At BeSophro, we specialise in the practice of Sophrology, a word that still might be new to many of you. In this article, we will discuss the origins, applications and scientific research related to the practice of Sophrology.
What is Sophrology?
The word Sophrology itself means ’the science of consciousness in harmony. It’s been coined by Dr Alfonso Caycedo, a neurologist and psychiatrist in 1960.
Sophrology is a self-development method aimed to balance the mind and body by combining the following modalities: breathing, relaxation, movement, visualisation, meditation and self-hypnosis. Through short, easy-to-do exercises that can be done anywhere, anytime, Sophrology is an empowering toolkit for modern life that anyone can use day to day. It can help to manage stress or anxiety, aid restful sleep, achieve a sense of balance or a more positive mindset, manage energy levels, build up resilience and confidence or even help you perform to your best ability. The exercises can be done on the spot or used over longer periods to support deeper transformation.
Sophrology isn’t new. It’s been used for 6 decades in Continental Europe (primarily in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain) in medical, educational, corporate and sports settings. It supports a wide variety of applications such as pain management, tinnitus, birth preparation, preparing for exams and sports competitions, prevention of burnout, sleep, addictions, mental health and stage fright. In France and Switzerland, Sophrology is reimbursed by health insurance and used alongside traditional medical approaches. It is also studied and practised at Universities and University Hospitals offer it as a treatment. In 2022, Dr Athina Belsi, Social Scientist and Senior Teaching Fellow at Imperial College in collaboration with Sophrologist, Dominique Antiglio, from BeSophro have been able to introduce the practice of Sophrology to first-year Medical Students to support them with stress management, sleep and preparation for exams.
If you are not living in Continental Europe, the practice of Sophrology may be totally new to you. It’s only been a few years that Sophrology has been introduced to a wider audience through Dominique Antiglio’s bestselling book, the first widely published book in English on the subject, ‘The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology” and her collaborations with sports brand Asics and Movement for Mind. To read press articles on Dominique’s work and Sophrology, click here.
Sophrology and its origins
In Spain in 1960, Dr Alfonso Caycedo, a neuropsychiatrist and the founder of Sophrology, started his research to come up with a method to improve the wellbeing and the quality of life of his patients who presented a whole range of mental health conditions, from trauma to psychosis.
It was Dr Caycedo’s first-hand experience with therapies such as induced insulin comas and electro-shock that inspired his search for a gentle and holistic approach based on the study of consciousness in harmony.
At the time, research about consciousness in medicine and natural sciences was scarce. Sophrology research was pioneering and provided more of an understanding about consciousness in harmony, using phenomenological methods and applying the practice in clinical settings.
This search took Dr Caycedo to India, Nepal and Japan to study consciousness practices such as Tibetan Buddhism, Japanese Zen and Yoga. This knowledge, combined with his medical and clinical background as well as phenomenology, philosophy, and psychology, gave rise to a new discipline to support consciousness towards a state of balance.
Sophrology soon found a wider application including birth preparation, insomnia, anxiety, sleep, and stress management.
Are the modalities within Sophrology backed up by science?
Sophrology is based on modalities that have been studied by science and shown to positively impact the body and mind’s well-being and the nervous system, such as breathing, relaxation, mental imagery, movement, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness and self-hypnosis. Sophrology itself has got a growing body of studies on a wide range of applications that you can discover further below.
The modalities used by Sophrology
Here is a list of studies showing the positive impact of the modalities used by Sophrology.
Relaxation, Breathing and Visualisation, Mind-body interventions
Guided imagery reduces anxiety symptoms
Nature-Based Guided Imagery as an Intervention for State Anxiety. Nguyen J, Brymer E. Front Psychol. 2018 Oct 2;9:1858.
Mind-body intervention on emotional wellbeing, depression, anxiety in chronic pain
Mechanisms of change in depression and anxiety within a mind-body activity intervention for chronic pain. Grunberg VA, Mace RA, Bannon SM, Greenberg J, Bakhshaie J, Vranceanu AM. J Affect Disord. 2021 Sep 1;292:534-541.
Yogic Breathing reduces stress, anxiety and depression
Impact of a Yogic Breathing Technique on the Well-Being of Healthcare Professionals During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Divya K, Bharathi S, Somya R, Darshan MH. Glob Adv Health Med. 2021 Feb 9;10:2164956120982956.
