You may have come across this article because you are preparing for childbirth and researching natural solutions to help you manage feelings of anxiety or maybe reduce childbirth pain. If you are interested in using your breath to calm your nerves and visualisation to support a positive birth experience, then you are in the right place! Hypnobirthing is a popular choice to help reduce fears of giving birth, but have you ever considered Sophrology?
What Is Sophrology?
Sophrology has been popular in continental Europe for over 60 years. Women in France or Switzerland for instance routinely use Sophrology as a way to prepare for birth.
Originally created by neuro-psychiatrist Professor Alfonso Caceydo, Sophrology is sometimes referred to as the “little sister of hypnosis”. But if Professor Caceydo certainly studied hypnosis at the beginning, he also moved away from it.
The Origin Of Sophrology
Professor Caceydo studied many different disciplines and methods, from the East and the West, both ancient and modern. As a neuro-psychiatrist, he was interested in finding the “essence” of all these techniques. He wanted to understand what in these practises could really have a positive impact on both the body and the mind, disregarding the theories, beliefs and symbolic or cultural context. After learning and experimenting for many years, he combined elements of these techniques in a unique way and that is how Sophrology (literally meaning the ‘study of the consciousness in harmony’) was born.
Sophrology: A Unique Approach
Because Sophrology finds its roots in several practices, it is tempting to compare it to other techniques because at first glance it seems familiar with its emphasis on breathing and visualisation. However, Sophrology, as it is practised today, is unique in itself and cannot really be compared to any other method.
The common ground with hypnosis is probably that both are practised in a slightly heightened state of consciousness (the brain’s alpha waves state typical of mindfulness). While hypnosis is more about relaxing and teaching the unconscious mind to let go of its tensions, Sophrology is practised in a relaxed but active and alert state of awareness.
Both Hypnosis and Sophrology use visualisation exercises. However, Sophrology emphasizes body awareness and dynamic relaxation, which is not found in hypnosis.
The aim of this article is only to present Sophrology for birth preparation and point out the differences between Sophrology and hypnobirthing. In no event is it about claiming that one method is better than another and women are encouraged to follow their heart when it comes to preparing for birth.
Hypnobirthing and Perinatal Sophrology
The notions of ‘body awareness’ and ‘relaxation in movement’ are probably the main differences when it comes to birth preparation with Sophrology.
Another aspect of Sophrology is that, although women use it for preparing for birth, it is probably more accurate to talk about PERINATAL Sophrology. During the Sophrology sessions, the focus is on preparing for the day of the birth, but it is also about dealing with anything that could be challenging for the mother to be.
The main goal in Sophrology for birth preparation (whether it’s a natural birth or birth with possible medical intervention) is to support with a feeling calm and confidence around the birth. Each woman, each baby and each birth is different but the sessions are always individually tailored to meet the specific needs and story of the mother-to-be.
In the lead up to it, Sophrology sessions aim to provide tools to support:
- Relaxation and releasing physical tensions
- Increasing inner harmony and establishing an intuitive communication with the baby;
- Coping with pregnancy-related discomforts (sleep, nausea, low energy level…)
- Learning how to slow down
- Coping with fears, big or small, whatever they are
- Pain management
- Coping with fatigue and learning how to recuperate
- Accepting changes in the body
- Increasing stability and balance, learning how to feel more grounded
- Preparing for changes, learning and practising how to put things in perspective
- Dealing with the new identity of being of mother/parent
Preparing for Birth with Sophrology
Sophrology combines several relaxation techniques in a unique way;
- Breathwork, breathing techniques and breathing awareness
- Gentle body movements allowing the mother-to-be to know her body better – the aim is for her to remain relaxed but fully aware of her body during labour
- Positive visualisations, allowing her to positively anticipate the events during pregnancy, labour, and also after birth
The idea with Sophrology is that the techniques used during the preparation enable the mother-to-be to remain aware of herself and feel empowered during childbirth and to experience this event to the full. By regularly practising the exercises learnt during the sessions, the mother-to-be gains in self-confidence and in her ability to give birth. On the day of birth, she will be able to use her techniques in order to reduce anxious thoughts, use deep breathing throughout and better overcome fears and pain.
Feeling Confident and Empowered in Childbirth
Each baby is unique and therefore each birth will be unique. The aim of preparing for birth with Sophrology is for the mother-to-be to feel empowered and confident, trusting herself and her environment, independent of the circumstances. By increasing her ability to adapt, let go and be more resilient, the mother-to-be can approach birth in a more serene state and recuperate more easily.
Sophrology can be used for birth preparation in all situations. It can be of support for women who desire a natural birth, but it can also help women having an epidural or a caesarean. The sessions are completely tailored to each woman’s needs and situation. The combination of exercises may vary but the basics will remain the same: feeling confident and empowered for this very special moment.
A Global Approach Beyond Birth
Although the main focus during preparation is the birth itself, the benefit of some of the exercises will be acquired for life; it will become a valuable asset for general well-being and stress management in everyday life. And of course, partners are also welcome and even encouraged to take part, if they want to do so!