Never heard of sophrology before? You’re not the only one. As mindfulness makes its way into the health and wellness headlines, a potential alternative is waiting to be the next go-to technique.
Sophrology is considered a type of dynamic relaxation with the practise aiming to give you a heightened awareness of both your body and mind: involving tuning into both and how the two interact with each other. and how they work together. Similarly to mindfulness, it helps you be in the now: enjoy the present and react to situations in a positive way.
The practice was first created by Alfonso Caycedo, a Colombian doctor, a psychiatry and neurology specialist working in Spain in the 1960s. Currently, sophrology is most prominent in France, Spain and Switzerland, with the French rugby team and Switzerland’s ski team being notable champions of its benefits for sporting success.
How does it Differ from Mindfulness?
You could think of sophrology as the doers version of mindfulness. It’s made up of physical techniques, which are the opposite of classic mediational stillness. In these exercises you don’t feel overwhelmed by the element of thinking or mental focus, instead, the physical aspects give practitioners a tangible practise that gives similar results to mindfulness.
To give you a quick walk through of your first experience with sophrology, an introduction to the practise will typically involve closing your eyes, inhaling deeply breath whilst tensing all of your muscles (or one specific zone of the muscles) then exhaling and relaxing the muscles. This is by far a more physical technic than mindfulness, making it a great option for those who struggle to get into meditation and mindfulness.
Similarly to mindfulness, sophrology is rooted in breathing, as this can help maintain your focus, but the rhythmic breathing also circulates oxygen around the body to increase your calmness. It also involves a sharp awareness of your body, with sessions starting with a body scan to relax different zones of the body.
Structured into twelve levels, sophrology teachers help you progress when you see results from each level, by comparison, mindfulness doesn’t have such black and white levels of progress, and is noted for its self-reflection qualities and need of commitment to honing your skills in the practice.
Sophrology is based on yoga with influences coming from Tibetan Buddhism, Japanese Zen, hypnosis, psychology and neurology whilst mindfulness has origins in Buddhism.
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What are the Benefits?
The benefits are similar to that of mindfulness, it helps your general awareness and helps you deal with issues of stress and anxiety. The benefits of sophrology in general centre around changing the way you approach demanding situations, leading to you altering how you experience contentment and happiness and increasing these feelings.
Different levels of sophrology open new benefits, the first releases tension from the body, zone by zone, followed by understanding and noting the changes in yourself. From there you can move on to focusing closer on the mind, this uses visualisation, then awareness of the body and mind together, before further levels that personalise the practice further and identify your own personal values.
Deep breathing techniques help circulate oxygen around the body and encourage increased serotonin production. Visualisation techniques are useful when undertaking exams or birth preparation and phobias.
Differing from mindfulness, one of the benefits is the responsibility and control that sophrology rewards its practitioners. The increased awareness and control you experience helps you to decide how you are going to engage with and experience situations, and this is particularly useful when these are events that you can’t change. Here you take control of how you handle a situation as well as how you feel about outcomes.
How can we Use it in Everyday Life?
All you really need for a daily dose of sophrology is a chair: sitting is an easy way to start the technique but some might actually prefer to stand. Exercises can be done in 10 - 30-minute bursts. In your everyday routine, you can practise sophrology independently with techniques being your sole focus or employ it in everyday situations.
Should we use it Instead of, or as well as Mindfulness?
Sophrology might be a great alternative to mindfulness if you struggle to get into the zone that mindfulness and meditation require. It could also be a great addition to mindfulness with the physicality of the exercise providing satisfaction, and helping your concentration. Trying out sophrology ultimately helps your resilience and inner strength, to help you achieve more balance in your life and awareness of body and mind.