We are now aware of the need to exercise regularly and eat well to keep our bodies fit and healthy. There is nothing wrong about sharing with your friends that you are trying to lose weight or have started a new gym programme. But why is it still so difficult to share with others about feeling down, worried or exhausted? We often associate this with weakness because we take mental health for granted and probably because, from a young age, we are often asked not to cry and not to be angry. This brings us in a state of disconnection rather than be taught to positively deal with our emotions and find the resilience within. We expect our minds to be present and strong and to sustain whatever experience we go through. However the reality is far from that, and knowing ourselves and learning how to deal with life’s challenge is a key asset for life, for finding our happiness and balance.
We know the benefits of mindfulness on those issues and that’s where a technique like Sophrology can help to make a difference.
The Origins of Sophrology
Sophrology is the brainchild of Professor Alfonso Caycedo, a neuropsychiatrist who was interested in looking at the mind from a different perspective to improve his patients’ quality of life.
Back in 1960, when he created Sophrology, mental health patients had access to limited resources to improve their state and Caycedo, as a young doctor at the time, wondered why we had to shake consciousness with electroshock treatments or insulin coma therapy to get results. He realised how little we knew about the different states of consciousness we can be in and decided to research what happened in a healthy state of consciousness in hope to find how to treat psychiatric issues with a gentler approach.
He travelled for three years in Asia to observe and learn from renowned Yogis, Buddhist monks and even met the Dalai Lama. As a result of these experiences, Sophrology is a modern approach to create balance in consciousness, inspired from the universal principles and ancient traditions from the East cleverly mixed with Western science. His method rapidly grew beyond the medical world and became not only a tool for psychiatric patients but for everyone to improve their mental state, create more harmony in mind and body and to grow positivity and awareness.
The technique is simple and practical: it uses a mix of relaxation, visualisation, breathing exercises, gentle movement and meditation to achieve a sense of well-being and access new potentials.
Like mindfulness meditation, Sophrology’s approach aims to train our ability to be less judgemental and live in the present moment while also offering a dynamic approach to positively integrate consciousness, ie, to achieve a sense of balance and awareness in body and mind.
Sophrology and Mental Health
Sophrology is very popular in France, Switzerland, Spain and Belgium where many practise it to improve their mental health. It is common to have a Sophrologist helping students to relax and build their confidence before exams, to use it in the maternity unit to prepare women for birth or in the corporate world to prevent burn out, reduce sick days and, therefore, improve productivity. Sophrology is also used, for example, by athletes to help them through their training and their sporting competitions, as it can reduce tension and anxiety before major events.
Research found that mindfulness meditation can provide relief from depression and anxiety in adults (see for example Psychiatric Times). Mindfulness meditation works on self-regulating emotions, attention and self-awareness.
Sophrology draws from mindfulness meditation to offer ways to connect with our bodies and become aware of areas of tension. It is also teaches a dynamic way to embrace negativity and tensions and letting them go. By learning to refine body awareness we can access a deeper state of relaxation and awareness, explore who we truly are, and what we deeply want. It is a useful tool for mental health support, from day to day stresses to more severe issues like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
It is a gentle technique combining simple movement with breathing (for example, clenching your fists while inhaling, releasing while exhaling). It can be done by anyone, even children, as it doesn’t require to study anything in depth or understand concepts. It is more about connecting with what you feel here and now and how you can move towards a more positive state.
In Sophrology mind and body work together and influence each other. For example, it is through body awareness that we can strengthen the mind, or through using our focus and concentration that we can let go of stressful feelings or worries. Sophrology is a self-development tool, a practice that allows us to know ourselves better and take better care of ourselves. Most importantly, it allows us to have hope about the future. When people suffer from mental health problems, particularly stress, depression and anxiety, they often lose hope and believe things may not get better. By working on relaxation and focusing on the present moment, they can strengthen their confidence. By using visualisation and the creative resources of the mind, they can change their attitude in relation to their future and start building a positive one (see French articles on Passeport Santé and Sophrologie Actualité).
As we learn to connect with ourselves we discover that there is a fantastic reservoir of inner resources we can draw from in relation to our past, present and future: confidence, trust, energy, joy, love, feeling positive and grounded to name a few.
Sophrology is based on positive action towards consciousness with a series of exercises not only to calm body and mind but also to unveil their potential. Through repetition, the body and mind become more accustomed to notice positive sensations and perception, helping the whole being to shift its inner state. With positive visualisations, the mind becomes more receptive to positive thinking, managing emotions better and letting go of thoughts that induce anxiety. Sophrology teaches to calm the mind and reach a state of meditation, but it goes beyond, stimulating all the positive resources of the individual.
The simple use of the breath is already very powerful. A study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology in September 2017 found that breathing exercises have a beneficial effect on the brain. The research showed that after doing some deep breathing exercises people felt more in control of their emotions, more relaxed and more able to focus. So if you couple breathing with visualisation or relaxation it then becomes a real tool for transformation.
Mental Health Awareness
There is so much we can do about mental health so it becomes as recognised and accepted as physical health. I believe that more than ever we are confronted with stresses in our daily life and we haven’t been shown how to connect with our resilient self. People with mental health issues may decide to suffer in silence and may believe they have to face problems on their own. It is important to reach out and let them know they are not alone. We should do more to prevent issues from arising especially with the young generations, giving them the tools to manage their stress and give them confidence in themselves and their future. Sophrology can be used alongside traditional medicine as a way to learn coping mechanisms and access conscious well-being. Let’s work toward a more compassionate, open and positive community so we can all feel at ease to share when things are difficult or be a compassionate friend, husband or wife, parent or teacher.