Biofeedback - mind and body

Some people seem to think that somehow neurofeedback (biofeedback for the brain) is somehow more important than biofeedback for the body.  They are wrong.

Embodied cognition

This is routed in an ancient belief that the brain is "in charge" and therefore more important.  However this belief is not in step with our modern understanding in which it is recognised that the mind and body are uniquely interconnected.  The brain is in many ways the servant of the body rather than it's master.

We are used to imagining the brain as the organ of cognition but modern thinking suggests that the brain is not the only cognitive resource have to solve problems. We know that the heart for example has it's own little brain and can moderate and modulate the actions of our nervous system.  Martial artists have known for hundreds of years how to channel and focus our body's energy for power or healing - by how they place their attention on an area of the body.  Yogi's, martial artists and NLP'ers can take body awareness, focus  and self-regulation to an art form.

If we want to take a major step forward in self regulation (without equipment) where should we start?

The most important modality for self regulation of our mind body state is controlled breathing. A mentor of mine and a martial artist himself used to say, "The difference between fear and excitement is shown in how you breathe".

Learning diaphragmatic breathing is essential for anyone dealing with stress or anxiety disorders as it can kickstart a reduction in anxiety in a short period of time.

You don't need biofeedback to learn this breathing method which is about adjusting the rate and method of breathing. Normal ventilation is central in providing the brain with oxygen and glucose which we need to survive. Anxious inviduals often breath from their upper chest rather than their diaphragm and their breathing rate is often shallow and yet forced.  Techniques of breathing are well described elsewhere and certainly well worth taking to heart.

If you have a biofeedback system many more options become available. With the Nexus system you can use a respiration sensor along with a breath pacer and a feedback screen to learn this pattern of breathing very easily. You can simultaneously gather information from multiple sensors such as

  • GSR Galvanic skin response showing activation of the ANS
  • Skin temperature
  • BVP/EKG to track heart rate variability (HRV)
  • EMG perhaps on the trapezius muscles or forehead.

Neurofeedback training influences the data you will see when observing these types of sensors. It is that mind-body connection at work. We talk often about multimodal operation as an important feature of the NeXus biofeddabck units. This is because when you track multiple sensors in this way you are getting a more "global" picture of what is happening in the body mind.  The interconnections in the body-mind system will manifest in changes in these peripheral signals and if you only have one sensor you can miss something vital to understanding the situation. 

Neurofeedback practitioners will often incorporate sensors for these peripheral signals becuase it improves there overall effectiveness. It's not the case that neurofeedback is necessarily the most important intervention.