Despite being made available by private health insurers in Switzerland as treatment for sleep disorders, practised by the French rugby team as part of their training and offered to expectant mums in both countries to help prepare them for birth, there’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of sophrology. Still relatively unknown to British audiences, it's is a form of meditation credited with improving resilience, tackling anxiety improving sleep, preventing burnout, encouraging positivity, and – fittingly for us – helping promote a sense of balance.
Of course, there’s only one way to get under the skin of something new: to try it yourself. With that in mind, we headed down to BeSophro, the Mayfair-based clinic of leading sophrologist and author of 'The Lifechanging Power of Sophrology', Dominique Antiglio, to put it to the test. So, did sophrology work?
What's the difference between sophrology and other forms of meditation?
Making use of ‘dynamic relaxation’ techniques including meditation, breathing, visualisation and body awareness exercises, the big difference between sophrology and regular meditation is that it’s more dynamic and adaptable, connecting body and mind more directly rather than asking you to pick one of the other. “Sophrology is useful for people that feel like they’ve ‘failed’ somehow at other forms of meditation and relaxion. You don’t need to carry a yoga mat around; you can practice it at your desk or even as you commute. You don’t need to be able to sit still for ages,” Dominique tells me.
How does sophrology work?
Contrary to the common view of holistic wellness as being a little airy-fairy, sophrology draws heavily on science having initially been developed as a medicinal therapy by Alfonso Caycedo, a psychiatrist and neurologist with an interest in the transformational power of breathing and bodywork. Blending western scientific techniques with eastern philosophy, he laid out 12 levels of sophrology to progress through, starting with four foundation levels, and with levels five to 12 focusing on developing consciousness and being your true self.
While sophrology was initially designed as a medicinal form of therapy, Dominque sees it as offering an antidote to our busy lives: “Juggling roles and tasks at home, feeling defined by our financial worth and what we do, and managing the constant bombardment of communication from our 24-hour workplaces and social media is pushing people beyond their physiological limits. It has become the new norm.”
For now, let’s focus on the first four levels. Level one focuses on the concept of using the body as an anchor; combining simple movements and breathing techniques, it’s designed to make you feel more grounded, bringing your mind to the present moment rather than your thoughts, and in doing so, decrease anxiety and increase confidence.
Level two asks you to embrace the “infinite possibilities of the mind”, which sounds scary, but as Dominque put it to us basically just means noticing the presence of tools you already possess – including creativity, imagination and concentration – and using the power of visualisation to imagine a better future. In that case, I’ll have a date with Jude Law and a steep pay rise, please.
The third level brings the body and mind together, asking you to make peace with the past. By the time you get to level four, you’ll probably already be feeling fairly reconnected with yourself, making it the perfect time to take stock of what your values are and how they feed into your daily actions and aspirations.
So, what’s it like?
Having prepped for the session by reading all about the 12 steps, I was curious to see what would happen and how my brain would react; it was only Tuesday but it felt like had been a long week already, so I was definitely in need of some de-stressing. Much like other meditation sessions
I’ve attended, this one started with Dominique requesting that I take a moment to mentally set an intention: “It can be really personal, or you can think about something you want to attract through this practice.” Intentions set, we moved into a mental body scan, being instructed to invite my body to relax into the chair bit-by-bit, paying attention to how I was breathing, and taking a note of where I was holding tension – in my case, shoulders and forehead. So far, no different.
However, as I was about to find out, this kind of meditation required a lot more physical movement than any I’d done before. Using your body and breath to consciously let go of tension is a big part of sophrology; in the 20 minutes my session took, deep breathing, shallow panting, shoulder crunching, arm pumping and muscle squeezing all occurred. I’ll be honest that this felt a bit stupid initially, but within the first few exercises as my body and brain relaxed it dissipated. By the time we got to the point of mentally choosing a positive quality that we were in need of and wanted to cultivate – calm, confidence, balance – and taking a deep breath to “diffuse that positive intention into your mind”, I was all in. By the end, I can honestly say that my muscles and my mind felt lighter.
Dominique will be hosting sophrology sessions at Balance Festival 2020. Already sold? Her book, The Lifechanging Power of Sophrology, is available now.