If you stop and think about it, you’ll likely agree that we live in a pretty phenomenal age. With incredible technology at our fingertips and promises of increased efficiency in nearly every lifestyle aspect, what could we possibly have to complain about, right? Only, we’re seeing an array of health epidemics at an all-time high. From obesity and heart disease to anxiety and depression, what’s going wrong?
Our multi-trillion dollar wellness industry is ever-booming, but I wonder how beneficial it can truly be to practice yoga or meditation for 30 minutes a day (if you’re lucky) when you spend the rest of it in stark contrast, working yourself to the bone. Can that 30 minutes undo all the anxiety that has brewed in the meantime? Much like yo-yo dieting, how good is this for our overall mental health? Can we really expect 30 minutes of downtime a day to compensate for 8 or more hours of stress-inducing madness? I think not and this is where sophrology comes into play.
Sophrology is the practice of perfecting an alert mind in a relaxed body. The dream, really. Imagine not having to yo-yo between on-the-verge-of-tears and tranquil goddess, but instead striving for balance and ultimately, equilibrium.
I understand that even those of us working in our dream careers encounter stress. It’s really just a part of life. And one that it’s pointless trying to fight. Accepting the hustle and bustle and learning how to work with it rather than in resistance to it is what will be your savior.
Sophrology was developed in the 1960’s by neuro-psychiatrist Alfonso Caycedo. Columbian Caycedo was working in Spain when he coined the term as an alternative to hypnosis which was seen as a little bit out there and magical. His aim was to develop a means of helping the depressed and traumatized live their lives with joy and focus on natural healing through lifestyle practices rather than medical “assistance.”
During his career in the 1960’s, he traveled to India and Japan, working with yogis and Zen practitioners alike, learning about their theories and disciplines. He wanted to see what it was that improved health and wellbeing and if he could create a practice of his own to live by and teach others. Over the last half a century, the sophrology community has grown tremendously, and it is now used worldwide to better the wellbeing of those who use the relaxation, breathing, visualization and simple movements incorporated in this “way of life.”
Unlike meditation, which requires allocated time, space, quiet (yoga pants, incense, wind chimes, etc…) the idea with sophrology is that it’s incorporated into your everyday activities. It’s as much a part of your life as eating, sleeping and reading the morning news. Here are three practices you can try today:
Dark Cloud – Traditionally used to aid insomnia, this technique is also some seriously excellent self-care to incorporate into your survival kit if you have a habit of beating yourself up. Here it is both ways:
Insomnia: If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep and reading a book won’t cut it, try the Dark Cloud technique. Lie on your back and focus on how each part of your body feels under the covers, working from toes upwards. Think about the sensation of the fabrics against your skin, consciously relax the muscles and by the time you get to your head, you’ll be hyper aware of all the thoughts whizzing around your mind. Spend a few moments observing these and then take a steady, deep inhale to “collect” them all, exhaling them out through your mouth while visualizing them as a dark cloud dissipating into the air. Do this a few times if you feel inclined.
Self-loathing: If you are in the habit of looking in the mirror and seeing only bad things, you can use this exercise to help work on your self-confidence by reconnecting with your body. Run the shower, then hop in and while you’re in there close your eyes and run your hands over the part of your body that you just can’t seem to accept about yourself. Think about what it does for you. Is it your nose? Think about your favorite perfume that you wouldn’t be able to enjoy if you didn’t have your nose. Is it your tummy? Thank it for digesting your favorite foods. Is it your thighs? Appreciate the way they carry you from A to B. Exhale all negative thoughts as a dark cloud. See the beauty in the biology and over time your focus will drift away from self-loathing and towards sheer marvel at just how incredible the human body is.
Big Flame – Catch your flame before it burns out. Rather than leaving it hours before taking a break, by which point you’re likely feeling frazzled, get into the habit of taking 30 seconds every half an hour to close your eyes, place your hands on your belly (solar plexus) and imagine your inhales as taking in energy and your exhales as blowing air onto your inner fire. I’m always amazed at how this revitalizes me and perks me up again. Seriously, visualize starting a fire within your belly and feel how it energizes you.
Open Heart – If you struggle with feeling confident in the workplace, practice heart expansion whenever you have a spare moment. To do this, sit upright in your chair, and place your hands on your lower back, as though you’re placing them on your hips but further round on your back. Your pinkies will almost meet in the middle of your back. Rub your kidneys for 30 seconds. In Chinese Medicine, the kidneys are closely linked to fear. Giving them a good rub will warm them up and help fear dissipate. This position also represents an open body language that will trick you into feeling more confident. When we’re shy, nervous or embarrassed, we have a tendency to close ourselves off: arms crossed, shoulders hunched and head down. Practice an open heart and the reminder to sit tall with your shoulders relaxed will be on its way to becoming habit.
Do you practice sophrology? What are your favorite techniques?
Also by Kat: How to Break Free from Your Life’s Story
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