big news in the wellness world, sophrology can be used to manage anxiety and insomnia, improve focus and boost your energy, confidence and self-esteem. So what exactly is it?
What is sophrology?
Sophrology is a mind-body training system, a therapy that helps to increase your sense of well-being and conﬁdence, and relieve you of stress and anxiety. It can be used to alleviate various forms of suffering, but also to optimize your life and develop your potential: to improve academic performance or your performance in sports or the arts. Many people also use sophrology as a way of deepening their experience of being alive, in the same way that people use meditation, mindfulness, or yoga as an ongoing discipline to improve the quality of their life.
Sophrology exercises are created using six basic building blocks, which can be combined in all sorts of ways, depending on your needs: Awareness, Breathing, Posture, Movement, Visualisation and Affirmation.
Who created sophrology?
Sophrology was created by neuropsychiatrist Professor Alfonso Caycedo (1932–2017). Born in Bogotá, Colombia, and of Spanish-Basque origin, Caycedo moved to Spain to study medicine. He became a doctor of medicine and surgery, specializing in psychiatry and neurology, and eventually a Professor in the School of Psychiatry at the University of Barcelona’s Faculty of Medicine.
He wanted to develop ways of helping his patients, often depressed or traumatized, lead happy and fulﬁlling lives with the minimum of drug or psychiatric interventions. He began by studying clinical hypnosis and different methods of relaxation. Combining ideas from these studies, including Edmund Jacobson’s (1888–1983) system of progressive muscle relaxation and Johannes Schultz’s (1884–1970) autogenic training, which includes the power of visualization to help you relax, Caycedo developed the ﬁrst methods unique to sophrology. In December 1960, he opened the Department of Sophrology and Psychosomatic Medicine at Madrid’s Santa Isabel Hospital.
Sophrology is “Mindfulness Plus”
If you suffer from anxiety, you have probably realized that you spend a lot of time and energy worrying about the future. Sophrology exercises, like mindfulness ones, help to bring you into the present, and over time this has the effect of reducing your anxiety, as your consciousness is shifted away from an excessive preoccupation with the future. If you suffer from depression, you have probably realized that you spend a lot of time and energy ruminating about the past. Again, these exercises help to change your focus and reduce your symptoms. In both cases, you may well be rewiring your brain to create healthier pathways through your nervous system.
You can practice mindfulness in almost any situation—when listening to others, in relationships, or while eating, exercising, or working, but formal mindfulness practices don’t suit everyone, and you need to have considerable staying power to carry out meditations that involve focusing on your breath or your awareness of your body for up to 20 or 30 minutes at a time, every day. Many people ﬁnd that they just can’t sit still to focus their minds in this way for so long. The brilliant thing about sophrology exercises is that they are much quicker to perform, and they include movement: you are standing up and sitting, tensing and relaxing, visualizing and directing your attention and your breath in various ways. The result is that you get to the same level of healing and stress-reducing consciousness much faster, and with less risk that you will give up and pour a glass of wine instead.
Now you know a little about the history of sophrology, how it works, and the attitudes to adopt when you work with its exercises, let’s start using it to improve our lives.
Try it yourself
Let’s start with an exercise to give you a feel for how sophrology might be able to help you. Listen to Philip's audio track and try the following exercise to bring more awareness into what and how much you decide to eat:
Don’t rush this! It only takes a few minutes, but give it plenty of time and allow yourself to focus completely on what you are doing.
1. Tense all the muscles you can in your body, and then release that tension. Now breathe in through your nose. Hold your breath and, as you do so, scrunch up your muscles again. When you can’t keep your breath in any longer, let it all out through your mouth as you release the tension in your muscles. You might like to make some noise as you do this - a big sigh perhaps!
2. Let your breathing and body settle down for a few moments, then close your eyes and imagine you are looking at two plates of food. One plate has food that you sometimes eat, but you know is not good for you—perhaps French fries and a burger—and there’s also too much on it. The other has healthy food, like a salad, and in just the right quantity. Imagine you are very deliberately choosing this one as your meal. You move the other plate out of the way and bring the salad plate toward you. Imagine enjoying eating the salad. Sense your body feeling well-nourished. Now for the most important part of this exercise: notice how your body is reacting. What physical sensations do you notice? When you are ready to ﬁnish, let the image fade and open your eyes. How was that?
If you ﬁnd it hard to “see” anything, don’t worry. If you do this a few times over the coming days, you’ll ﬁnd it’s like discovering a muscle that you didn’t know you had—and you’ll get better at it.
Learn more about how sophrology can benefit you and find a range of exercises - accompanied by online audio-visual instructions - in Empower Your Life with Sophrology by Philip Carr-Gomm. To get more great blog posts like this one - direct to your inbox – be sure to sign up to our mailing list here.