Science of Sophrology
Achieving a Sense of Balance
Do you know what our ‘normal’ state of being is supposed to feel like? It’s a state of balance where we feel calm, we feel empowered to take on anything; our breathing is deep, slow and regular; our mind is uncluttered and we go through life with a sense of ease. Of course, life can get in the way of this blissful state and challenging times can take their toll on our physical and mental health, but the right tools such as Sophrology can give us the support and the coping mechanisms we need to survive and thrive.
Sophrology stands out as a mental well-being technique backed by science: it is a transformative relaxation and personal development discipline that started in a clinical setting and evolved over the years to offer a toolkit that anyone can use in their daily life to manage stress, support with sleep, achieve a sense of balance, a more positive mindset, raised energy levels, resilience and confidence. The word Sophrology itself means ‘the science of consciousness in harmony’.
Sophrology has been used alongside more traditional medical approaches in Continental Europe for decades thanks to its solid foundations in research, its strong methodology and measurable results. In France, for example, Sophrology has been applied successfully to support cancer patients during treatment.
Sophrology as a Science
From its beginnings in Spain in 1960, Professor Alfonso Caycedo, a neuropsychiatrist and the founder of Sophrology, wanted to ensure that his discipline would follow a specific and standardised methodology to give it a solid scientific foundation.
Sophrology started as a therapeutic approach to improve the quality of life of Professor Caycedo’s patients who presented a whole range of mental health conditions, from trauma to psychosis.
It was Professor Caycedo’s first-hand experience witnessing invasive therapies such as induced insulin comas and electro-shock that inspired a search for a gentle and holistic alternative based on the study of consciousness in harmony.
At the time, research about consciousness in medicine and natural sciences was still scarce; Sophrology was a pioneering study of consciousness in harmony, using phenomenological methods to ensure that the discipline could be applied uniformly in clinical settings and beyond.
This search took Professor Caycedo to India 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 and psychological concepts, gave rise to a new discipline to support consciousness towards its state of balance.
This also allowed to build models and theories for further study and development: Sophrology soon found a wider application including birth preparation, insomnia, phobias and stress management.
Since the 1970s, Sophrology has become more widely practised around Europe beyond Spain to France, Belgium and Switzerland. In France and Switzerland, Sophrology is reimbursed by health insurance companies.
Sophrology and Quantitative Studies
Research studies over the years have reported some highly successful rates in the application of Sophrology.
To study the effectiveness of Sophrology, experts have completed prospective controlled studies using tools such as psychometric tests and taking groups of participants through stress-management and sleep Sophrology programmes to manage professional and personal stress.
In Spain, a study from the Centro de Atención Primaria de Cerdanyola under the direction of Dr. Koen van Rangelrooij, Dr. Natalia Caycedo and Dr. Antonio Bulbena measured the impact of Sophrology for people suffering from anxiety and depression. It showed that Sophrology helped to significantly reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, and improved the overall mood in participants. Using psychometric tests and a controlled group who was just receiving theoretical information, the intervention group received 12 Sophrology sessions over 4 weeks (3 hours a week). Also the higher the anxiety levels were to start with, the greater the impact Sophrology had.
From the same centre in Barcelona, the same team led another study (prospective and comparative) on symptoms of chronic insomnia. It was conducted on 70 patients showing an improved sleep quality after just 5 weeks of practice and even better results after 3 and 6 months.
France has produced many studies on Sophrology. Notably a 2000 report from the sleep hospital Hôtel-Dieu in Paris found that Sophrology is an effective treatment for chronic insomnia, with patients showing a marked reduction in anxiety and depression. Another study from 2009 by the same institute showed that Sophrology helped to improve acute respiratory problems in adult patients, reducing pain and discomfort, and lowering patients’ heart rate and blood pressure.
A 2020 study in France reported that the majority of 140 patients suffering from tinnitus reported a reduced intrusiveness of their condition after practising between 6 and 8 Sophrology sessions over the course of 2-4 months.
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.
The Institut Curie in France regularly offers Sophrology sessions to cancer patients to help them with their recovery. Patients have reported having fewer or milder side effects such as nausea and fatigue from invasive chemotherapy or radiotherapy and a better quality of life. Visualisation exercises help patients to relax, manage difficult emotions and give them reassurance.
