Those keen to boost their performance and holistic health will rejoice at the latest form of mindfulness gracing the wellness scene. Sophrology, or “dynamic relaxation”, combines breathing exercises, visualisation techniques and gentle movement for a better mental state and support towards reaching life goals.
The mind-body connection
In Switzerland, elite athletes – including the Swiss ski team – rely on it for optimising performance. French schoolchildren use it to help manage their emotions. And while people in continental Europe have been enjoying the benefits of sophrology for years, it’s a self-help method that’s only making its way further afield now.
Leading the way in bringing the practice to new shores is sophrologist Dominique Antiglio, founder of BeSophro. Her new book The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology – launched in the UK last year, and Spain and the US last month – is a practical guide to harnessing the mind-body connection for supercharged energy, purpose and serenity.
I’m initiated into the mysteries of the technique via a Skype session with Dominique. My immediate thought is “I want whatever she’s taking”, so palpable is her tranquility and radiant self-assurance.
We begin with a “tratak”, gazing at the tip of my thumb raised before me and slowing drawing it back between the eyebrows, crossing my eyes in the process. This draws attention inwards for the relaxing body scan which follows. Here we focus on physical sensations present in each of our six “systems” – the first being the head, face and brain; second the neck, throat and shoulders; third the chest and upper back; and so on until the lower abdomen, legs and toes. Tension is released with a “clearing breath” exercise – touching fingertips to each of the zones, inhaling and tensing, then releasing with the exhale.
I’m invited to ask “what is the resource I need? Perhaps calm or confidence, joy or gratitude”. The intention is welcomed into mind and body, as Dominique guides me to diffuse that sensation through my systems, deep into the muscles, skin, organs and bones. Things then get a little livelier, as dynamic exercises are introduced. Standing now, breathing mindfully combines with pumping the shoulders up and down, noticing the arising feelings in the body afterwards.
Next we turn to visualisation techniques, cementing positive images of specific situational outcomes into the mind’s eye – successfully delivering a presentation at work, for example. It’s like I’m already living the success, enjoying the physical sensations that arrive as a result of my achievement. Once I’ve wallowed in the vision of accomplishment for long enough, Dominique’s velvet voice brings me back to the room. I feel subtle tingles all over, energised and present, yet completely at ease.
It’s not complicated, but like anything, it needs ongoing practice to reap the rewards. In the same way that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) builds awareness around thinking patterns, Sophrology helps acknowledge and change physical feelings. The idea is that over time we can shift away from existing in negative body sensations and instead enjoy a beneficial, positive physical state. The knock-on effect is improved emotional stability and mental clarity. Also, by envisioning having already achieved a goal, the body holds on to this feeling and almost manifests the positive outcome desired as a result.
The practice also cultivates good sleep, which research shows people worldwide are drastically lacking. It helps you "evacuate physical tension, encouraging you to listen to your body, identify where the tension is held and learn to release it," according to British organisation The Sleep Council.
In today’s modern age, we’re more able to access travel, external possessions and information than ever before. But with this comes added stress and overwhelm, for which people are desperately seeking solutions. As Dominique so elegantly sums up in her book: “We live in a society that often looks for and values a quick fix for everything, and sophrology definitely gives that. Whether you are looking for a new way to holistic health or to achieve a major objective in life, sophrology can help you.”
Words: Kate Johnson