Improved psychological health Evaluation of a Yoga-Based Mind-Body Intervention for Resident Physicians: A Randomized Clinical Trial.
Loewenthal J, Dyer NL, Lipsyc-Sharf M, Borden S, Mehta DH, Dusek JA, Khalsa SBS. Glob Adv Health Med. 2021 Mar 10;10:21649561211001038.
The Evaluation of a Mind-Body Intervention (MBT-T) for Stress Reduction in Academic Settings: A Pilot Study.
Cozzolino M, Vivo DR, Girelli L, Limone P, Celia G. Behav Sci (Basel). 2020 Jul 30;10(8):124
A mind-body intervention for stress reduction as an adjunct to an information session on stress management in university students.
Cozzolino M, Girelli L, Vivo DR, Limone P, Celia G. Brain Behav. 2020 Jun;10(6):e01651.
Complementary Health Approaches and Urban Zen Integrative Therapy and relaxation. Deep Relaxation Experience with Complementary Urban Zen Integrative Therapy.
Qualitative Thematic Analysis. Von Visger TT, Thrane SE, Klatt MD, Chang YP, Happ M. West J Nurs Res. 2021 Aug;43(8):723-731.
Use of relaxation techniques and complementary and alternative medicine by American adults with insomnia symptoms: results from a national survey.
Bertisch SM, Wells RE, Smith MT, McCarthy EP. J Clin Sleep Med. 2012 Dec 15;8(6):681-91.
Mind-body therapies reduce markers of inflammation and influence immune responses
The effects of mind-body therapies on the immune system: a meta-analysis. Morgan N, Irwin MR, Chung M, Wang C. PLoS One. 2014 Jul 2;9(7):e100903.
Mind-body intervention (meditation, yoga, and qigong) and effect on parasympathetic activation, reduced cortisol secretion, inflammation, ageing rate, – all cardiovascular risk factors and risk factor for type 2 diabetes
Changes Induced by Mind-Body Intervention Including Epigenetic Marks and Its Effects on Diabetes. Yang HJ, Koh E, Sung MK, Kang H. Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Jan 28;22(3):1317.
Effectiveness of Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Deep Breathing, and Guided Imagery in Promoting Psychological and Physiological States of Relaxation
Integrative Mind-Body Program improves confidence and mental wellbeing
This recent EEG study showed that 8 weeks of about 4 times 10,8 min meditation per week showed neuroplastic changes in attention networks, enabling more efficient use of attentional resources.
Mindful breath awareness meditation facilitates efficiency gains in brain networks: A steady-state visually evoked potentials study. Schöne B, Gruber T, Graetz S, Bernhof M, Malinowski P. Sci Rep. 2018 Sep 12;8(1):13687. 13687 (2018)
Meditation-Based Lifestyle Modification:
Development of an Integrative Mind-Body Program for Mental Health and Human Flourishing. Bringmann HC, Bringmann N, Jeitler M, Brunnhuber S, Michalsen A, Sedlmeier P. Complement Med Res. 2021;28(3):252-262.
Meditation-Based Lifestyle Modifications to help confidence and be at peace with oneself
“To Be Finally at Peace with Myself”:
A Qualitative Study Reflecting Experiences of the Meditation-Based Lifestyle Modification Program in Mild-to-Moderate Depression. Bringmann HC, Vennemann J, Gross J, Matko K, Sedlmeier P.
J Altern Complement Med. 2021 Sep;27(9):786-795.
Mindfulness-based interventions for adolescent health
Lin J, Chadi N, Shrier L. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2019 Aug;31(4):469-475. on anxiety, depression, eating disorders, quality of life, chronic pain, ADHD, sleep problems, chronic illness, and stress related to performance sports.
The Feasibility of Tai Chi Exercise as a Beneficial Mind-Body Intervention in a Group of Community-Dwelling Stroke Survivors with Symptoms of Depression.
Taylor-Piliae RE, Morrison HW, Hsu CP, Whitman S, Grandner M. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2021 Nov 2;2021:8600443.
The role of clinical hypnosis and self-hypnosis to relief pain and anxiety in severe chronic diseases in palliative care: A 2-year long-term follow-up of treatment in a nonrandomized clinical trial.
Brugnoli, M. P., et al. (2018).
Hypnosis intervention effects on sleep outcomes: A systematic review.
