Biofeedback & paper

6 June 2016

In today’s fast-paced life one can not help but think that people are always confronted by various kinds of stress from work, school, from everyday routine, or even going from one class to another.  Because of everyday stressors and tensions, people get tired, worn out, torn apart from the supposedly normal state of living.

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This paper is aimed at looking at biofeedback as people’s way of coping up with stresses everyday.  It shall look at the many advantages of biofeedback, its principles and how it affects the body as well as its use as an intervention for clients with mind-body malaise.

Biofeedback is based on the principle that if we can learn to become aware of some body function of which we normally overlook, then we can learn to control that function. Technical biofeedback implies the use of sophisticated instruments that can measure brainwave activity, blood pressure level, skin temperature and heart rate.

Jeanne Achterberg reports that every clinical function that can be measured can be brought under control. (Achterberg, 1985, p. 196).

The brain generates electrical rhythms that occur in four groups, each of which can be correlated with a state of awareness or particular brain activity.

1.      Beta waves – Beta waves are the normal working rhythm of the brain; they are faster and indicate more frenetic activity. A relaxed person shows very little beta.

2.      Alpha waves – Alpha waves are building blocks for higher levels of awareness. In conjunction with theta, they indicate a calming down or emptying of the mind, usually with physical relaxation.

3.      Theta waves – These occur during creative inspiration and meditation.

4.      Delta waves – This is the rhythm of sleep, but they are found in many people in response to new ideas.

Among those who pioneered biofeedback techniques were Elmer and Alyce Green, who wrote the definitive book, Beyond Biofeedback, in 1975. Biofeedback techniques were also pioneered by Dr. Joe Kamiya in San Francisco. He monitored a subject’s alpha rhythms with an EKG (electroencephalogram) device. When alpha rhythms were being generated to a feeling of well-bring, and most subjects could learn to turn it on or off.

In addition to the EEG to measure brain waves, biofeedback also uses the ESR (electrical skin resistance meter), which indicates physical arousal and relaxation. This is connected to the palm of the hand, and the meter readings to relate to the behavior of the autonomic system. The rate of blood flow varies with body tone and causes change of polarization of the sweat gland membranes. The polarization varies according to how tense or relaxed we are.

The reactions which make us tense or relaxed are reflected in the fight or flight response or in the relaxation response. Stress increases the blood pressure and heart rate, the amount of muscle tension, and oxygen usage. Relaxation increases circulation to skin and organs and lowers heart rate and muscle tension.

Using the data from both the EEG machine and ESR device, beta rhythms and low skin resistance accompany panic states while alpha rhythms and high skin resistance indicate relaxed states. Separating physical and mental states is the purpose of many medication techniques. Thus, we can have a relaxed body and an alert mind when we need to or an active body and a relaxed mind.

  Manifestations of Anxiety

Everyone in a variety of ways experiences anxiety. At times, we are acutely aware of its presence. On other occasions it affects us unconsciously. Often we mask or disguise its presence, to others and to ourselves. Ernest Hemingway noted that many bullfighters are prone to frequent yawning prior to entering the bullring. Some people complain of being bored at times when she might appropriately have been distressed. Disguising anxiety only helps to keep people from recognizing the cause. The anxiety is still there.

The manifestations of anxiety are limitless. Suffice it to say that ll the major pathways of expression—affective, motoric, somatic and cognitive—are used at different times by all of us in our encounters with anxiety. In the affective realm anxiety varies from a mild form of uneasiness to worrying to nameless panic.

 Approaches to the Biofeedback Intervention

Biofeedback has been used effectively to teach subjects to control abnormal heart rhythms, to indicate stomach acidity in the case of ulcers, to control migraines and headaches, to help in retraining the muscles, and to benefit a wide range of diseases. Jeanne Achterberg states that those who are most successful in using biofeedback techniques are those who have strong ability to visualize and those who are highly motivated (Achterberg, 1985, p. 196).

Stress-reducing techniques, such as biofeedback, and various types of mental exercise that relax the body, like autogenics and hypnosis, are helpful in controlling diseased states that arise from imbalances in the nervous system. Through the use of a device attached to a person’s fingertips, the biofeedback machine is able to help people monitor their inner states and learn to relax, thereby lowering blood pressure and controlling asthma attacks and other physiological processes. Hypnosis and autogenics help to achieve physical relaxation. Once an individual has mastered this, he/she can move into higher meditative states of awareness.

Until two decades ago, one of the most tenaciously held beliefs of Western science was that there are certain parts of the human body we can consciously control—our “voluntary” systems—and others over which we have no conscious control—the “involuntary” systems. Among the involuntary components of our body were thought to be the rhythm  and amplitude of our brain waves, blood vessel expansion and contraction, blood pressure, rate of healing and strength of our immune system, and secretion  of hormones.

Then, in the 1960s, sophisticated devices were constructed to measure minute changes in the bodies of laboratory animals. Scientists found that if the minute changes measured by the machines were somehow amplified and “fed back” to the animals, so that when they were performing a desired task, such as making one ear grow hot and other grow cold, they would receive a “positive reinforcement,” such as a pellet of food or a blast of electrical stimulation to their pleasure centers, then the animals were able to learn to control virtually every part of their bodies—even those long believed to be “involuntary”—and could learn this control quite rapidly. (Miller, 1961 and DiCara, L. 1970).

Scientists wondered what would happen if humans were hooked up to these devices, and instead of being rewarded with a food pellet, were rewarded by a flashing light, a clicking, or some other clear signal. Early experiments by psychophysiologist Joe Kamiya, of Lanley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute of the University of California Medical Center, involved monitoring subjects’ brain waves, and Kamiya found that within an hour, most subjects could learn to manipulate their supposedly involuntary brain waves and generate large quantities of alpha waves.

Oddly, the subjects could never explain how they were able to generate alpha waves; in fact, if they tried to do it, alpha waves disappeared. All they could say was that they just somehow “knew it” when they were in alpha. Subjects of Cade learned not through being taught any specific mind-control techniques but by monitoring real-time feedback, in the form of flashing lights indicating their brain-wave patterns. (Cade 1979).

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