We have welcomed mindfulness so wholeheartedly into our collective wellbeing consciousness that there are now more than 1,300 mindful apps to choose from. In busy cities, you’re never more than six words away from mindfulness. However, modern life dictates that when something reaches saturation point, it must be replaced by something new. So pause Headspace and allow us to introduce “sophrology”.
In Switzerland and France, sophrology is already widely offered to students at school or university as a way to acquire life and stress-management skills. Celebrity fans include Arianna Huffington and French tennis player Stéphane Robert. The French rugby team reportedly used sophrology while training for the last World Cup.
The self-development technique uses mental and physical exercises to try to achieve an alert mind in a relaxed body. It combines meditation, breathing and relaxation techniques with gentle movement and visualisation. As with mindfulness, it doesn’t require complicated postures, large amounts of time each day or expensive gym kit.
Dominique Antiglio is the founder of BeSophro, which teaches the practice. She is releasing her first book, The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology, in April. “If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, have difficulty sleeping or are burnt out, just one session of sophrology can help you feel calmer, more in control, relaxed and more able to let go,” she says. “The more you practise, the more results you get.”
An example of a sophrology exercise is to close your eyes, breathe in, and hold your breath for a few seconds while tensing up all the muscles in your body. Then, as you exhale, release all the muscles and let go, allowing the body and mind to slow down. Sophrology was developed in Spain in 1960 by neuropsychiatrist Prof Alfonso Caycedo. He spent decades exploring yoga, Tibetan Buddhist meditation, hypnosis and Japanese Zen to find the best way to enable people to work on their levels of consciousness. His resulting philosophy sits at the crossroads between western relaxation and eastern meditation. In an admirably prescient bid to appeal to the meme generation, he called the technique “learning to live”.
Over the past 57 years, sophrology has been adopted across Europe as a therapy and a personal development technique. Now, the trend is rapidly migrating to Britain. A recent study by Kent Business School found sophrology had a positive impact on employees’ physical and mental health, and more research is under way. Although there aren’t any English sophrology-specific apps yet, there are plenty in French. One of the most popular is Sophrologie Avec Petit BamBou, with the catchy tagline “feel very bien”.
With so many of us are living such frazzled lives, the global wellness industry is now worth £2.6tn. Sophrology looks set to be the next buzzword answer to all our problems – until another solution comes along, at least.
The Guardian, Nov 12th 2017.