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Wellness, Vitality and Olympic Gold: Biofeedback for the Body and Brain
Written by Dr. Paul G. Swingle   

Heal what ails you by learning to control your body.

woman's face

What do older folks like me have in common with a young skier receiving an Olympic gold medal? We both do biofeedback to keep the mind sharp and the body fit. Biofeedback is a natural and holistic approach to the treatment of many conditions. With biofeedback, we use instruments to gain awareness of physiological functions of our bodies; then learn to control those same functions to promote wellness. Remarkable advances in the science of self-regulation of body and brain have occurred over the last two decades. Biofeedback for the body and particularly the brain is now the treatment of choice for a wide range of disorders including autism, stroke, ADHD, depression, addictions, anxiety conditions, and cognitive declines. Reuters News Health Information (March 23, 2012) reported that, according to the head of research of the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, research has been discouraging in that there is only a five percent difference between the positive response of antidepressant drugs and placebos (dummy pills). Brain biofeedback, on the other hand, has an outstandingly good record in the treatment of the various forms of depression.

This brings us to the first important concern for anyone considering biofeedback, particularly for the brain: who is working on your brain? If you want help relaxing with muscle tension biofeedback, for example, little harm can be done if the practitioner lacks training. If you want help with muscle re-education after a serious injury, on the other hand, only trained and licensed healthcare providers should be considered. This is particularly true when working with the brain.

Biofeedback is enormously effective for helping motivate and self-regulate. Feeling blue? Try what the old-time psychologists and psychiatrists recommended: sleep (stay in bed) a maximum of seven hours per night and get a pedometer for feedback. Work up to a minimum of 10,000 steps per day (normal for an active person). Have a small migraine headache problem? Get yourself a couple of cheap thermometers. GENTLY hold the thermometers between the thumb and index finger. Sit quietly while vividly imagining your hands in warm (not hot) water. After a few sessions, when your finger temperature gets above about 33 degrees C (92 F), try cooling by imagining your hands in cool (not cold) water. As you gain facility with increasing and decreasing your hand temperature, you are very likely to be headache-free.

Biofeedback for the body (called peripheral biofeedback) includes muscle tension, blood flow (e.g., hand temperature), heart rate and variability, skin resistance and respiration. When done by professionals, peripheral biofeedback is effective for treating many conditions such as headaches, heart irregularities, sleep problems, and anxiety conditions. It is used by many professional sports teams and elite athletes to help with achieving profound states of focus or relaxation. It is used for improving the vocal performance of singers (check YouTube for some examples) and the accuracy of Olympic archers. Peripheral biofeedback can help one achieve profoundly restorative states of relaxation. As practitioners of other relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation can attest, systematic relaxation can manifestly improve feelings of well-being. Peripheral biofeedback is a very effective method for achieving those states and, more importantly, for training one to be able to reach those states naturally, without any aids.

woman looking at computer screen

Brain biofeedback, or neurotherapy, requires great care and precision; when efficiently administered it can be life-altering. Children with ADHD or autism, the older adult who is experiencing mental declines, those with severe anxiety and/or depression, those with seizure disorders or other chronic conditions: all are suitable clients for neurotherapy. The first step is to do a brain assessment to determine precisely what brain inefficiencies are causing the problem(s). Once identified, these neurological conditions are then treated with neurotherapy. As the brain inefficiencies improve, so does the client’s disorder associated with that brain area. Neurotherapy is very straightforward, but should only be administered by a licensed clinician trained and certified in neurobiofeedback. Clients have wires attached to their earlobes and various locations on the head. When the brain is moving in the right direction (that is, improved functioning), the client hears a tone and/or sees something move on the computer monitor. For kids, they play a video game with their brain! We let adults play, too! For some conditions, more aggressive braindriving procedures are used in which specific sounds, lights, and other forms of stimulation are administered based on moment-to-moment brain activity to nudge the brain into more efficient functional ranges. The latter procedures can be used with clients unable to do biofeedback such as infants, the severely demented and those in coma.

Whether you want to sharpen your golf game, get better sleep, really relax, improve your ability to make decisions under stress, or treat some physical or mental problem, check with your licensed and certified provider. Biofeedback will likely change your life.

Dr. Paul G. Swingle -

Dr. Paul G. Swingle was Professor of Psychology at the University of Ottawa from 1972 to 1997 prior to moving to Vancouver. He was Lecturer in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School from 1991 to 1998 and during the same period was Associate Attending Psychologist at McLean Hospital (Boston) where he also was Head of the Clinical Psychophysiology Service. Professor Swingle was Clinical Supervisor at the University of Ottawa from 1987 to 1997 and was Chairman of the Faculty of Child Psychology from 1972 to 1977. Dr. Swingle is a Registered Psychologist in British Columbia, Board-Certified in Biofeedback and Neurotherapy, and is currently Director of the Swingle Clinic in Vancouver.