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Biofeedback  Basics

by Rob Kall

 Biofeedback is a coaching and training process which helps people learn how to change patterns of behavior-- physiological response patterns-- to take greater self responsibility for their health and for their mental, physical, emotional and spiritual functioning.

In all biofeedback, some form of technology is used to provide extra information beyond the ability of normal senses about some bodily (physiological) function. The person first uses the information as feedback to increase awareness or consciousness of the changes in the body/mind function. Then, the feedback is used to learn to develop new levels of voluntary self control over the function.

Biofeedback training usually involves the following body measures:

EMG (electromyograph= muscle) for relaxation, muscle pattern optimization, sports performance,
EEG (electroencephalograph= brain waves,) Attention, mental clarity, relaxation, pain, meditation
thermal (blood flow in fingers and toes,) relaxation
Respiratory (breathing,) relaxation
SCL (Skin Conductance Level= related to sweat gland activity,) relaxation
HRV Heart Rate Variability-- based on the effects of your breath on your heart rate.

Studies have shown that after adequate training, including training to transfer the self control skills to real life, people automatically and effortlessly use the skills they've learned in biofeedback.

Usually people use the skills to bring aspects of their life into better balance and to functionat a higher, more optimal level. If they have anxiety, stress, attention, or performance problems, these will often respond very well to biofeedback training, usually either disappearing altogether or decreasing in frequency, severity, intensity and duration.

Once you learn to voluntarily control what were previously involuntarily, subconsciously, or habitually controlled behaviors, you then go on to develop new, positive automatic self-responsible habits. It's like riding a bike. Once you learn it, you can do it. You don't have to re-learn it, though you may be a bit wobbly if you don't ride for ten years.

With biofeedback you learn skills which you will use and practice on a regular basis. It is not a treatment that is done to you. It is a learning process which you integrate into your repertoire of inner strengths and skills. A good trainer will combine biofeedback with the activities which challenge you, such as reading, studying, problem solving, concentrating. You learn to recognize how it feels when you are focusing more effectively and when you are spacing out, allowing yourself to become distracted.
If you exercise in a gym, lifting weights and using muscle building machines, after 30 or forty sessions your muscles will be bigger. If you keep at the exercise, they will stay that way. If you just stop exercising altogether, the new muscle tissue will go away. It is believed that with brainwave biofeedback, a similar process occurs. Over the course of thirty or forty sessions, more blood lows to the areas of the brain being trained and eventually, more blood vessels grow there, increasing the vascularization of that part of the brain. PET scan studies seem to support this theory.
If you continue to use your brain-- ie., keep exercising it-- at the new level, then the improvements are retained-- even without the continued use of biofeedback for most people.
When it comes to ADD, the results are sometimes good enough so people can stop or reduce meds. Sometimes the results are only improvements in aspects meds don't help.
The same is true for other forms of biofeedback. Sometimes hypertensives get off all meds, sometimes they cut back, sometimes the blood pressure just becomes more stable. Headache sufferers whose headaches have been occurring because of less than optimal physiological balance and susceptibility to stress often rid their lives of headaches.

One variable in all this is responsibility . Biofeedback requires that the client work at it, do homework and take self responsibility for practice. It is not something one passively has done to oneself. This is often the reason for failures. The biofeedback process is not going to work if you don't . Of course other valuable things, like freedom, intelligence, opportunity are like that too.
On the other hand, some people do not respond to biofeedback through no fault of their own, for various reasons. But it's worth a try.

The biofeedback approach offered at the Center for Optimal Living is oriented toward helping the individual learn skills which empower him or her to take greater self responsibility for health and all the other dimensions of functioning life. It is not a treatment or therapy. It is a coaching and training process.