Biofeedback – the Mind-body Therapy

Among the amazing capabilities of the human mind is its power to influence the course of healing. You can consciously direct blood to a specific part of your body, reduce muscle tension, raise your temperature, decrease your heart rate, and alter your brain rhythms. Biofeedback is a therapeutic practice that taps into this mind-body link. It is a non-invasive approach to wellness that trains you to attain optimal health by utilizing your body’s signals.

Biofeedback works by developing your awareness of processes that your body carries out automatically. And, as this awareness heightens, you learn to voluntarily regulate these physiological processes. To help you tune in to your body therapists make use of instruments that monitor internal responses with sensitivity and accuracy, and convert them to visual or audible cues. The variations in sound, light or the image on a video screen correspond to your body’s changes. The device relays feedback about your muscle tension, temperature, heart rate, brain wave activity and so on. The beeps or video display prompt you to modify your response, and normalize the pertinent body function. For instance, in EMG feedback (electromyography) sensors are attached to the skin to measure muscle tension. As your muscle tenses, a light flashes or a beep sounds, its intensity varies with the degree of tension in the muscle. You then try altering your thought process and mindfully relax the muscles. When you achieve that state of relaxation it is reflected in the slowing down of the signal. With practice your ability to sense these changes is enhanced, and you learn to control tension before it builds up.

The instruments are just the means to an end, which is to reach a level where you can focus your mind so as to affect your body’s responses and consequently a specific biological function, without the aid of devices. A biofeedback therapist can guide you in the technique enabling you to use it in your daily life. A biofeedback session lasts from 30 minutes to an hour. The course can take 10-15 weeks or longer depending on the individual’s motivation, and the disorder being treated.

As a therapeutic tool biofeedback helps in relieving pain, reconditioning muscles, and managing stress. It has emerged as a viable and scientifically based treatment option for many health conditions. The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (www.aapb.org), a non-profit organization involved in the research and practice of biofeedback has enumerated its benefits, some of which are outlined below.

*Biofeedback alleviates tension headaches.

*Biofeedback reduces the need for medication in stress-triggered illnesses such as hypertension. It is also effective in digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.

*Biofeedback lessens the symptoms of anxiety disorder. It trains those prone to high level of anxiety in controlling it.

*Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) show improvement in concentration after undergoing neurofeedback. The participants are asked to play an onscreen game, and they learn to alter particular aspects of their brain activity to progress in the game. This training helps their learning ability outside the session too.

*Biofeedback benefits persons with Raynaud’s syndrome, a circulatory problem that causes hands and feet to be uncomfortably cold. The technique enables them maintain a normal temperature at their extremities.

*Muscle tension biofeedback together with Kegel exercises helps women who experience urinary incontinence, due to weakening of pelvic floor muscles from delivering a baby or advancing age. It assists in working the correct muscle group for bladder control, and also strengthening the muscles involved.

Further, practicing biofeedback eases PMS and women also report a significant reduction of menstrual discomfort such as cramps. Its scope also extends to physical rehabilitation in retraining muscles and for better motor functioning when these abilities get affected. Biofeedback has thus evolved into a complementary treatment applied by healthcare practitioners in diverse specialties. It has also received recognition from the National Institutes of Health.

If you would like to explore this alternative, a preliminary consultation with your physician can help evaluate the suitability of biofeedback for you. You could also ask for a referral to a specialist with the right credentials. Ideally the therapist should be certified by the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (www.bcia.org) and have sufficient experience in attending to your specific health condition.

As a therapeutic practice that promotes self-reliance you will find biofeedback most useful in maintaining your health.

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