Susannah Taylor: The superpower we all need to tap into right now

Have you heard of sophrology? No? Having done a poll among my friends, not many have. It is a wellbeing and therapeutic practice that’s well known in many parts of Europe and is often described as a ‘superpower’. It may not be a big deal in the UK (yet), but in France, where there are hundreds of books on the subject, it’s considered a staple part of self-care. In Switzerland, it’s even recognised by the national health insurance and used in schools to help build resilience in children.

This is one of my body awareness exercises in which, after clenching my hands, I focus on what it feels like to relax.

Sophrology was invented in Spain in the 1960s by psychiatrist and neurologist Professor Alfonso Caycedo. It is a series of breathing, relaxation, meditation, gentle movement and visualisation exercises that help us to de-stress, focus, ground and think more positively. It was first created at a time when mental illness was treated with harsh electric shock treatment or being packed off to hospital. Intent on finding a gentler way to balance our bodies and minds, Caycedo, after studying in Japan and Tibet as well as visiting the Dalai Lama, created a programme that blended Eastern philosophy and Western science to tap into our ‘superpowers’. The aim? To help us feel harmonious, connected and, as sophrology expert Dominique Antiglio, founder of explains, ‘To become the very best version of yourself.’

Dominique first got into the practice aged 15 in Switzerland, when she became sick with unexplained illnesses and fainting. Sent to a sophrologist, she says, ‘Within a few sessions I felt well and in control of my life.’ She continues, ‘It’s a journey of 12 steps, and while you don’t have to complete them all, each level works on integrating mind, body and emotion to make you more in tune with yourself and the world around you.’ Intrigued? Then Dominique’s book The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology: Breathe and Connect With the Calm and Happy You* is a great starting point, as is her Relax, Reset and Overcome Stress online course.

But, as with anything, the best results come from being taught in person (or via Zoom). Dominique says the practice can help with stress, insomnia, anxiety, burnout, work performance and energy levels, as well as managing anger, concentration and increasing positivity. For the purpose of this piece I had some online sessions with Dominique, who first took me through some exercises to focus my mind before getting me to concentrate on my body and visualising current life goals. She took a recording of the exercises and I have been practising them for 15 minutes a day since. The results? I feel more centred, less freaked out by my to-do list and more creative. ‘Our aim,’ she says, ‘is to help people connect with themselves and stop the autopilot.’

Our bodies and minds are currently on a runaway train of digital stimulation at a time when many of us are suffering from the fallout of Covid-19. With so much confusion and fear, sophrology could well be the answer to bringing us back to the greatest, most empowering device we own – ourselves.

Get saucy in the kitchen

For me, eating healthily doesn’t mean compromising on taste. The new Saucy cookbook by Nina Parker is therefore on my Christmas gift list. It focuses on quick, fuss-free, healthy recipes brought to life by delicious sauces, dressings, marinades and pestos. Yum! £13,

For when you hibernate…

I love a hot-water bottle like a child loves a teddy bear. Add some aromatherapy and I’m in bedtime heaven. Hence I’m loving Isimi’s hot-water bottles – which come with beautiful block-printed covers – (£30, and lavender-filled eye pillows (£30). Spritz them with the included aromatherapy blend for the ultimate pre-bed routine.