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Biofeedback: Listening to Your Body

Mar 26 2021
4 min read
Woman speaking with an expert.

Biofeedback therapy (or biofeedback training, as it’s also called) might sound a bit futuristic if you’re not familiar with it.

Although it does involve some high-tech elements, the concept is pretty simple: Learn how your body reacts in certain situations, then retrain it to respond differently—essentially it’s the science of mind over matter. Doing so can help you cope with all sorts of health issues, from anxiety to chronic pain. Where researchers have found biofeedback to prove most successful, though, is as a relaxation technique for reducing stress and improving conditions brought on by it, like headaches, insomnia, incontinence, elevated blood pressure, and digestive issues.

During a biofeedback session, you’re connected to a number of electrical sensors that collect information about your body’s functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and skin temperature, then display them on a monitor. Your biofeedback therapist then guides you through some exercises—breathing techniques, meditation, or guided imagery, for example—aimed to relax you and quiet your mind.

You’ll be able to see the changes in your body from these calming efforts displayed on the monitor—messages from your body that what you’re doing is helping (or not). What you see may be different, depending on the machine that’s used. For example, your reduced heart rate may be represented by slow lines moving across the screen or with a simple number; a light indicator that varies in brightness might tip you off to changes in your muscle tension and so on.

Soon it will become clear which types of exercises calm you. You can then put them to work on your own when you need them. The goal is to do this often enough that you “retrain” your body to automatically react in this helpful way whenever it’s stressed or in pain.

If you, say, have a lengthy daily commute and usually feel worked up when sitting in traffic, you might practice a specific breathing exercise that you learned lowered your blood pressure during biofeedback therapy. Maybe you actively decide to perform the exercise every time you’re bumper-to-bumper for several months; eventually, you won’t realize you’ve shifted into that practice—you’ll begin doing it automatically whenever you’re in that stressful situation.

This therapy is just one way of looking at the whole self when treating an issue. It optimizes the mind/body connection and your ability to adjust how you feel physically by relaxing mentally. While a single biofeedback session can certainly help, it may take several visits for you to start using the practice that helped you come this far—such as deep breathing or meditation—without any thought.

Biofeedback can also help alleviate asthma and lessen muscle pain. It’s also been shown to be particularly effective for people struggling with the discomfort from conditions like Raynaud’s Disease (a circulation disorder) and fibromyalgia (musculoskeletal pain). Beyond its wide application, it’s appealing because it’s a non-invasive treatment that can, in many cases, prevent the need for traditional medicine. What we believe is most powerful about it, though, is that it gives you the tools to take charge of your own health and wellness; instead of relying on prescriptions to ease constipation or migraine headaches, for example, you may be able to lessen your symptoms with the methods that worked well during biofeedback therapy.

If you’re interested in scheduling a session, speak with your doctor, who may be able to recommend a biofeedback specialist and inform you about possible costs. You don’t need to prepare for your appointment since the goal is to assess and adjust your body’s normal behavior. Sessions vary in length from 30 to 60 minutes, and the number of visits you’ll need will depend on how you’re feeling and what your therapist suggests. It might take some time, but being open to this nontraditional type of treatment may help you discover some solutions that encourage a deeper change from within.