Sophrology – France’s Best-Kept Secret
by Philip Carr-Gomm
Sophrology is a system designed to improve the quality of your life that has been hugely popular in France for over fifty years, and it’s just starting to cross the language barrier into the English-speaking world. I’ve recently written a book about it called Empower Your Life with Sophrology, and together with colleagues have founded the Sophrology Institute to help spread the word about its benefits.
Developed by a neuropsychiatrist, sophrology combines neuroscience with spiritual techniques drawn from yoga, mindfulness and Buddhism to offer a path of self-knowledge and the development of human potential. The simple routines that sophrology offers, combining movement with visualisation and focused breathing in short easy-to-follow exercises, are also used to address specific problems: anxiety, stress, phobias, sleep difficulties, and chronic pain. They are also used to help alleviate the symptoms of a whole range of conditions including burn-out, cancer and fibromyalgia.
I have been giving talks and running workshops and retreats focused on wellbeing for decades, and now I include sophrology in my work because it brings together so many disciplines in a simple way that works beautifully with all kinds of other therapies and spiritual practices. As an example, see how sophrology enhances the effects of the well-known metta bhavana, or Loving Kindness Meditation. Originating in Buddhism, this meditation has become a favourite in mindfulness and Positive Psychology trainings and its beneficial effects have been validated by numerous scientific studies.
One of the effects of practicing sophrology regularly is that it enables you to access your positive emotions easily, building up your confidence and trust in yourself as well as your self-compassion and self-esteem. The following exercise works directly to remedy any ’emotional void’ or lack of love for yourself that might be affecting many aspects of your life, including poor relationship decisions. Its purpose is to encourage self-compassion. Read the instructions first before carrying out the exercise, or follow it on an audio track at sophrologyguide.com:
1 Seated in a chair, close your eyes to better concentrate on yourself. Take your awareness outside the room, and see if you can hear any sounds from far away. Now move your awareness to any sounds inside the room. Then, to any sounds that you might be hearing from within your own body—such as your digestion, your heartbeat, or your breathing. After a few moments, take a deep breath in through your nose into the abdomen. Hold it for a while and then breathe out. Do this twice more.
2 Now move your attention down your body, as if you are scanning it—just sweeping your awareness slowly from the top of your head to the soles of your feet. Make this as effortless as possible. You don’t have to try to relax your muscles as you do this, although this may well happen. Just allow whatever you feel to be there, and when you have got to the soles of your feet, shift your focus of attention to being aware of your whole body.
3 Stretch your legs out and your arms up above you, or extend them in front of you, while remaining seated. Breathe in. Hold your breath, and, as you do that, tense as many of the muscles in your body as you can. When you can’t hold your breath any longer, let it all out through your mouth with a sigh, as you release the tension in your muscles, and sit back normally. Let your breathing and your body settle down for a few moments.
4 Now bring to mind someone you love, someone who makes you feel happy the moment you think of them, someone with whom you don’t have too complicated a relationship. It could even be a pet you love dearly. Allow yourself to really enjoy the warm glow that arises when you think of this person or animal. Then imagine saying to them: “I love you. May you always be healthy and happy, peaceful and full of confidence.” Feel your love radiating out to them. Now imagine them sending their love back to you. Imagine hearing them saying and feeling: “I love you. May you always be healthy and happy, peaceful and full of confidence.” Give yourself time to really receive this love.
5 Bathe in the sense of being loved. Notice how it makes your body feel, and then, retaining any feelings of warmth and well-being you are experiencing, allow your sense of the other person or animal to fade as you become aware of being seated in your chair. Let your awareness settle for a few moments, just noticing any sensations you might be experiencing in your body, and then finish the exercise with the following affirmation, as you consciously breathe in and out, deeply and slowly: “I feel a deep sense of confidence in myself; I feel harmony at every level of my being, knowing I am creating a positive future, full of happiness and well-being.” Stretch your fingers and toes, and when you feel ready, open your eyes.
If you liked that exercise, you might like to try some more. You can find a whole programme of exercises in my book, Empower Your Life with Sophrology, and they are accompanied by audio versions on the website sophrologyguide.com.