Biofeedback is a learned mind/body technique that enables you to influence supposedly involuntary physical functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and brain waves. During a biofeedback session, a therapist attaches electrical sensors to parts of your body. The sensors monitor functions such as heart rate variability, blood pressure or muscle tension and translate the information into sound or a flashing light – something you can perceive directly. For example, a temperature sensor on your finger can translate skin temperature into a beep tone that you can hear – the higher the skin temperature, the faster the rate of beeping. With that kind of “feedback” from your body, you can learn to warm your hands by raising your skin temperature. In doing this you learn to relax the pathways of the sympathetic nervous system that constricts blood vessels. The same pathways can also be used to control the fight-or-flight response, so by relaxing them you achieve a general relaxation response. This is a good thing.
Biofeedback can also be used to control brain activity, muscle tension, and heart rate and is used to help treat a wide range of health problems including asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine headaches, epilepsy, hot flashes and the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. It has been approved by the National Institutes of Health for complementary treatment of chronic pain and insomnia.
I often recommend biofeedback for treatment of migraines, high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, ulcers, chronic gastro-intestinal problems, Raynaud’s disease and unconscious grinding of the teeth. To find out how effective biofeedback is for treatment of specific health problems, visit the Web site of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (http://www.aapb.org). To find a certified practitioner, visit the Web site of the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (http://bcia.affiniscape.com/). Computer compatible versions of biofeedback training, such as “The Journey to Wild Divine,” are also readily available for home use.
Andrew Weil, M.D.