A modern blend of yoga, Zen Buddhism, hypnosis and psychology, it’s huge on the continent and it’s on its way here
Mindfulness is the tried-and-tested tool of our times for anxiety, depression, chronic pain, addiction and more, but what if it’s not your thing? For those too twitchy to sit still and focus on breathing, the ubiquitous mindfulness apps, self-help sheets and courses in schools and workplaces are little more than totems of uselessness. But you wouldn’t have this problem if you lived in France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland or Portugal, because you’d be doing sophrology instead. It’s the dynamic mindfulness alternative, popular on the continent. The French rugby team and media-magnate-turned-wellbeing-guru Arianna Huffington swear by this westernised amalgamation of yoga, Tibetan Buddhism, Japanese Zen, hypnosis, psychology and neurology. And it’s becoming increasingly accessible in the UK, through group (or more costly one-to-one) sessions, and now via a new book with accompanying online audio guides.
Sophrology isn’t dynamic enough to warrant a shower afterwards, but even closing your eyes to start a session comes with an action that zaps you into relaxation mode and zooms your attention into the body. At my first appointment with the Swiss-British sophrologist and author of The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology, Dominique Antiglio, she tells me to hold a thumb at arm’s length in front of my face, inhale and look at it as I slowly draw it to between my eyebrows, at which point my eyes involuntarily close as I audibly exhale, as though to blow my mental cobwebs away. “It’s quite funny,” she warned me before she demonstrated it, her eyes crossing as they tracked her thumb, but it’s also a surprisingly powerful start to the 15-minute guided practice.