by James Ford, ThD
Many of us have heard of Biofeedback therapy for dealing with chronic pain, retraining damaged muscles and other serious medical problems. What we may not realize is the potential for learning self-regulation of what happens to our mind and body when we are dealing with the many stressors of modern life. Forget about Biofeedback instruments changing us – they only measure what is going on in our body. They show us how we can change ourselves. They give us back control of our own responses to stress. We reap a huge health benefit when we learn ways of being more stress resistant. Stress, especially the chronic high levels of stress we experience in modern living, can waste vast amounts of our energy, weaken our natural immunity to disease, and sap our joy and vitality. Biofeedback training has been of help in reducing the symptoms of stress experienced in headaches, insomnia, pain, high blood pressure, digestive disorders, and many other ailments.
Biofeedback works by “feeding back” information about how our body is functioning so that we can become aware of small physical changes. As this “awareness” develops, it becomes possible to learn to control (self-regulate) our bodily functions. Stress is the “fight or flight” response which occurs in our body whenever we think or feel threatened. It is the physiological expression of being able to survive life-threatening dangers. We moderns are seldom in danger of dying but our bodies can “mistake” signals and prepare to survive by going on high alert. Our body is wonderfully equipped to deal with short, acute stresses but longer, non-life threatening stressors cause us to pay a high price healthwise. Surviving in our times demands we learn to manage our stress so that our health is not harmed by it.
One of the simplest techniques of Biofeedback is called “hand warming.” When we experience stress, one dramatic result is that the blood circulation to our hands and feet decreases. We quite literally get cold hands and feet. When the body relaxes as the perceived danger passes, the hands and feet quite naturally become warm again. The more stressed we feel, the lower the temperature at the hands and feet. The following hand temperature readings are average guidelines:
- Stressed = below 85 degrees
- Mildly anxious = 85 – 89.9 degrees
- Normal = 90 – 92.9 degrees
- Calm = 93 – 94.9 degrees
- Deeply Relaxed = about 95 degrees
By using a simple thermometer with the bulb taped gently over the fingerprint area of a middle or ring finger, you can practice Biofeedback training. Now having a Biofeedback instrument attached, we can experiment with different ways of increasing hand temperature and reducing stress.
- Deep breathing – inhale slowly and deeply, then exhale longer than the inhalation. (See the Yoga and Breathing eJournal article
- Imagery – think about being in a very peaceful, relaxing place. Take a mental vacation, imagining what can be seen, heard, smelled, touched, and tasted in this wonderful place.
- Music – listen to soft, relaxing music.
- Self-hypnosis – say to oneself phrases like “I feel very relaxed. My hands are beginning to feel warm. My muscles are loose and relaxed. My hands are heavy and warm. I can feel the blood running into my hands.”
- Sit quietly – bring the attention to the breath at the nostrils or the belly and simply ride with the gentle rhythm. If the mind strays, simply bring the attention back to the breathing.
We are all different, so we must experiment with what works for us. Doing any of the exercises for 5 – 10 minutes twice daily will increase our awareness of how it feels to be relaxed or stressed. We learn how to “catch” ourselves as the stress reaction builds and how to “turn on” relaxation. For best results, we must practice until we can easily reach 95 degrees and maintain it for 10 minutes. This simple training will yield great health benefits.
James Ford, ThD is trained as a Pastoral Counselor with clinical experience in general and mental hospitals and family counseling centers. He is a Professor of Psychology at Community College of Aurora. Since 1982, he has developed courses in Comparative World Religions, Religion & Western Civilization, and Death & Dying. He began and chaired the Social Science Division for several years. Then he developed the Paraprofessional Counseling Program, a nationally recognized Mind-Body Health Center, and most recently the Hatha Yoga Teachers Institute to train professional Yoga teachers. With his wife Nellie, he facilitates college and community programs on stress management and other holistic health choices. James also teaches woodcarving classes in several community programs.
Copyright © 1998-2012, CompWellness Network, Fairfield NJ USA Community College of Aurora, Mind-Body Health Center. Reprinted with permission.