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What is Biofeedback

By on 07/23/2015
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biofeedback When we raise our hand to turn on the light or when we decide to go for a walk, we utilize muscles that are under our voluntary control. This is an example of voluntary muscles that we have conscious control over determining these muscle movements.  However, there a number of body functions such as heart beating, blood pressure, digestion, brain wave patterns and body temperature for example, that are not under our conscious control.  They are controlled by our involuntary nervous system and until recently it was assumed that we had no control over their function either.  That is, until technology advanced to new levels.  Now with the aid of biofeedback, people can learn how to actually alter and to some degree train their body’s involuntary response to a more acceptable response.

Let’s look at an example as it relates to the heart: we can will ourselves to walk but we cannot will ourselves to make our heart beat faster.  The heart will beat faster in response to physical activities such as exercise, or to mental states such as nervousness or anxiety, but the response of how fast or how slow the heart beats is not under our conscious control.

Biofeedback is a training technique that helps the patient gain some limited conscious control over these involuntary body functions.  Defined by biofeedback is:a technique for teaching the control of autonomic functions, such as the rate of heartbeat or breathing, by recording the activity and presenting it (usually visually) so that the person can know the state of the autonomic function he or she is learning to control.  It is a training technique that enables a person to gain some element of voluntary control over autonomic body functions. Biofeedback is based on the principle that a desired response is learned when received information indicates that a specific thought or action has produced the desired response.

Sensitive electrodes are attached to certain areas of the body to record measurements such as heart rate and blood pressure which are then displayed on a monitor that the patient can see a corresponding graph.  As the heart rate increases or decreases, the patient can see the graph on the monitor moving higher or lower and making audible sounds that also raise or lower in response to the heart rate. in this way the patient is getting “feedback” from the machine in response to ” biological” signals, in this example the heart rate.  So the graph provide the patient with both visual and audible feedback – thus the term, biofeedback.


With some small portable units designed to be carried in a pocket, there may be an audible beep every time the heart beats which makes the patient aware whether their heart rate is speeding up or slowing down. By having an immediate feedback of the internal body processes the patient gradually learns awareness, focus, and in time learns to exercise some control over these internal processes.

Biofeedback sessions are usually conducted in a therapist’s office.  The therapist will teach the patent relaxation techniques such as deep abdominal breathing; guided imagery such as imagining themselves relaxing in a beach; progressive muscle relaxation where they consciously squeeze and relax each major muscle group; and mindfulness meditation where they become aware of their thought as and when it arises.  These techniques are very effective in reducing the stress level and bringing many physical measurements such as the blood pressure to within the acceptable range.

Clinical biofeedback techniques are being effectively used to treat an ever-lengthening list of medical conditions such as: Chronic pain, Migraine headaches; High blood pressure (hypertension) and low blood pressure (hypotension); Cardiac arrhythmia; Epilepsy; Gastrointestinal disorders; Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder and Alcohol and drug addictions.

While biofeedback training is used mainly by psychiatrists and psychologists there are a number of other specialists such as dentists, rehabilitation therapists, internists and nurses who use biofeedback training as well.

Biofeedback is a safe and effective technique that has been successfully used since the late 1960’s.  there is no electric current passing through the electrodes to the patient, but instead the sensors are picking up signals from the body much as EKG electrodes since electrical activity in the heart. Therefore, no drugs are needed, no needles puncture any skin and the units therefore are completely safe.

Biofeedback is not hypnotism and it is not voodoo science.  at the same time biofeedback is not used by doctors to determine the type of medicine a patient would benefit from.  Thoughts, feelings and stress levels have a profound effect on the physical and mental health on the individual.

Along with proper coaching from a practitioner trained in it’s use,  biofeedback offers an exciting holistic alternative to stress management.  At Wellness Coach Connection, Healthcoach Cathy offers a Biofeedback option in the burnout breakthrough program.  stress management sessions are held via telephone within the 48 contiguous United States so patients are not limited by location.

To find out more about the Heart Centered Stress Management Burnout Breakthrough program or to sign up click here, or on the Burnout Breakthrough tab at the top of this page.

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