Biofeedback: The New Science of Self-Care


Have you heard the expression, “Just listen to your body”? I use this phrase all the time (sometimes I receive strange looks in response), and I recently discovered that a technique called biofeedback takes this meaning to a completely new (and awesome) level. Biofeedback is an increasingly popular, non-evasive therapy that gives you control over some of your body’s physical responses, ones previously believed to be involuntary, such as heart rate, breathing, sweating, and muscle tension. Research shows that biofeedback can help with the treatment of many conditions including asthma, high blood pressure, chemotherapy side effects, constipation, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, and chronic pain.

You can practice biofeedback techniques at home after a few sessions with a biofeedback therapist who uses electrical sensors to measure your heartbeat, skin temperature, brain waves, and muscles tension. Once you and your therapist have this raw data, your therapist will teach you techniques to control and change the responses in your body that are causing unpleasant physical reactions. Using the electrical sensor machines to monitor progress, you can find out which techniques work for you and your unique situation. For example, you might learn a method to relax a muscle in your neck that constantly tightens and causes your chronic headaches. Alternatively, you might use breathing exercises to control your high blood pressure that peaks during your daily traffic commute.

The main idea behind biofeedback is that our bodies are commonly under various levels of stress, and this stress seems to be increasingly mental (as opposed to our ancestors who typically faced physical stress). Since the stress is mental, it’s more common that we are chronically stressed (you know how the mind keeps rethinking and analyzing everything), and it’s also more difficult to have an appropriate outlet for the physical energy that accompanies stress. As a result, the energy stays stuck and manifests in our bodies as mental and physical symptoms such as digestive problems, headaches, insomnia, depression, lower immune systems, chronic pain, anxiety, and high (or low) blood pressure.

For this reason, one of the primarily focuses of biofeedback is relaxation and developing self-awareness to know when your body is starting to feel stressed, and using the power of your mind to alter that response. Common biofeedback techniques include breathing exercises, mental training, visualization practices, and meditation.

If you are interested in finding a biofeedback therapist, check out the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback site to search for one in your area. Of course, utilizing a variety of stress reduction practices will also help you manage the stress in your life. Most importantly, always listen to your body; it’s your best guide and greatest asset for attaining optimal health.

Have you tried biofeedback before? We’d love to hear your experience in the comments below.  


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photo by: mislav-m