What Is Sophrology?
While it sounds like something you can major in at a liberal arts college, sophrology is actually a collection of mental and physical practices to consciously calm down and get focused.
"The idea is not so much to help people relax, but moreso to become more fully aware." —Florence Parot
"It's a mind-body technique that helps with stress and sleep management," says Florence Parot, director and founder of The Sophrology Academy in the United Kingdom. "It's inspired by yoga, meditation, tai chi, and even a little bit of hypnotherapy," Parot explains. "The idea is not so much to help people relax, but moreso to become more fully aware of what they're doing and how they're doing it"
So, instead of a totally disciplined, totally strict technique, sophrology presents a hodgepodge of different methods that, when properly prescribed, can leave you feeling focused, zen, and refreshed.
What Does That *Actually* Mean?
Devised in the 1960s by a Spanish neuro-psychiatrist, sophrology has four core practices: Breathing, visualization, focusing exercises, and dynamic relaxation with movement. "You're really paying attention to what is happening in your body, how you feel, and being fully present," Parot summarizes.
If you can't sit still and clear all the thoughts out of your mind, sophrology could be right for you.
Unlike many of the practices sophrology has drawn inspiration from, there is no one way every person should go about applying sophrology—it's much more flexible than other focusing techniques like meditation. So, if you can't sit still and clear all the thoughts out of your mind, sophrology could be right for you. All you need to do is figure out the task at hand, the solution you're seeking, and then you can utilize movement, visualization, focus, and/or breathing to get the results you want.
How Do You Do It?
The driving factor behind sophrology is an effort to cultivate mindfulness. "We have a whole panel of tools that are quite flexible, so you can find what works for you," says Parot. "It really is something you can do whilst going on with your life." Specific sophrology techniques can be prescribed by a trained sophrologist, but basic exercises can be practiced by anyone. Plus, as the practice gains popularity worldwide, guided exercises become more accessible on websites like sophrologycenteronline.com.
Ready to try it yourself? Here are four exercises that can help you feel centered.
If You Need to Fall Asleep
Ending insomnia can be as simple as breathing. Take deep inhales and exhales, filling your lungs and emptying them each time. Start to count your breaths at a comfortable pace to keep the rhythm. Continue counting until you fall asleep or you become so relaxed that you no longer need to count. "It's a really soothing breathing technique," says Parot. "If it doesn't work at first, don't pressure yourself. It's more efficient the more you do it."
If You Need Some Motivation to Get to the Gym
Daydreaming that you can do more than five push-ups in a row can actually help you to do more than five push-ups in a row—seriously! "We do quite a fair number of visualization techniques with athletes," says Parot. Whether you're prepping to go to the gym for the first time in months or getting ready for a big game, she suggests to visualize yourself doing that action, imagining what it looks and feels like. "There's a little part of our brains that believes any image we put there even though the conscious brain knows it's not true," she says. "Imagining a physical performance may unlock some things that were preventing the athlete from going one step further."
If You Just Can't Focus
When you're zoning out, a focusing technique can keep you from procrastinating. Close your eyes and imagine an object—any object!—in front of you. Imagine yourself looking at the object and touching the object, attuning yourself to that single item. When you feel centered, open your eyes and tackle the task at hand. "This exercise helps a lot with becoming completely focused on the goal you're trying to achieve," says Parot.
If You're Feeling Sluggish
You don't have to get up and do 10 jumping jacks. You just need to be attuned to your own body. "When you're feeling stressed or sluggish, you could try counting your breaths, or you could just stretch your body in a way that feels good. Sometimes we stand up in different poses, but you can also adjust your posture and become more aware of your body while seated," says Parot. "Sophrology is a very practical mix of different things that you can adapt to everyday life."