When it comes to getting your life a little more organized and quieting some of the chaos, your mind is the perfect place to get started with. But if anxiety, emotional stress, late-night worries or crises of confidence often plague your thoughts, regaining control and achieving zen status can be difficult to achieve. Which is exactly why we’re so hyped about sophrology right now. A buzzword set to dominate, sophrology is a mind-calming technique hailing from Europe that has impressive backing.
From top CEOs in Silicon Valley to high-profile sports stars and even Ariana Huffington, folks all over are welcoming the part-mindfulness, part-meditation, part-creative visualization technique into their lives in a bid to declutter negativity and improve daily balance. The best part, however, is that fans of sophrology are all keen to praise how easy it is to practice.
So naturally, we needed to know more—here’s the full lowdown on sophrology, plus how to start practicing it ASAP.
What Is Sophrology?
Created some 60 years ago in Spain by professor Alfonso Caycedo, a psychiatrist and neurologist, sophrology is an East-meets-West fusion of exercises for the breath and body. Professor Caycedo’s aim was to help his patients relax, and achieve better harmony between the body and brain, in order to improve their overall health and well-being.
If it sounds a bit like meditation, kind of like gentle yoga and a lot like mindfulness, you’re not wrong; there are many similarities between sophrology and other practices that focus on the mind-body connection through breath. In fact, it also goes by the name “dynamic relaxation practice,” which certainly sounds very yogic. But where sophrology differs is that practice tends to follow a much shorter (between 10 and 20 minutes) format than the others.
You don’t need a mat, you don’t need to learn how to let go of your thoughts before you benefit (something that can be tricky for first-time meditators) and you can follow a structured set of gentle movements (which may feel more satisfying to those who find mindfulness too vague a concept). The beauty of sophrology is that its benefits—which range from easing stress and anxiety to aiding better sleep and overcoming mental blocks, plus learning how to deal with life challenges more positively—are easily accessible even to a newbie.
“Those who cope best with the stresses of modern life and find the greatest sense of happiness are the ones who can deal positively with these pressures,” explains Dominique Antiglio, a sophrology therapist and osteopath, in her book, The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology ($13). “Sophrology offers the chance for you to pause, to connect with and clear stress today, and to channel your resources for a better tomorrow, true to your own self. It supports you to consciously and positively deal with difficulties and tensions.”
How to Practice Sophrology
Pleasingly for some, mastering the full method of sophrology involves working through 12 levels (not unlike the karate belt system), each with its own set of aims and exercises on the road to total body-mind harmony. But while the most radical transformative benefits do, of course, come with progressing through all stages, just engaging with the practice at all will reap rewards if you’re in dire need of relaxation or stress management.
Since it’s intended to be a guided practice, the best way to introduce yourself to sophrology is to find a group class or book a one-to-one with a practitioner. That way you’ll be able to discuss the best approach to the exercises that’ll most benefit your needs. In general, however, starting at level one is the way forward. Then it’s all about practicing your breathing exercises and movements until you’re able to do them anywhere—be it at home, on the train or at your desk.
The only concept you’ll need to “learn” before diving into a full practice is the idea that in sophrology, the areas of the body are split into five systems. These help to map the body, so you can move your focus from one area to the next throughout a session. Most practitioners tend to follow the below groupings:
System 1: Head, brain, and face
System 2: Neck, throat, shoulders, arms, and hands
System 3: Chest, upper back, breasts, heart, and lungs
System 4: Stomach and upper digestive system, liver, kidneys, lower back
System 5: Lower abdominal area, bladder, lower digestive tract, sexual organs, pelvic floor, hips, legs, and feet
Throughout the practice, you’ll move through the various systems, focusing on different areas to reset, rebalance and restore both your body and mind.
Sophrology Exercise: Calming the Breath
Fancy a little taster? Try this simple breathing exercises from Dominique Antiglio’s book to help calm your breath and mind in minutes.
1. Take a normal and deep breath in through the nose and then out through the mouth several times.
2. Now count the length of your in-breath, and breathe out to twice the length, so in for three counts and out for six, or if you’re an experienced deep breather, then in for five and out for a count of 10. Imagine that you’re slowly blowing out a candle with the out-breath.
3. Repeat this mindfully for two to three minutes with your eyes closed.
4. You’ll notice after a while that the body and mind calm down.
If you’re ready to take things further, try a guided level one practice with the video below.