Science of Sophrology
Achieving a Sense of Balance
Do you know what our balanced state of being is supposed to feel like? It’s a state where we feel calm, we feel empowered, creative and able to adapt to change; 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 combination of mental well-being techniques backed by science: it is a self-development practice that started in a clinical setting combining simple relaxation, breathing, gentle movement and visualisation to help balance mind and body on the spot and feel empowered in today’s ever-changing circumstances. It is a toolkit for modern life that anyone can use in their daily life to manage stress, support sleep, achieve a sense of balance, have a more positive mindset, raise energy levels, boost resilience and confidence. The word Sophrology itself means ’the science of consciousness in harmony.’
In France1 for example, Sophrology has been applied by leading medical, biological research centre, Institut Curie2, to support cancer patients during treatment. It is also used in corporate3 and education environments to support with stress-management, confidence and focus4.
What is Sophrology as a Science?
From its beginnings in Spain in 1960, Dr Alfonso Caycedo, a medical doctor, neuropsychiatrist and the Founder of Sophrology, wanted to ensure that his discipline would follow a specific and standardised methodology.
Sophrology started as a therapeutic approach to improve the quality of life of Dr Caycedo’s patients at the psychiatric unit of Madrid Hospital who presented a whole range of mental health conditions, from trauma to psychosis.
It was Dr Caycedo’s first-hand experience witnessing invasive therapies such as induced insulin comas and electro-shock that inspired a search for a gentle and complementary approach 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 a novel combination of methods to ensure that the discipline could be applied uniformly in clinical settings and beyond.
This search took Dr Caycedo to India and Japan to study consciousness and mental wellbeing practices through 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 our mental and physical wellbeing 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 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 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 University of Barcelona5, 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 depression, and improved the ability to manage anxiety5 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 (3 hours a week).
From the same university in Barcelona, the same team led another study6 (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 study7 from 2009 by Hôtel-Dieu hospital, 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 study8 in France from Pôle Sophrologie et Acouphènes 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.
Researchers from the University Hospital and the University of Montpellier also found Sophrology to be effective in children: for example, children suffering from asthma9 experienced an improvement in their breathing and oxygenation levels after practising Sophrology alongside receiving standard treatment.
The Institut Curie2 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 reassure them.
Sophrology and Qualitative Studies
Sophrology looks at an individual as the sum of mind and body as well as his personal and professional history, social interactions and existence. Sophrology can positively impact each element of mind and body: it can bring 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 others and the world.
The Sophrology techniques and methods are based on phenomenology10, 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 approach11 in Sophrology relies on investigating our mind and 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 consciousness.
Dr 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 what people experience during 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 research12.
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).
After Dr Alfonso Caycedo’s passing in 2018, his daughter Dr 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, mindfulness, hypnosis, neuroscience, philosophy and neuro-phenomenology with Eastern practices found in Buddhism, Yoga and Japanese Zen. It uses a unique combination of movement, relaxation, visualisation, breathing and meditative exercises to allow us to tap into our inner resources, support us towards more awareness and balance.
Each component of the Sophrology practice has a particular role to play on either the mind or the body. The combination of these components and their specific intention of exploring the different modalities of consciousness makes the practice so deceptively effective and impactful. Each component also has 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 is strongly supported.
- Breathing balances the autonomic nervous system (responsible for making the body function), oxygenates the body and lets us 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 wave13 state, which can lead to obsessions or over-analytical thinking or seeking distraction from external sources (TV, food, drugs, alcohol etc.). Studies14 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 state15 has a beneficial effect on the brain and body, supporting the regulation of emotions (i.e. focusing less on negative feelings and reducing anxiety).
Whilst in an alpha brain wave state, Sophrology allows the mind to stay alert, fully present and calm, looking within for answers, so the individual learns how to find his or her own solutions to problems, and gradually through the repetition of the exercises, discovers 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 minutes a day, you may rapidly notice how you can find a sense of calm and achieve a state of balance in daily life. Dr Caycedo created a simple and accessible way for everyone to take control of their mental wellbeing in this modern world. Beyond the stress-management and self-discovery tools, Sophrology aims 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 be-sophro.com which are suitable for anyone.
