Although Sophrology is rapidly spreading here in the UK, as a Sophrologist, I still find that it is easily overly simplified as being a practical set of tools designed to cope better with stress, or as a relaxation technique. Indeed, sophrology is that. Actually, I find that regular short practices or group sessions are particularly great to get familiar with these tools and to unwind, so that tension doesn’t build up. It’s a fantastic wellbeing routine. But that’s only one aspect of Sophrology.
Sophrology and Relaxation: a real difference?
Feeling relaxed is certainly a ‘side effects’ of Sophrology, but if Sophrology was as simple as a ready-made set of exercises, I don’t think it would be as powerful as it is…But then, what is Sophrology and how could seeing a Sophrologist make a difference…?
I think the answer lies in the fact that practising Sophrology is much more about entering a process than it is a set of techniques to relax.
Here is an analogy before I go any further: Let’s say you want to lose weight. Everyone knows a bit about diets and can give you some tips on what to eat, calorie counting, and various advice on how to manage your weight. But if you’ve tried different diets before and somehow, you’re still struggling, there is a good chance you might decide to seek help and see a nutritionist. With the help of the nutritionist, you’re going to come up with a plan and you will get the support you need to start changing what doesn’t work.
Sophrology is exactly the same. When suffering from stress, one can easily find info and ideas in order to relax, as well as tips on what to do and how to cope when under stress. But when chronic stress occurs in one’s life (whatever the underlying reason), or when anxiety reaches such a level that it jeopardizes one’s health, sleep, projects, or dreams, that’s another story…
And that’s where we move from basic relaxation techniques (nonetheless extremely important and to be used every day as part of your wellbeing routine!) onto discovering, experimenting, and implementing a new way of being in the world. More grounded, more resilient, solid and yet very flexible, without having to suffer from reoccurring (and in some cases almost unbearable…) stress symptoms.
The issue of developing possible tolerance to stress
One common mistake when people start seeking relaxation tools is that, in some cases, it can also lead them to become more used to stress…which results in more stress…Sometimes it can cover up deeper issues, but nothing really changes. People can sometimes develop a sort of tolerance to stress, but it doesn’t mean stress is not there. It is simply not as loud, affecting the mind and the body in silence (a good example of that is when people quite suddenly end up in a burn out…).
So, the idea is not simply to teach people how to relax so they can continue with the same patterns, the ones that led them to stress in the first place. That would be only using the tools in order to hide the problem. On the contrary, Sophrology is foremost an offer to a path of gentle and profound change.
It’s not about relaxing in order to bear the unbearable, it’s about changing: changing our perspective on life and revealing all our resources and potentials to enjoy life fully. Sophrology is about regaining mind/body harmony and activating all the beautiful abilities we have within. The objective is to attain genuine inner peace and to achieve our goals and dreams with confidence and a positive mind set.
Relaxing versus changing
My clients often tell me they’ve tried many different things to cope better with stress: meditation, breathing techniques, wellbeing apps, doing some yoga, drinking herbal tea, and so on. These are all good by the way. Sadly, in more severe cases, chemical substances, legal or not, are also taken to cope better or simply to sleep. However, far from alleviating the symptoms, they sometimes report that it didn’t get any better.
Going back to our initial analogy, just like a nutritionist would help establishing a weight loss program, the role of the sophrologist is to tailor a specific program and support its clients by teaching them how they can, with regular practice, rebalance and rewire their brain. Little by little and step by step, they will learn how develop a new and more positive outlook on life. The aim is to help them (re)gain a deep sense of balance and feel more at peace.
As a Sophrologist, my goal is to support my clients on their own journey of gentle, long lasting change. At this stage, you may think that such journey will require huge amount of efforts and self-discipline. But be reassured that for instance, regular ten-minute daily practice over 5 weeks, will certainly already make a big difference.
During the course of sophrology sessions, as sophrologists, what we are looking for is to help people understanding what’s happening in their body and mind. We look at how they can trigger changes in the way they deal with stress and its effects in their life: repercussion on their body and health; repercussion on their emotional state. In other words, we look at helping them shift the way they experience their presence in and to the world.
What to expect from Sophrology sessions?
We’re all different. That’s why during the first session, we do an initial assessment before we start practicing. Everyone is different and everyone has what I call a different “Stress ID card”, i.e a different way to react to stress, whether it’s the reaction of the mind (thoughts, ruminations, negativity, confusion…), reaction of the body (fatigue, muscular tensions, headaches, pain…), emotional reactions (loss of confidence, anger, sadness, apprehension…) and behaviours (insomnia, lack of vigilance, loss of appetite, drinking or smoking…). Ultimately that’s all due to our very own history, environment and our personal biochemistry, i.e the way we naturally produce certain hormones when exposed to stress. This will impact the way we see the world as well as the way we interact in the world.
During this assessment, we also look at certain needs that might not be met in our clients’ lives, and/or some things they specifically would like to change in order to bring more harmony into their life. Taking all this into account, we’ll discuss a strategy in order to activate a change, with the constant aim of bringing more peace and wellbeing. Following each session, clients are given a recording of the practice so they can become progressively autonomous in their transformation. They also leave with some very practical tips that they can use immediately.
Of course, this is only possible in a climate of mutual trust and collaboration. I personally put a lot of sincere effort in creating such an environment for my clients, in order for them to feel safe, free and comfortable when starting their journey of self-discovery.
Beyond relaxation and throughout the tailor-made and very specific combination of exercises, they will gently learn how to better listen to themselves and meet their own needs. They will also discover and learn how to find that subtle equilibrium between having enough energy to do everything that needs to be done in a day, but at the same time being able to peacefully do things without unnecessary tension or stress.
A new outlook on life!
Throughout this process, it is fundamental to learn deep genuine recuperation rather than accumulating fatigue…to listen more to the body, to understand our needs and to be able to access new inner resources. Sophrology helps us finding the most appropriate answer to our challenges without disturbing too much our inner tranquillity…In a way, it is simply about welcoming the life that is playing inside of us: the physical tensions, the demanding emotions…all being only the expression of our existence and way of being in the world. That is precisely what is at the core of the Sophrologist’s work and I find it absolutely fascinating.
To summarise the idea that Sophrology is not “just” relaxation, I would simply quote a very respected Sophrologist in France who once said “It is indeed important to answer people’s need to relax. However, the true aim of Sophrology is not in learning relaxation, but rather in learning how not to be in the need to relax!” *
Testimonial: “Sophie is a fantastic sophrologist, I went to see her to learn how to manage work related stress and in a few sessions, she transformed my professional and personal life. She helped me become the person I wanted to be“.
*Norbert Cassini, “La Sophrologie n’est pas une boite a outils”, in French, available on Youtube.