It was Friday on week two of lockdown, yawning after yet another sleepless night, that I hit my first quarantine wall. Panicky tears threatened to form while I typed at my desk (read: kitchen table in a crowded flat share) as I wondered when I’d finally settle into the cheery, productive working-from-home routine all my peers seemed to be enjoying on Instagram.
A friend has taken up painting! Everyone I know is running a 5k! So why was I struggling to adjust so much, especially when I still had so much to be thankful for in the current circumstances? My flatmates spent the weekend on rowdy House Party calls that I seemed to lack the energy for, while I stayed in bed binging Tiger King and ignoring WhatsApps. I was exercising and eating well, but consistent sleep evaded me and I had rising levels of claustrophobia and anxiety over the perceived loss of 'control' in my life during lockdown. Finally, on the Sunday evening, a lightbulb went off in my brain, and I remembered sophrology.
A while back, I went for a one-on-one session with sophrologist and author Dominique Antiglio at her BeSophro clinic in London, and she introduced me to a wellness practice that I had never heard of before (quite impressive, given that I’m a millennial who is constantly bombarded with wellness mania on IG). She showed me sophrology, a form of “dynamic meditation” that uses a combination of breathing techniques, movement, visualisation and grounding.
If you’re thinking that sounds like a load of Goop-y Gwyneth Paltrow speak, bear with me – it’s basically meditation for people who hate meditation. And I would absolutely put myself in that category – sitting still in the silence fills me with a buzzing, anxious energy that makes me want to jump out of my skin.
But Dominique explains why it's so important to make time for these moments of calm in our day - especially at the moment: “One of the best techniques to overcome coronavirus-related stress is to make the effort to stay in the present moment, the reason being that a lot of this stress focuses on the unknown and uncertainty. Once the mind latches onto these fears, thoughts can escalate very quickly, causing unnecessary stress."
So what is dynamic meditation, anyhow? It combines what you would traditionally think of meditation (sitting still, breathing deeply), with gentle movements and visualisation techniques, so that you're not sitting with your legs crossed the entire time. For example, you might place your fingertips on certain parts of your body (like your throat) while you hold deep breaths and focus on relaxing that part of your body. Or you might use rapid arm motions to "build tension" in the body, and then do a forceful exhale once you stop moving to expel stress. Your "routine" won't necessarily look the same every time, so it stays fresh.
Of course, everyone has been impacted uniquely by coronavirus - and people's anxieties, financial circumstances, and available free time will all look very different from person to person. But this is one wellness method that doesn't have to require hours of your time, or drain money from your account if you don't want it to. You can begin with 5 minutes, or maybe 15 minutes, and can access free online resources.
Sophrology in practice
In my session with Dominique, she spent half an hour asking me about my lifestyle, stress levels and triggers, and how I look after myself. It was almost like a mini-therapy session, talking through it all in her cosy Mayfair office. Then she recorded a 13 minute introductory session with me, so that I could download it at home and practice it daily.
My session involved breathing exercises with gentle movements, such as placing your fingertips on your throat, then chest, then stomach while you breathe deeply. The most strenuous movement, if you could call it that, involved standing up, taking a deep breath and holding it, and pumping your arms up and down very quickly at your sides, to “build tension.” I felt silly doing it, but when I finally exhaled and stopped moving my arms, I felt the entire day’s strain swiftly leave my body. It felt like I had just taken a 10-hour nap on a cloud, while snuggling a puppy, with Harry Styles singing lullabies to me the whole time - that’s how relaxed I felt.
To prolong the calmness even further, I was then invited to visualise a happy outdoor environment for a few minutes. I pictured the riverside in my parents’ hometown, with all the trees and birds, and the quiet sound of the water. When I came back to consciousness, I was nearly drooling. It took every ounce of energy I had to snap back to reality, thank Dominique for the session, and get myself on the tube, headed for home.
I hate to say it, but at the time (this first session was pre-coronavirus), I didn’t stick with my at-home practice for very long. All it required of me was 13 minutes a day, but in pre-lockdown times, I was always whipped up into such a frenzy of being busy, largely of my own creation. If I wasn’t working late, I was whizzing around town grabbing beers with friends, or rushing to after-hours press events, not to mention trying to go on questionable Hinge dates, or fit in the occasional exercise. (Cry me a river, right?)
I absolutely enjoy all of those things, but man - I feel exhausted just typing it. I kept myself on a treadmill of constant activity, and I didn’t even feel I had 13 spare minutes a day to do something nice for myself. Of course I had 13 minutes - I can see that now. Truthfully, I just didn't want to stop moving and sit still with myself. It took being in isolation to realise just how much I’d been giving myself activity whiplash, and that my body was desperate to slow down and decompress in a big way.
So, that second weekend of lockdown I dug out my audio recording, cosied up in my bed for a session, and when I finished it, the week’s frustrations felt muted. Like they were miles away. I had already been looking after myself in other ways, like getting fresh air and cooking nice recipes. But this act of slowing down and carving out dedicated time for my mental health felt like the thing I was missing.
For me, the trick was to move during sophrology practice – so I wasn't just sitting there like a statue. I didn't feel as fidgety. That night I slept hard, and woke up feeling like I had freed up some mental space. It was a huge, huge win.
If you struggle to sit still enough for traditional meditation, but feel you need something to help you break out of an anxious rut, why not try a session? Now more than ever, it’s important to be gentle with ourselves and embrace moments of calm where we can.
Follow Maddy on Instagram.
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