Sophrology is a dynamic relaxation method developed by neuropsychiatrist Alfonso Caycedo from 1960 to 2001 and includes physical and mental exercises to promote health and well-being. Sophrology has been called “a method, a practice and a philosophy” that uses the mind-body connection to increase awareness and conscious living, with the aim of enabling individuals to create more balance and harmony in themselves and in the world around them.
The influences on Sophrology include phenomenology, hypnosis, yoga, Tibetan Buddhism meditation, Japanese Zen meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, psychology, neurology, and the method created contains a set of exercises that combine breathing and relaxation techniques, gentle movement, creative visualisation, meditation, and mindfulness.
It claims beneficial uses in a number of areas ranging from self-development to well-being although there are limited studies to scientifically validate the beneficial effects, quantitative or qualitative, claimed by the Sophrology method.
The word Sophrology comes from three Ancient Greek words σῶς / sos ("harmony"), φρήν / phren ("mind"), and -λογία / logos ("study, science") and means “the study of the consciousness in harmony” or "the study of the healthy consciousness".
Western roots (1960 – 1963)
Professor Alfonso Caycedo (1932 – 2017) a neuropsychiatrist (doctor, psychiatrist, and neurologist) of Spanish Basque origin was born in Bogota, Colombia, in 1932 and studied medicine in Spain. Caycedo began his medical career at the Provincial Hospital of Madrid administering electric shock therapy and insulin induced comas to patients at the hospital and was unsettled by the severity of these treatments. He then set out to find a way of healing depressed and traumatised clients by leading them to an improved quality of life with the least possible use of drugs and psychiatric treatments.
This led Caycedo to study human consciousness and the means of varying its states and levels. He studied clinical hypnosis, Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology and the relaxation techniques of Edmund Jacobson’s progressive relaxation, Johannes Heinrich Schultz’s autogenic training. From Jacobson’s technique, Caycedo mainly kept the idea of differential relaxation, the ability to reduce anxiety by relaxing muscular tension using only the minimum muscle tension necessary for an action and without additional suggestion or psychotherapy; muscular relaxation is sufficient for mental relaxation or harmony. With Schultz’s technique, Caycedo was inspired by the human ability to achieve relaxation by visualisation alone.
Originally Caycedo based the new method on hypnosis although due to the reception to hypnosis he created the term “Sophrology” in October 1960 and in December 1960 he opened the first department of clinical Sophrology in the Santa Isabel Hospital in Madrid.
Phenomenology (1963 – 1964)
Between 1963 and 1964, Caycedo moved to Switzerland and worked under the psychiatrist and phenomenologist Ludwig Binswanger at the Bellevue Clinic In Kreuzlingen and was very much influenced by his work.
Eastern roots (1965 – 1968)
In 1963, Caycedo married a French yoga enthusiast. Intrigued by the works of yoga and encouraged by Binswanger, Caycedo travelled to India and Japan from 1965 to 1968 where he studied yoga, Tibetan Buddhist meditation and Japanese Zen. He approached each discipline, theory and philosophy with the intention of discovering what, exactly, improved people's health, both physically and mentally. In India, he discovered Raja Yoga in the ashram of Swami Anandanand and Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga. He then travelled to Dharamsala to study Tibetan Buddhism and to meet the Dalai Lama. Lastly, he went to Japan to learn Zen in several monasteries.
Spain, Colombia, Andorra (1968 – 2017)
In 1968, on his return from his travels in India and Japan, Caycedo settled in Barcelona, Spain, where he started expanding Sophrology and created the first three levels of what he called Dynamic Relaxation. Caycedo initiated a Sophrology group work in Paris and spread the word at scientific conferences in Spain, Switzerland and Belgium. From then on, Sophrology started to move away from clinical hypnosis and concentrated more on body work and the presence of the body in the mind. His idea was to help the Western mind use Eastern methods in a simple way, leaving aside the philosophy and religion, with the aim of enabling people to experience new ways of working on their levels of consciousness.
