What is Biofeedback?
Biofeedback is creating an awareness of how your thoughts, emotions, and breathing can impact your body’s physiology and learning how to maximize your body and mind’s potential through directed feedback. An easy way to think about this is imagining a time when you have felt anxious or stressed. Like most people, you may have held your breath or tightened muscles in your face or shoulders. By holding your breath, and then subsequently taking in a deep breath, you adversely throw off your body’s physiology and further exacerbate a stress response. While stress is often inevitable, the point of biofeedback is learning how to modulate your response to stress so that you don’t get “hooked” or caught up in the vicious cycle. Essentially, biofeedback teaches you how to improve self-regulation skills, resiliency, and to enter into a state of balance quicker and easier.
Who is Biofeedback Clinically Helpful for?
Biofeedback is helpful for many issues or conditions, many of which are stress-related. According to Task Force Criteria for Clinical Efficacy, research has shown that biofeedback has varying degrees of efficacy for the following conditions1:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Chronic muscle pain
- Optimizing athletic performance
- Congestive heart failure
- Coronary artery disease
- Recurrent abdominal pain
Are There Other Benefits to Biofeedback?
Whether you are struggling with any of the conditions above or not, biofeedback can be incredibly helpful for the day to day stressors as well, i.e. getting cut off in traffic, having a disagreement with your partner, tending to your children, meeting work deadlines, encountering conflict with a friend, studying for school exams, athletic training, etc.
How Does Biofeedback Work?
There are many techniques that can be utilized in biofeedback, but the general goal is to help to shift the nervous system out of a predominant fight or flight response and into more of a rest and digest state, respectively known as the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. If you lead a busy or stressful life, the nervous system typically leans more towards a sympathetic response, whereby increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar; decreasing digestion and serotonin (happiness neurotransmitter), suppressing the immune system, and much more. When the nervous system is balanced, on the other hand, the body and mind begin to harmonize— dropping heart rate and blood pressure, restoring blood flow to the digestive system, improving the ability to focus and sleep, creating a sense of calmness, and boosting energy. The HeartMath Institute, an organization dedicated to researching stress and resiliency, coined this state of being as “coherence,” which is likened to “being in the zone.” They have also done a tremendous amount of research studying Heart Rate Variability (HRV), a measure being used to assess general wellness, all-cause mortality, optimize training for elite athletes, and spark ingenuity at top-level companies. Once you learn how to get into coherence through biofeedback training, you will better be able to recognize how stress impacts your body and mind, improve your response to stress, and how to get out of stressors quicker. Best of all, it helps to treat the underlying cause of an issue and create a sense of calm—anywhere, anytime, and without having to rely on medication. Biofeedback is a tool that you will have for the rest of your life, to call upon as needed.
How is Biofeedback Different Than Mindfulness or Meditation?
Mindfulness plays a significant adjunctive role in biofeedback training. Much of biofeedback is developing a greater awareness of the present moment, in a non-judgmental way. Specific attention is focused on how your body and mind might respond to either a stressor or when you are in coherence, such as noticing what sensations arise—warmth, cold, heaviness, tightness, etc. When mindfulness is combined with biofeedback, you can directly observe (using feedback technology) the impact your mindfulness practice has on your physiology. This feedback ultimately lets you know if what you are practicing is actually helpful, and if it is right for your individual needs and differences. While meditation is also a supportive practice to biofeedback, a common complaint by many patients is that it is something that typically requires you to find a time and place to sit quietly. This makes it difficult to apply in the present moment of stress. You may not be able to leave a stressful situation at your job or duck out of a challenging conversation. What most people want and need is something that will help them immediately, amid the stressful encounter. The advantage of learning biofeedback is that you can face stressors head-on using discrete yet powerful techniques. In fact, some patients describe biofeedback as being their “rescue inhaler” for stress. The other downside of practicing mindfulness or meditation independently of biofeedback, is that these practices don’t take into account your ideal breathing rate or Resonance Frequency (RF) Breathing. Research has shown that RF Breathing not only helps to get you into a state of coherence quicker, but it also can improve your HRV. Furthermore, some people have dysfunctional breathing patterns, where they breathe primarily using their chest or have developed reverse breathing. Chest breathing is incredibly common, especially for women who have given birth or for those who have encountered some kind of trauma in their life.
How Many Sessions Does it Take?
While many people feel the benefit from the first biofeedback session, at Cameron Wellness Center we recommend that you initially have at least 3 consecutive visits. This will help you to build a strong foundation. If it is a good fit, then we suggest that people continue for approximately 1-2 months, which is the length of time research has shown it takes to change a behavior.
How Much Does it Cost?
A package of three visits costs $350. The first visit is 60 minutes, then the remaining 2 visits are 30 minutes.
Where Can I Learn More?
Check out HeartMath.com/science for more information.
Schedule an Appointment Today!
When you call, schedule your appointment for Biofeedback with Dr. Postma!
1LaVaque, T. J., Hammond, D. C., Trudeau, D., Monastra, V., Perry, J., Lehrer, P., Matheson, D., & Sherman, R. (2002). Template for developing guidelines for the evaluation of the clinical efficacy of psychophysiological evaluations. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 27(4), 273-281.