In the 1950s a Colombian-born neuropsychiatrist, Dr Alfonso Caycedo, was treating traumatised soldiers in Madrid after the war. His work with these patients led him to wonder if there might be ways of – as he put it – restoring consciousness to harmony peacefully, and he set out on a journey into traditions across the world which were known to help humans to feel more peaceful. His search took him to India, to explore yoga with its precise and conscious movement of the body – using the body to reach a state of balance in consciousness. Caycedo described yoga as ‘the oldest psychosomatic training known to man’. It took him to Tibet (where he met the Dalai Lama), to investigate Buddhism and its emphasis on meditation and mindfulness. It took him to Japan, to learn more about Japanese Zen with its koans (riddles), its cryptic thinking, its discipline, its emphasis on an understanding that lies beyond the rational. He also explored hypnosis, phenomenology, autogenic training and relaxation.
From each of these traditions he began to derive components and build them, informed by his scientific knowledge of neurology and psychology, into a series of twelve levels of exercises. He continued to refine and evolve this system for the rest of his life. Each level has a different viewpoint: Level 1 is derived from yoga and is focused on awareness of the body, being present, here and now, within your experience. We inhabit ourselves, our body, as fully as possible, noticing what is happening right now. Level 2 is inspired by Buddhist meditation and mindfulness. It takes this body awareness and builds the mind into it, focusing on seeing yourself from outside, imagining a positive future. We experience ourselves simultaneously as both watcher and experiencer, creating space within to hold the experience without identifying with it. Level 3 comes from Japanese Zen. No goals, even that of awakening, just presence and openness to paradox, mystery. I was given a koan (a Zen riddle) to contemplate as part of my training: ‘The path to enlightenment is the open-eyed man falling into the well.’ Zen says you won’t work this out with the thinking mind so don’t even try, but rather let it settle and jiggle around somewhere deeper, just bob around down there as a question. You have to not think about it, actually. Slowly little and sometimes enormous flashes of understanding bubble up to the surface. (For me, the insight of this koan was a new and vital key to unlocking another level of healing for myself, of which more at another time). So level 3 dives deep into meditation and the past – looking to bring what is positive from the past into the present and future, and to contemplate our existence and our world without judgement. Level 4 is concerned with values, and what we want to stand for in this world, what matters to us, what we are here to do, our purpose. There are 12 levels in all, but the last half-dozen or so are mainly for the self-development of the Sophrologist: clients will experience mainly levels 1 to 4.
This is some of the detail. But the work does not, fortunately, depend on understanding this, or even believing it – Sophrology does not require any particular belief system to be effective. So you don’t have to be Buddhist, or into meditation or yoga, or a student of Zen. You don’t have to be religious or even spiritual. What these are, are practices distilled from eastern traditions and combined with western science. You can come at this from a deeply spiritual point of view, or not at all. Or somewhere in between. The work, if you want it to, will engage with you exactly where you are. More of this at a later date.
So Sophrology is a set of tools for daily living.
It is also an effective method in a wide variety of contexts. Here are some of the places where you will find the work of Sophrologists in large parts of Europe:
- Hospitals: helping with cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, or those on dialysis, or those about to have operations or schedules of treatment
- Prisons: helping with mental health and wellbeing
- Hospices: working with those approaching the end of life, and their relatives
- Antenatal clinics: preparing women (and their partners) for birth and life after the baby
- Sleep clinics: helping those with insomnia or sleep disorders
- Schools and universities: helping students with exam preparation and anxiety
- Schools: helping with the wellbeing of children
- Theatres and concert halls: helping performers with stage fright
- Corporate: public speaking, presentations, interviews, wellbeing
- Sports clubs: enhancing performance of athletes at all levels – including elite
- Private practice: working with clients on a wide range of issues – pain management, chronic illness, PTSD, stress and anxiety, burn out and exhaustion, sleep issues, general wellbeing
So that’s a bit more about the what and the where. Thanks again for reading! Until next time.
Wishing you peace.