Sophrology and Qualitative Studies
Sophrology looks at an individual as the sum of mind, body and consciousness as well as his existence. Sophrology positively impacts each element of mind and body: it brings more awareness to the body, an empowered state of mind, an exploration of life values and an overall sense of balance within the individual and in its relationship with the world.
While adhering to a quantitative approach is necessary, the founder of Sophrology Alfonso Caycedo decided not to pursue a more traditional research route in the early days to explore as many avenues as possible to create a new discipline.
The Sophrology method is based on phenomenology, which is defined as “the study of consciousness or things as they appear in our experience” or, in other words, the study that aims to discover the essence of all things.
The phenomenological approach in Sophrology relies on investigating consciousness, getting individuals to reflect on their experiences and reach a higher state of awareness. It is a qualitative approach that analyses how each individual discovers and masters the essence of his/her own consciousness.
Caycedo used a phenomenological methodology to understand more about the impact of the practice on his patients’ and students’ consciousness, notably using thousands of their phenodescriptions (notes detailing the outcome of each Sophrology session) over the years.
Qualitative methods are useful when collecting data on human experiences, which may have different interpretations. They include interviews and discussions, and they allow to include information as it is experienced by individuals expressing their point of view. This is extremely valuable data in phenomenological approaches and in research (source: Purpose of Phenomenology).
Sophrologists look at each case based on what their clients share about their individual experiences and will apply the Sophrology tools that are needed for the situation (for example, to manage stress).
Later on, after Alfonso Caycedo’s passing, his daughter Natalia Caycedo took over his organisation and research centre The International Academy of Caycedian Sophrology (Sofrocay) and started a process to further standardise the Sophrology method using quantitative research which she is still doing now.
Sophrology and the Brain
Sophrology is the result of blending Western approaches such as autogenic training, relaxation, neuroscience, philosophy and phenomenology with Eastern traditions such as Yoga and Japanese Zen. It uses a unique combination of movement, relaxation, visualisation, breathing and meditation to allow each and everyone to tap into their inner resources. Each component of the Sophrology practice has a specific role to play on either the mind or the body. It is the combination of these components and their specific intention at exploring the different modalities of consciousness that makes the practice so deceptively effective and impactful. Each component has also a specific impact on our physiology.
- Relaxation stimulates alpha brain waves, allows recuperation and gives us access to another level of awareness where emotional and psychological transformation are strongly supported.
- Breathing balances the autonomic nervous system (responsible for making the body function), oxygenates the body and allows us to tap into the mind-body connection.
- Mindful movement helps us increase our focus, teaches us to let go of unnecessary thoughts and accumulated stress, and helps balance the somatic nervous system.
- Visualisation allows us to reframe our experiences working on the brain’s neuroplasticity and encouraging imagination, creativity, concentration etc.
- Meditation influences hormones and neurotransmitters (lower cortisol and increase serotonin notably), improving immune function, balancing emotions, helping to prevent heart disease and teaching us to go beyond the mind’s chatter to find a deeper appreciation of existence.
When we feel anxious and in survival mode, our brain is in a high-level beta wave state, which can lead to obsessions or over-analytical thinking or seeking distraction from external sources (TV, food, drugs, alcohol etc.). Studies have confirmed that meditation, breathing and relaxation practices help to oxygenate the body, lower blood pressure and heart rate, helping to reduce or manage our anxiety.
Sophrology affects the state of awareness as the individual learns through simple concentration exercises to quickly reach an alpha brain wave state which is typical of meditation, relaxation or even daydreaming. A meditative state has a beneficial effect on the brain and body, supporting the regulation of emotions (i.e. focusing less on negative feelings and reducing anxiety).
Unlike hypnosis, which brings the brain into a theta wave state through suggestion, Sophrology allows the mind to stay alert, fully present and calm, looking within for answers, so the individuals learns how to find his or her own solutions to problems, and conquer a new state of consciousness notably informed by the sensation and perception of the body.
If you practise Sophrology regularly, for as little as 10-15 min a day, you will rapidly notice how you are able to find a sense of calm and achieve a state of balance in daily life. The genius of Caycedo is to have created a simple and accessible way for everyone to unveil consciousness in a world that more than ever asks us to take responsibility for our mental and physical well-being. Beyond the stress-management and self-development tools, the aim of Sophrology is to experience life with a renewed sense of vitality and awareness, and positively transform consciousness to create a meaningful existence.
If you are interested in starting your Sophrology journey, you can access a whole range of Sophrology practises online at besophro.com which are suitable for anyone.