The Wellness Technique Designed to Help Reduce Stress
Research shows that by altering your breathing you can eliminate stress, increase your energy levels and reduce your blood pressure
Breathing is part of life, right? It delivers oxygen into your bloodstream and helps remove carbon dioxide. So far, so good. But breathwork, or deep breathing, is a long way from our normal in and out breathing where minimal or no effort is involved. It involves the entire body, your chest and diaphragm, your tummy, your back and importantly your mind.
Many of us breathe ineffectively, and stress and anxiety can further impinge on our breathing as stress leads to tension, which leads to restricted breathing, reduced oxygen, increased carbon dioxide and more stress on the body. It’s a vicious circle.
With many of us working from an office or having jobs that require us to sit down, our posture suffers. Bad posture also restricts your breathing, and as your body becomes aware of this, it creates more stress within the body.
However, the good news is that the physical benefits of deep breathing are immediate; your heart rate slows, so does your blood pressure, neck and chest muscles relax and your body can absorb more oxygen into vital cells and organs.
Add to that a combination of increased body awareness, and gentle movements and you have something called sophrology, created more than 40 years ago by Spanish neuropsychiatrist Professor Alfonso Caycedo, who was searching for an effective way to help traumatised victims of the Spanish Civil War.
After travelling to the Far East to study zen and yoga techniques, Professor Caycedo began to develop a technique known as sophropolgy, which aims to harmonise the body and the mind.
‘Sophrology is a guided practice for the mind and body,’ explains Dominique Antiglio, author of The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology. ‘Using breathing techniques, gentle movement, relaxation and visualisation, a sophrologist will take you through a simple sequence of exercises helping you to connect with a sense of calm.’ The technique helps to create space between your feelings and your reactions, allowing you to distance yourself from negative thoughts and experiences.
This wellness trend is widely used in European hospitals, offered on maternity wards and to those being treated for sleep disorders as a way of reducing stress. ‘You are learning to tap into your inner resources to help you sleep better, deal positively with emotions, overcome anxiety or prepare for big events like exams, surgery, childbirth or a competition. You can also use sophrology to cultivate a sense of wellbeing, balance and positivity in your daily life,’ Dominique explains.
Sophrology is widely practised in European schools to prepare children before stressful exams, to help improve concentration and behaviour. In fact, sophrology is so popular that there are multiple sophrology training schools in Europe, including one in the UK. There have even been rumours that the French rugby team are fans of the practice, using it to boost their pre-match concentration.
Unlike other wellness trends, sophrology doesn’t involve downloading an app, listening to relaxing sounds, or splashing out on the latest gadgets. All it requires is a few minutes of your day to spend on varying breathing techniques and some simple body movements.
‘Sophrology always starts by being guided through a body scan, where you focus on individual sections of your body, so you can relax and connect with your body and mind. Often the breath is used to release tensions by consciously exhaling tensions from each region of the body,’ explains Dominique.
‘You may then be asked to gently engage with some standing movements like turning your head, or stretching your arms above your head, combined with retaining air for a few seconds. These simple moves are great to help you be more in tune with your body and also help your mind to focus,’ Dominique continues.
‘Going back to sitting, you may be guided through a positive visualisation in relation to an event you are preparing, or a sense of confidence you want to stimulate. The alternation of standing and sitting exercises, where you move or consciously pause, are all designed to help you let go of tension, calm, and positively connect.’
Sophrology is a useful a tool to fight anxiety over future events. By visualising something in the future, your body and mind can prepare for what it might be like, giving you more confidence and reducing anxiety by tricking the mind into believing it’s already experienced the event.
‘After a session, you are usually calmer and more grounded,’ explains Dominique. ‘A lot of my clients report feeling lighter, more empowered and in control or being able to fall asleep faster. As you learn to decrease the stress in your body and manage it better, sophrology will bring whole range of benefits to the mind and body, like balancing your energy levels, finding more motivation and being more productive, and dealing with life in a different way.’
Sophrology doesn’t have to be practised everyday, but is more beneficial when practiced regularly. Once you become used to the techniques, it can easily be incorporated into your morning or evening routine. ‘I am encouraging people to practice daily, even for 10 minutes. Those 10 minutes you take to positively connect with yourself and find inner strength are, over time, giving you access to new possibilities within and in your life,’ says Dominique.
For those who practice sophrology regularly, there are 12 progressive levels to work through, tackling different issues from understanding your body to focusing energy and tuning into your new found freedom. Whether you choose to incorporate a few simple breathing techniques into your routine, or fancy trying out all 12 levels, sophrology could be the key to a stress-free life.
Inhale. Bring your arms out in front of you with clenched fists.
Hold your breath, tense all your muscles and acknowledge the tension you feel.
Exhale. Release your body and acknowledge the sensation of relaxation. Repeat as many times as needed until you feel relaxed.
How To Breathe Better
• Fix your posture. Sit up and keep your shoulders back so you can create the space your diaphragm needs to breathe effectively.
• You need to breathe using your diaphragm, not just your chest. To know if you are breathing properly lie on your back, place a hand on your tummy and breathe in and out. Your hand should move up and down as your diaphragm expands and contracts. Not feeling it? You are not breathing deeply enough and are letting your chest do all the work.
• The counting method is a tried and tested way of reducing immediate stress and tension, and it will help you get to sleep too. Close your eyes, breath in for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four and then let the breath go to a count of seven. Keep going until you feel calmer (or you are asleep!).