Chamine, I., et al. (2018).
Self-hypnosis for sleep disturbances in menopausal women.
Otte, J. L., et al. (2020).
Sophrology and its growing body of research
Sophrology has a growing body of research showing its effectiveness in a variety of issues.
In Spain, a randomised controlled trial made in 2020 measured the impact of Sophrology for people suffering from anxiety and depression. It showed that Sophrology helped to significantly reduce feelings of depression, and improved the ability to manage anxiety for participants. Using psychometric tests and a controlled group that was just receiving theoretical information, the intervention group received 12 Sophrology sessions over 4 weeks. For more information, click here.
In 2018, a French study showed that relaxing therapies, such as Sophrology and hypnosis, appeared to be an interesting additional tool for the management of patients in interventional oncology, inducing a decrease of stress, pain, and anxiety in patients.
In 2018, researchers also found Sophrology to be effective in children: for example, children suffering from asthma experienced an improvement in their breathing and oxygenation levels after practising Sophrology alongside receiving standard treatment.
In 2017, a study showed that Sophrology and visualisation techniques reduce anxiety during pregnancy.
A 2020 study in France showed that the majority of 140 patients suffering from tinnitus reported reduced intrusiveness of their condition after practising between 6 and 8 Sophrology sessions over the course of 2-4 months.
Another study from 2009 showed that Sophrology helped to improve acute respiratory problems in adult patients, reducing pain and discomfort, and lowering patients’ heart rate and blood pressure.
In 2020, a study looked at the impact of Sophrology on cardiopulmonary fitness in teenagers and young adults suffering from heart disease. After 8 Sophrology sessions, the group notably showed positive outcomes in maximum oxygen uptake amongst other positive outcomes including psychological status.
In 2018, a randomised controlled trial showed that Sophrology can reduce pain in fibromyalgia.
Sophrology studies in progress
Here we are keeping track of studies in progress.
- The Agency for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has recently decided to conduct a scientific study to measure the effects of Sophrology on carers who look after people suffering from Alzheimer’s and related diseases. Sophrology is increasingly used to provide carers with much-needed support, bearing in mind they are often in challenging work-based situations. The study will collaborate with eminent researchers like Pr A. BIOY (Université Paris VIII), le Pr C-M. KRUMM (EPP – Ecole de Psychologues Praticiens), le Pr Émérite A. BLANCHET (EPP), le Pr G. BERRUT (Université de Nantes). The first study of this kind will take place over the next 3 years. It aims to measure the effectiveness of Sophrology and will draw on both quantitative and qualitative research.
- The sportswear company ASICS has invited Sophrologist, Dominique Antiglio, to their team of experts on the mind-body connection for their Movement for Mind Programme, which includes Sophrology. In 2021, ASICS Movement for Mind – a simple programme of mindful outdoor movement – has been developed and tested in one of the largest, independent, randomised control trials of its kind. It proved that ASICS Movement for Mind delivered clinically significant improvements to people’s wellbeing, and a reduction in stress and anxiety over just eight weeks. ASICS Movement for Mind is the first programme of its kind to be scientifically proven to improve mental wellbeing. Led by world-renowned mental health researcher, Professor Brendon Stubbs, they enrolled 200 volunteers to take part in an eight-week, randomised control trial. The project is now further expanding in 2022-23, to test ASICS Movement for Mind in a much larger, population-wide study.
Sophrology Abstracts, and Sophrology projects of note
Sophrology and Oncology
A project in Université d’Aix-Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, France using Sophrology to support patients going through cancer treatments. Read abstract here.
The Institut Curie 2 in France regularly offers Sophrology sessions to cancer patients as part of their recovery. Patients have reported having fewer or milder side effects such as nausea and fatigue from chemotherapy or radiotherapy and a better quality of life. Read abstract here.
Sophrology and perinatal health
The effect of Sophrology on perinatal stress. Read abstract here.
The effect of Sophrology on mother and infant relationship. Read abstract here.
Sophrology and palliative care
The effect of Sophrology to manage anxiety in palliative care, read article here.
Sophrology and Employee wellbeing
The University of Kent, UK has conducted research on Sophrology to support employees in periods of stress.
If you are interested in starting your Sophrology journey, you can access a whole range of Sophrology practises online at www.be-sophro.com which are suitable for anyone.