What is Sophrology? How does Sophrology work?
When I first started Sophrology to cope better with my stress as a young adult, I was so happy to finally have found a method that was working for me. In just a few sessions, I was visibly calmer and more confident.
However, I was also a bit puzzled: my rational mind could not understand it!
How does Sophrology work?
How can breathing, moving my head and pumping my shoulders help me?
I was practising the breathing and dynamic relaxation exercises and I could totally see the results. But I couldn’t stop wondering: how can moving my head, pumping my shoulders or rotating my arms in a state of relaxation help to lower my stress levels?
Eventually, I stopped bothering about it for a while. After all, isn’t it what it’s all about? Letting go, calming the mind and releasing bodily tensions, and observing without trying to judge or understand. The more I was progressing into the practice, the less I was interested in figuring out how it was working. I was simply noticing and enjoying the benefits in my daily life.
It’s only years later, when I developed a passion for neurosciences and became fascinated by the powers of our brain and body, that the question arose again.
Today, I’m not saying I have all the answers and I am still exploring, but I’m not at all surprised anymore by Sophrology. On the contrary, it seems quite logical in the end!
I think one of the strengths of Sophrology is precisely that it speaks to the entire nervous system, in all its beauty and complexity.
The very specific combination of relaxation, breathing, gentle movement and visualisation exercises used in Sophrology helps to soothe and gently activate the entire nervous system, balance hormones levels in the body and alleviate the body’s automatic response to stress (for example heart palpitations). Through repetition of the practice notably with visualisation and the observation of pleasant sensations in the body, it slowly but surely helps us shift our perception and change our responses as we rewire our brain.
Understanding the Nervous System
Let’s go back to the basics of our physiology.
When trying to understand our nervous system, the first step is that it’s made of two major parts:
- First is the CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM (made of the brain and the spinal cord)
- Second is the PERIPHERIC NERVOUS SYSTEM, which consists of the nerves that run throughout the body.
Now it’s worth exploring a little further. Our PERIPHERIC NERVOUS SYSTEM itself has a major division:
- First, the SOMATIC NERVOUS SYSTEM which is made of:
- the network of nerves that conducts sensory signals from the body to the brain in the central nervous system;
- And, the nerves that conduct motor signals from the central nervous system to the muscles. Therefore, the SOMATIC NERVOUS SYSTEM is associated to our skeletal muscles and to VOLUNTARY MOVEMENTS.
- Second is the AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM, associated this time with involuntary movements and in charge of regulating the inner environment of the body. The Autonomic Nervous System carries the signals from our internal organs to our Central Nervous System. It regulates digestion, blinking, heartbeat, i.e. all our vital functions that work autonomously, independently of our normal conscious control.
The Nervous System and Stress Management
People interested in stress management are often very familiar with the autonomic nervous system and how it works: it is responsible for the body’s “fight-or-flight” response to stress.
The sympathetic system has a large role in stimulating and mobilising our energy resources. In a stressful situation, it will cause the heartbeat and blood pressure to increase, and it will change our breathing pattern in order to trigger a reaction.
However, the parasympathetic system acts to conserve energy, helping our organs to function at their best. When there is no stress, the parasympathetic system will stimulate the digestion, slow the heartbeat and put the body in rest and recuperation mode.
People practising breathing and/or meditation are often familiar with this, as breathing has been proven by many studies to have a huge impact on the autonomic nervous system by calming the sympathetic system and allowing the parasympathetic system to do its job in peace!
What Happens During A Sophrology Session?
One of the key aspects of a Sophrology session is the unique combination of breathing, gentle movement and positive visualisations, designed to simultaneously calm the mind and relax the body.
By looking at how our nervous system works, it really helps understanding the power of this combination:
- The breathing exercises will gently calm down the autonomic nervous system
- The use of movement combined with relaxation will help activate and soothe the somatic nervous system
Part of the autonomic and somatic nervous system constitute the peripheric nervous system. Sophrology works on changing the messaging from our body to our central nervous system, generating a very different response in return, with no need to activate all the stress signals.
Combining positive visualisations and carefully chosen words by the Sophrologist to suit the needs of the client, a regular Sophrology practice will allow a gentle re-wiring of this messaging between nervous system and body, which is at the root of the deep transformation in awareness typical of Sophrology.
Sophrology Beyond Physiology
Now, I wouldn’t want to limit Sophrology to a chain of physiological reactions of course. To me, there is much more to it. Beyond stress-management, through the journey of the 12 levels of Sophrology, we can slowly shift our perception of ourselves and the world around us. It is notably by becoming deeply aware of what is happening in our body, mind and emotions and adapting our response in daily life as well as uncovering our deepest values that we can talk about true transformation: from a stressed individual to someone who knows how to find calm in the midst of modern life and remain its true self.
Although science shows that our reactions and emotions start as a biological phenomenon, it’s not so important to me anymore. My rational mind still loves understanding, classifying and explaining, but enjoying the experience is my new priority!
To find out more about how Sophrology can help and its fields of application, please visit our website and blog page at www.be-sophro.com!