When you raise your hand to wave hello to a friend, or lift your knee to take another step on the Stairmaster, you control these actions. Other body functions -- like heart rate, skin temperature, and blood pressure -- are controlled involuntarily by your nervous system. You don't think about making your heart beat faster. It just happens in response to your environment, like when you're nervous, excited, or exercising.
Learning to eat less of the high-calorie foods you love isn't always easy.
What can make it even harder: having to stare down those fattening foods at
your very own dinner table.
From the spouse who brings you a huge box of chocolates on Valentine's Day
to the mother-in-law who plies you with home-baked goodies to the skinny friend
who invites you to uber-fattening lunch dates, the result is much the same.
While their intentions may be all good, experts say the results can be all bad
The idea behind biofeedback is that, by harnessing the power of your mind and becoming aware of what's going on inside your body, you can gain more control over your health.
How Does Biofeedback Therapy Work?
Researchers aren't exactly sure how or why biofeedback works. They do know that biofeedback promotes relaxation, which can help relieve a number of conditions that are related to stress.
During a biofeedback session, electrodes are attached to your skin. Finger sensors can also be used. These electrodes/sensors send signals to a monitor, which displays a sound, flash of light, or image that represents your heart and breathing rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, sweating, or muscle activity.
When you're under stress, these functions change. Your heart rate speeds up, your muscles tighten, your blood pressure rises, you start to sweat, and your breathing quickens. You can see these stress responses as they happen on the monitor, and then get immediate feedback as you try to stop them. Biofeedback sessions are typically done in a therapist's office, but there are computer programs that connect the biofeedback sensor to your own computer.
A biofeedback therapist helps you practice relaxation exercises, which you fine-tune to control different body functions. For example, you might use a relaxation technique to turn down the brainwaves that activate when you have a headache.
Several different relaxation exercises are used in biofeedback therapy, including:
Progressive muscle relaxation -- alternately tightening and then relaxing different muscle groups
Guided imagery -- concentrating on a specific image (such as the color and texture of an orange) to focus your mind and make you feel more relaxed
Mindfulness meditation -- focusing your thoughts and letting go of negative emotions
As you slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and ease muscle tension, you'll get instant feedback on the screen. Eventually, you'll learn how to control these functions on your own, without the biofeedback equipment.
Different types of biofeedback are used to monitor different body functions:
Electromyogram (EMG). This measures muscle activity and tension. It may be used for back pain, headaches, anxiety disorders, muscle retraining after injury, and incontinence.