A few years ago I had some facial pain associated with a TMJ-like condition I was dealing with at the time. I saw a pain specialist who suggested that if the mouth guard he prescribed for me didn’t take care of the situation, he would recommend biofeedback to help me deal with the pain. Fortunately the mouth guard did the trick and I’m no longer in any pain, but the idea of biofeedback intrigued me. I had heard about it before but honestly didn’t know exactly how it worked or why it would apparently help me. So I hit the internet and did some googling on the topic and what I found is pretty interesting.
The Mayo Clinic’s website has a comprehensive and instructive section on biofeedback, as does an Arizona Behavioral Health website. According to both sites, biofeedback is an alternative and complementary medicine technique in which you actually learn to control certain bodily functions, like your heart rate, using your mind.
How cool is that? I’m pretty familiar with using deep breathing (as you would do in yoga and progressive relaxation) to lower the heart rate and calm down but the idea that you can use your mind to do it is fascinating. And it gets even better—when you are doing biofeedback, you are connected to electrical sensors that help you receive and measure information (or “feedback”) about your body (or “bio”). In other words, the results from your body’s information, or literally, biofeedback that you are getting are tangible—you don’t just think your heart rate is slowing down, you can get actual proof in the forms of this information.
The biofeedback sensors then also teach you how to make slight or subtle changes in your body, like relaxing certain muscle groups or, to get the results you are looking for.
As an example of this, stress can make us have very acute physical responses. Some of these are due to our sympathetic nervous system kicking into gear, as it has been doing since back in caveman days. Things like our heart rate increasing and our blood pressure going up are all useful responses when we have a giant saber tooth tiger about to pounce on us.