In 1970, at the first International Sophrology Conference, he said that Sophrology was born from his studies on human consciousness. Sophrology is both philosophy and a way of life, as well as a therapy and a personal development technique. He later said that Sophrology is “learning to live”.
In 1985, while in Colombia, Caycedo created the fourth level of Dynamic Relaxation and the “social” branch of Sophrology.
In 1988, Caycedo moved to Andorra and created the concept of Caycedian Sophrology which he later trademarked.
In 1992, Caycedo started the following levels and created a master's degree.
By 2001, Caycedo had completed the twelve levels, or twelve degrees, of Caycedian Dynamic Relaxation (CDR) and their specific techniques.
In Switzerland, Raymond Abrezol (1931 – 2010), a Swiss dentist, discovered Sophrology and brought it to the attention of the general public.
After finishing his Sophrology studies in 1965, Abrezol helped two friends improve their performance, one in tennis and the other in skiing, using Sophrology. In 1967, a national ski coach asked Abrezol to train four ski athletes for the Grenoble Winter Olympic Games of 1968. Three won Olympic medals, the only Swiss athletes to win medals at the Games that year, and they revealed their Sophrology training to the press. This led to Abrezol to train other athletes in sailing, boxing, cycling, tennis, water polo, golf, and other sports and athletes coached by Abrezol won over 200 Olympic medals between 1967 and 2004.
Following this success, Sophrology grew rapidly throughout the French-speaking world. Abrezol ran training programmes for a large number of doctors and sports coaches, many of whom then ran Training Centres throughout France. Although initially used only in medicine, Abrezol’s success with athletes opened doors for Sophrology to be taught in many areas of life from sports to education, the arts, well-being in the corporate world, and other disciplines.
- Sophrology doesn’t concentrate on the problem itself but on the inner resources and positive elements of the individual. The assumption is that positive action on consciousness starts a positive chain reaction. According to Pascal Gautier, "Through an everyday practice, Sophrology aims at harmony in human beings: quite a feat! In practice, it does not mean seeing life through pink-tinted glasses but putting an end to an unrealistic or negative vision of life to see things as they are (as much as possible) and reinforce whatever positive we have in us."
- Be free from judgement - awareness of any judgement, either of others or of ourselves, and adopting a non-judgemental attitude.
- As if for the first time - having a "beginner's mind", looking at the world with a child’s mind, and taking it in without using our previous knowledge or experiences.
Other key concepts
- Put in brackets - accepting reality around us and others as they are, without any ready-made ideas, beliefs, or assumptions.
- Repeatedly noticing aliveness - continuing to notice body sensations and consciousness as we are experiencing them.
- Sophrology is about better understanding the body, about knowing oneself better, knowing one’s limits and accepting oneself, feeling fully alive here and now and living in good health in harmony between body and mind.
Sophrology use has been indicated in the following areas:
- Stress management
- Sleep improvement
- Exam preparation – in Switzerland and France Sophrology is offered to students in schools to help with exam preparation and exam stress.
- Sports performance – athletes coached by Abrezol between 1967 and 2004 won over 200 Olympic medals; it has reportedly been used by the French rugby team; it has been used by the Swiss Clay Pigeon Shooting champions to train for the European Championships 2012
- “Meditation alternatives for people who can’t sit still”
- Preparing for a specific event
- Birth preparation
- In Japanese popular culture, Sophrology (ソフロロジー) is known as a relaxation method for childbirth (ソフロロジー分娩法).
Limited scientific validity of the beneficial effects
There are limited studies to scientifically validate the beneficial effects, quantitative or qualitative, claimed by the Sophrology method.
In 2004, the French Ministry of Health assessed that “To date, no serious study having been carried out in this direction on sophrology, this activity cannot be considered as a therapeutic method to be promoted”.
Divergence from Caycedian Sophrology
To protect the method that he created, Caycedo trademarked “Caycedian Sophrology” while the word “Sophrology” remains copyright free. The drift from the original method, as developed by Caycedo, means that today a distinction exists between “Caycedian Sophrology” and “Sophrology”, with non-Caycedian training schools offering potentially adulterated versions of the method.
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