Sophrology is wonderful for children. There is mindfulness, from which they derive the scientifically-evidenced benefits of noticing their experience and being present to themselves. There is meditation, through which they begin to access the beautiful quiet space behind our personal thinking; to sense the vastness of themselves, the connection. There is movement, so young restless bodies can relax and meditate while moving rather than having to be unnaturally still. There is visualisation, so vivid young imaginations can roam freely finding their own strengths and solutions. And there are practical tools for anxiety, which can be drawn out of their toolbox at any moment of need. Indeed children often ‘get’ Sophrology very quickly as it operates at a meta-cognitive level, working both gently and strongly on their still-instinctive sense of innate health and wisdom. They don’t overthink it, in other words. Very young children particularly live in that silence that comes before the noise of our own personal thinking. The voice in our head that’s always talking with ideas and beliefs, shoulds, judgements. Watch young children – especially when they’re very little – and you will see how they are fully present to life without ideas about life, without ideas about themselves: they’re just experiencing directly without judgement. Then we get older and the voice in our head becomes a constant presence –at best a background hum, at worst an inner scream. However, if our personal thinking quietens down we naturally reconnect with that state of pure being. And it turns out that it feels really good to be free of judgements. The Dalai Lama said ‘Love is just the absence of judgement’. Take away all the judgements in a person’s mind and you’ll have someone who is experiencing love. Sophrology is one thing – among many others – that can serve to facilitate this remembering of who we really are. In truth I think that’s what we’re all seeking to return to, no matter how old we are.
My own children are 14, 11 and 9, and I have been using Sophrology with each of them over the past few months, with very interesting results. Their stories are not mine to tell, but I can speak more generally to the different stages of childhood and how – I think – Sophrology can be helpful. Today I shall focus on younger, pre-teen children.
“I was much further out than you thought. And not waving, but drowning.”
Stevie Smith, Not Waving but Drowning
Anxiety and mental health issues are on the rise, we hear everywhere, and our children are on the front line. Mental health services for children have been decimated in recent years. Here in Suffolk we watched as a scythe was taken to children’s services when austerity began to bite a few years ago. No services at all anymore for ADHD, for example. Waiting lists of months and years to access assessment and support. Financially stricken schools unable to meet the needs of their children. Parents shouting in the wind. We wait until children are actually drowning, and ignore the little souls desperately treading water or starting to bob under.
Our children are a complex blend of their genes and their environment: I heard a geneticist recently say that nature loads the gun, while nurture pulls the trigger. I did a training in child and adolescent psychotherapy at Cambridge University a couple of years ago, and I wholly endorse play therapy and specialist counselling for those who need it. It is such skilled and important work. Sophrology can sit very comfortably in support of this. But sometimes, at other levels of suffering, we don’t want to pathologise a phase. Then Sophrology offers a gentle, indirect way of strengthening the child, of building a sense of their own resources and a growing resilience. We acknowledge that things are hard at the moment, and then set about building them up to cope with that and move through it. Strengthening the glass, as I said in a previous post. Always reinforcing the positive. We work with body awareness to relax tension and connect them back to themselves in a calmer state. Then we suggest that the mind is not in charge here, but rather we have an awareness that sits behind it – we build in some space between them and their anxiety. Anxious heads are such crammed, claustrophobic places: we desperately need more space inside. Then visualisation uses their imagination to bring in all the things they know would help them. We leave them with their toolbox: their breathing awareness and exercises; their dynamic relaxation exercises; their visualisations of what they need. Any one of these can be brought out at a moment’s notice and practised wherever they find themselves. In the toilet, in the playground, in the classroom. In addition Sophrology uses what Caycedo called ‘the capacities’ to identify the many different resources that we all have within us. The three principle ones (though there are many others we can work with) are confidence – in yourself, in life; harmony – between body and mind, in your life in general; and hope for a positive future. Each session concludes with reinforcement of these inner resources, at first just pointing towards them within us – suggesting that they might be there, and then over time enlarging and strengthening them. Throughout this process children are deepening their relationship with themselves, befriending themselves, really. Because self-hatred can start so young: if little minds and bodies feel they are not coping they turn the blame not outwards onto a difficult world, but inwards onto themselves. I’m rubbish, I can’t do this, I’m worse than everyone else, this is my fault.
Of course this applies to us all, no matter how old we are. Inside is still that child.
I know of a Sophrologist who has been working with primary school children in London; whole groups of them between the ages of 5 and 10. You can imagine the chaos! There are flashing balls of light, blowing into bags, bubbles. They draw pictures afterwards of the feelings and sensations that came up. Wonderful strengthening work while having what undoubtedly feels like fun. With my own children, I have used it at night to help them relax when worries about the day just passed or the day ahead are jiggling around in them, and it has worked swiftly and effectively – often within minutes. I guide them with some conscious breathing and a body scan (which is often enough), and if necessary sow seeds of strength and resilience or peace and harmony through a brief meditation. But most of the time they’re snoring before that point! We have also done fast targeted sessions lasting a couple of minutes in the car outside the school: I am worried about x, and I need y. Eyes open, chaos all around us, we breathe in the resources that they need to get out of the car. They pick up their bags, little burdened turtles, and walk through the gate with a calmer, stronger sense of themselves, and their own ability to cope. Because that is what this is all about: not my resilience, but yours; not my strength, but yours; not my insight, but yours. You, my child, have everything within you that you need.
Well that’s it for now – thank you for reading! Next time teenagers, as they’re a special group with particular needs.
Wishing you – and the children in your lives – peace.