Biofeedback: What It Is, Why It Works, And How to Do It
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Biofeedback is a therapeutic modality that has been studied for decades and allows people to understand their own body better so they can take steps to improve their health. While biofeedback was typically only available in clinical settings, with technological advances it has become more accessible for anyone to try at home.
For more specifics on what biofeedback is, how it works, and what the benefits are, read on!
What is Biofeedback?
Biofeedback collects and measures physiologic functions of the body, then provides feedback that allows one to consciously improve mental, physical, and emotional health. This is done using specialized sensors that mark key indicators, which can vary depending on the type of biofeedback and measurement goal.
Put simply, biofeedback works like this:
- You attach a sensor to your body which measures designated signals.
- The sensor transmits feedback data to a device, such as a computer monitor or smartphone, so you can see what is being measured.
- Using this data, you become aware of your body’s baseline state and take steps to improve it.
Biofeedback has been around for quite a long time. 1960’s research showed conclusive evidence that biofeedback was an effective tool for influencing the body’s autonomic nervous system (ANS), which controls involuntary functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, and more.
What are Different Types of Biofeedback?
- Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Biofeedback
Typically utilized to regulate the autonomic nervous system and help shift from “fight or flight” sympathetic mode of the nervous system to the “rest and recovery” parasympathetic mode.
Measurement Indicators: pulse and heart rate.
- Electromyography (EMG) Biofeedback
Measurement Indicators: muscle tension and relaxation.
- Thermal Biofeedback/Temperature Biofeedback
Measurement Indicators: temperature of the skin’s surface.
- Electroencephalography (EEG) Biofeedback
Measurement indicators: brain wave activity collected via sensors placed on the scalp.
- Galvanic Skin Response Biofeedback
Measurement Indicators: variations in sweat on the skin’s surface.
Other measurement tools include electrocardiograms (ECG) for heart rate, photoplethysmographs (PPG) for blood flow, rheoencephalographs (REG) for blood flow in the brain, and pneumographs for respiratory rate.
Why Biofeedback Works
The ability to identify and regulate involuntary processes in your body is a powerful skill. Because biofeedback is process-oriented instead of result-oriented, it allows you to meet yourself where you are with curiosity instead of judgment.
Through biofeedback training, you can:
- Increase interoceptive awareness. Interoceptive awareness is one’s capacity to both recognize and understand their body’s physiological clues.
- Reinforce operant learning. Operant learning, or conditioning, utilizes immediate reinforcement to strengthen adaptive behavior toward a specific goal.
Because biofeedback is non-invasive, it does not have any known contraindications and is a safe modality to explore your own physiological baselines and possibilities.
Research-backed benefits of biofeedback include:
- pain reduction, including headaches and chronic back pain
- improvement in sleep quality
- stress management
- anxiety relief
- alleviation of depression
- circulation enhancement
- treatment of conditions such as hypertension, epilepsy, insomnia, addiction, and arthritis.
How to Experience Biofeedback for Yourself
There are two ways to experience biofeedback: in-person with a professional in a clinical setting, or at home with a designated biofeedback device.
What method is best for you will depend on your goals, budget, and comfort level.
Working with a biofeedback specialist one-on-one ranges between $50-$150 per session and one session lasts between 30 to 60 minutes. While some insurance providers may cover biofeedback for certain conditions, it is typically an out-of-pocket cost.
You can search for a biofeedback practitioner through an accredited organization such as the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance or the Association for Applied Psychology and Biofeedback.
Biofeedback training has become more accessible than ever, both in terms of price and convenience.
Here are some of our favorite biofeedback options you can utilize from the comfort of your couch:
- Flowly (no surprise there!) 💙 By combining Virtual Reality with real-time biofeedback, Flowly allows you to find relief and relaxation wherever you are. All Flowly subscriptions include a Virtual Reality headset and a bluetooth Real-Time Heart Rate Biofeedback Sensor that allow you to enter our virtual reality worlds and track your progress through your own data portal. The cost ranges from $29.99 per month to $179.99 per year.
- HeartMath’s Inner Balance Trainer. The HeartMath Institute is a leader on the mind body connection, with over 300 peer reviewed studies published utilizing their techniques and technology. Their Inner Balance Trainer focuses on HRV coherence and is a one-time cost of $199.
- The Muse Headband. Muse incorporates neurofeedback for meditation and sleep, with options ranging from $249 to $399.
Biofeedback training allows you to become aware of your body’s signals and how you can consciously shift into a desired state of relaxation, calm, or relief. There are many different types of biofeedback, and you can explore this modality in a clinic with a biofeedback specialist or a biofeedback device that is designed for at-home use.