- La sophrologie pour mieux vivre le cancer, Hélène Joubert
- Effectiveness of a 4-week sophrology program for primary care patients with moderate to high anxiety levels: a randomised controlled trial, van Rangelrooij K, Solans-Buxeda R, Fernández-García M, Caycedo-Desprez N, Selvam R, Bulbena A, Actas Esp Psiquiatr
- MIEUX-DORMIR et SOPHROLOGIE, Dr Natalia Caycedo, Mme Maria José Fernandez, Mme Josefina Fernandez,
Dr Maria Jésus Molina, Mme Maria Àngels Castillo, Mme Monica Suñé,
M. Amando Juan Mira, Dr Rafael Solans, Dr Koen van Rangelrooij, Pr Antonio Bulbena.
- Impact of sophrology on the tolerance of non-invasive ventilation sessions in patients with acute respiratory failure, J.-M.Constantin, S.Perbet, E.Futier, S.Cayot-Constantin, V.Gignac, F.Bannier, H.Fabrègue, C.Chartier, R.Guerin, J.-E.Bazin
- First assessment of sophrology for the treatment of subjective tinnitus, P.Grevin, M.Ohresser, M.Kossowski, C.Duval, A.Londero
- Efficiency of physiotherapy with Caycedian Sophrology on children with asthma: A randomized controlled trial; Huguette Romieu, Françoise Charbonnier, Dora Janka, Aymeric Douilard, Valérie Macioce, Kathleen Lavastre, Hamouda Abassi, Marie-Catherine Renoux
- Phenomenology, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- A Phenomenological Paradigm for Empirical Research in Psychiatry and Psychology: Open Questions, Leonor Irarrázaval
- SOPHROLOGY AND PSYCHOSOMATIC MEDICINE, A CAYCEDO, Am J Clin Hypn 1964 Oct;7:103-6.)
- Relaxation Response Induces Temporal Transcriptome Changes in Energy Metabolism, Insulin Secretion and Inflammatory Pathways…
- Deconstructing the Emotion Regulatory Properties of Mindfulness: An Electrophysiological Investigation, Yanli Lin, Megan E. Fisher, Sean M. M. Roberts, Jason S Moser
- Evaluation of the Added Value of Sophrology on the Intensity of Craving During Smoking Withdrawal, CHI Créteil, and CHU Henri Mondor, France
- Sophrology Treatment for Patients with Glial Tumours Requiring Speech Therapy, Institut de Cancérologie de l’Ouest, Saint-Herblain, France
- Post-SOPHrology Cancer Patients’ anxieTY Report, Institut de Cancérologie Lucien Neuwirth, Saint-Priest-en-Jarez, France
- Sophrology and Congenital Heart Disease, CHU de Montpellier, France
- Impact of Sophrology on the Pain Felt During a Bone Marrow Aspiration and Biopsy, Caen University Hospital, France
- Evaluation of the Benefit Provided by Sessions of Sophrology on the Per Operative Management of Parkinsonian Patients Planned for a Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery, Rennes University Hospital, France
- Physiotherapy Efficiency on Child Asthma, Pediatric and Congenital Cardiology and Pulmonology Department, Arnaud De Villeneuve University Hospital, Montpellier, France
- Impact of Global Care of the Pain at Chronic Painful Patients Affected by Cystic Fibrosis, hôpital Necker Enfants maladies, Paris, France
- Chronic Low Back Pain: A Multidisciplinary Approach, Hospital Universitari Vall d’Hebron Institut de Recerca Vall d’Hebron, Barcelona, Spain
- Observational Study of the Quality of Life for the Chronic Pain Patients Included in a Therapeutic Education Program Focused on Relaxation Techniques, CH Metropole Savoie, Chambéry, France…
- Study of the Influence of POLD Manual Therapy in Fibromyalgia, Hospital Universitari de Santa María, Lleida, Catalonia, Spain
- Impact of a Sophrological Accompaniment During the Announcement of Thyroid Cancer, Assistance Publique Des Hopitaux de Marseille, France
- Contribution of Learning and Practice of Different Complementary Therapies in Pulmonary Transplant Patients, Hopital Foch, Suresnes, France
- Effects of a Multidisciplinary Outpatient Rehabilitation Program in Patients With Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Clinique de la Mitterie, Lomme, France
- Organization of Pulmonary Rehabilitation of Post-COVID-19 Patient with Sequelae (REHABCOVID), Hôpital Nord (AP-HM), Marseille, Hôpital Renée Sabran, Hyères, HIA Sainte Anne, Toulon, France
- Impact of Behavioral Factors on Treatment Adherence in a Sample of Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients, CHU de Bordeaux, France