Sophrology, a successful breathing-focused relaxation method, can really help.
Americans are stressed out now more than ever. A 2017 report by the American Psychological Association found that “71 percent of [survey] participants said they suffered from at least one stress symptom in the prior month. That rose to 80 percent last month.” Meanwhile, “about one-third of Americans reported symptoms like headaches (34 percent) or feeling nervous or anxious (33 percent),” US News reported.
Stress is here to stay. But we can find new tools to counter its effects and reclaim peace and relaxation through an approach called sophrology.
Sophrology is a set of relaxation techniques developed by Spanish psychiatrist Alfonso Caycedo to help traumatized war victims. It is such an effective means of reducing anxiety that it is recognized in the United Kingdom; many Swiss hospitals also use it to prepare patients for surgery and childbirth.
What is sophrology?
Sophrology is a gentle method that allows us to achieve mental relaxation through a deep relaxation of the body.
It’s more difficult to relax the mind directly; trying to reduce stress with just willpower or determination does not work very well and can cause even more anxiety. The principle of sophrology is thus to relax the brain through the body, using techniques such as breathing or dynamic movements.
How can sophrology combat stress?
Sophrology helps us to live in the present moment, which in itself can reduce stress. Deep breathing stimulates the release of a hormone called acetylcholine (a stress-reducing hormone), which in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system. As the body releases itself from its tensions, the mind also begins to relax.
Many sophrology techniques make it possible to regain serenity. For example, anchors associate a gesture with the relaxed state, so that a person under stress can regain that state of relaxation. Visualizations, in which the person imagines himself in a situation before it happens, are also powerful. When preparing for exams or a sports competition, for example, we should visualize that we are succeeding and doing well, all while relaxing the body. The brain thinks that it really happened, and will be less stressed during the event.
3 exercises to learn sophrology at home
Sophorology experts Alexia Cordier and Rachel Rey advise starting with this basic exercise, which is very effective for mothers who are always on the run. While sitting or lying down, put your hands on your belly and inhale deeply through the nose, feeling your hands rise with your breath. Then exhale slowly through the mouth, noticing how your hands fall with the movement of the belly. Repeat 10 times at your own pace.
This exercise consists of gradually relaxing all the parts of the body, explains Alexia Cordier. While sitting or lying down, begin by relaxing all the muscles of the face, the neck, the shoulders, and so on down to the feet. Once this is done, “lengthen your exhales,” which means concentrating on your breathing, with longer and longer exhales.
After doing one of the two previous exercises, visualize a pleasant landscape that gives you a good feeling. This can be a vacation landscape or an imaginary landscape, but it must generate a sense of well-being. Visualize it for about 30 seconds, just staying in contact with this image. It sounds simple, but it produces a lot of relaxation, according to Alexia Cordier.
Translated and adapted from an article originally published in the French Edition of Aleteia.