Stephanie Livingston–Psychologist

Tag: holistic treatment


by on Sep.11, 2014, under Articles


Whenever you weigh yourself on a scale, you are using a biofeedback  instrument, the scale.  The biological piece that it is measuring is pounds and the feedback modality is the scale that provides that information . Something as simple as putting your hand over your heart and taking your heart rate can also be viewed as a form of biofeedback.  Your hand is the instrument and the feedback signal is the number of beats per minute.  What is the advantage of  having biological feedback information.   Well, the major advantage is that once you have the information, you can manipulate it.  Once you know how much you weigh, you can increase or decrease you weight and monitor your progress.  Likewise, once you become aware of your heart rate, you can make the beats go up or down or even skip beats if you so choose.  Some yogis are actually able to stop their hearts through intensive meditation practice.  Nowadays, biofeedback instruments are very sophisticated and oftentimes computerized.  There are instruments that measure muscle tension, blood flow, brain wave activity, blood pressure, respiration, heart rate, and heart rate variability (i.e., the activity between heartbeats).  It was thought that many of these bodily functions were automatic and that we had no control over them.  However, now we know that  once it is brought into our awareness we can in fact learn to control all of these systems in our bodies.

For instance, if you have a migraine headache, biofeedback can help you learn constrict and dilate your blood vessels at will, and thereby alleviating a vascular headache. This form of biofeedback is called temperature or thermal training.  This involves attaching a thermistor, which measures temperature; to your hands.  By learning to increase your hand temperature, you can essentially alleviate a migraine headache.  The same is true of electromyography to reduce muscle tension, EEG or neuro-feedback to stabilize brain wave patterns in seizure disorders, and respiration  rate.  Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is another form of feedback that helps an individual to control heart function.  It has been found that negative emotions such as anger, frustration, anxiety and stress can have a negative impact  on HRV.  The good news is that you can learn to control the impact of these negative emotions on your body.

Through the use of diaphragmatic breathing and imagery, a person can learn to  alter physiological functioning via biofeedback instruments.  Imagery often involves visualizing a relaxing picture in your mind, like lying on a beach or sitting by a lake.  Some studies show that images of feeling loved or appreciated are more effective when trying to learn heart rate variability.  In either case, our bodies tend to respond in a positive way to these images.  Our minds do not always distinguish between reality and fantasy.  If we visualize a stressful meeting with the boss, our bodies may respond with a stress response, (i.e., increased heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension) at just the thought of the meeting.  Likewise, if you were to picture a relaxing scene, your body would respond with a relaxation response (decreased heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension).    Biofeedback merely speeds up the learning process to control these different aspects of your body.  Through reward and punishment you can learn to change  bodily functioning at will.  An auditory and/or visual signal will let you know how you are doing and thereby shaping your behavior.  Sometimes games are part of the learning process to make things more interesting.  In each game, you get rewarded for changing your behavior in the desired direction and punished for the undesired direction.  Practicing just a few times per day can have a significant positive impact.  And this is all done without medication.

The practice of biofeedback is regulated by the  Biofeedback Certification International Alliance.  If you  are interested in biofeedback please call the BCIA office to locate a professional near you.

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