According to the American
Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition,
the term "biofeedback" refers to:
"The technique of using monitoring devices to furnish
information regarding an autonomic bodily function, such as
heart rate or blood pressure, in an attempt to gain some voluntary
control over that function."
Biofeedback encompasses a very broad field
that uses devices ranging from those that train brainwaves, with
a solid grounding in science and research, to a large number of "new
One of the problems that home trainers face is sorting out fact
from fiction, what they want to do, how they want to do it, and
then how to go about accomplishing their goals. Then, they must
decide if they want to use only well researched techniques
or if they want to experiment - just for "fun." The
dilemma is, of course, rather mind boggling (no pun intended)
and can lead many neophytes to a state of total confusion before
they even begin. While some home trainers have the advantage of
working with professional therapists who can guide them, others
do not. Furthermore, the vast amount of materials available (especially
on the Internet), along with the ever-expanding body of research
on biofeedback, certainly doesn't make matters any easier. It is
hoped that this site will help biofeedback newbies sort through
the overwhelming amount of material already available.
In order to assist biofeedback newbies, this section will be divided
into three distinct parts; these are:
This form of "biofeedback" includes those types of training
that are, arguably, some of the most familiar to the general population.
It is important to note that professionals distinguish between
the two terms: "biofeedback" tends to be the most encompassing,
while the term "neurofeedback" refers
specifically to the training of brainwaves. Click on each item
below for detailed information on each:
- Neurofeedback (EEG) - As just noted, neurofeedback strives
to allow trainers to consciously alter/enhance/inhibit brainwaves.
- Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) - This treatment modality measures
the electrical resistance of the skin and is one of the oldest
forms of biofeedback as it is known today.
- Heart Rate Variability (HRV) - As its name implies, this form
of biofeedback measures heart rate variability. This is an area
that is relatively new to the field, is less expensive than EEG
training, and holds much promise as an effective form of biofeedback.
- Hemoencephalography (HEG) - Another very new but promising
form of biofeedback, HEG can measure (dependent upon the type
of equipment being used) the level of oxygen currently found
in the blood feeding feeding the brain (with higher levels usually
being considered as
"better") or the temperature of the blood found in
the region of the forehead. This technology also appears to hold
a lot of promise.
- Breathing Techniques - like all of the forms already discussed,
the intent of bio/neurofeedack is to consciously change automatic
bodily functions for specific reasons. The ability
to breathe properly has already recieved a lot of research and
can be used to enhance the efficacy of most other types of biofeedback.
Audio/Visual & Other Entrainment Approaches/Techniques
The following devices and techniques are not considered to be
"biofeedback" modalities, per se, as they do not provide
any feedback. Rather, they attempt to alter many of the same things
as biofeedback (brainwaves, heart rate, GSR, etc.) but are passive.
This means that using these devices may help to achieve
similar outcomes as biofeedback. So far, the effects of some of
these devices (with the exception of CES) appears to be rather
temporary but may serve as effective adjuncts
to the forms of bio/neurofeedback already mentioned.
The term "entrainment" refers to the ability for the
brain to automatically align itself with various types of
wave forms (electrical, light, sound, etc.). While this may sound
rather bizarre, there is a lot of science to back up the fact
that entrainment is one way to achieve specific outcomes and also
appears to have many uses.
Some of the
most common forms are:
- Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES) - involves passing
a very LOW level of electrical current through the
the brain. Unlike the use of ECT (electro convulsive therapy)
- the rather violent treatment of electroshock treatment that
is often depicted in movies, CES devices are
often very small and battery powered (in many cases, using just
one nine volt battery). The amount of
electricity is sometimes so low that nothing, literally, can
be felt. Currently, there is just one such device that has been
approved for use in the United States by the FDA. Interestingly,
this device, is available in other countries
without a prescription.
- Audio Visual Stimulation (AVS or “Light and Sound Machines”)
- AVS is a fascinating form of entrainment that uses flashing LEDs (light emitting
diodes) and sound to alter brainwaves. While this has been shown
to be effective for quickly achieving certain states, the sole
use of AVS may may not have lasting effects. Just the same, many
people have found AVS to be useful and it can also be lot of
- The Use of Binaural Beats (auditory
stimulation only) - requires software, recorded materials,
or devices that generate very specific sounds to entrain brainwaves.
As a rule, sound is processed by the brain far faster than
any of the other senses and has been shown to be useful for
many purposes. Click on the link to find out more about this
fascinating form of entrainment.
Other Treatment/Healing Modalities
Interestingly, entrainment has been achieved for thousands of
years using a variety of often strange methods. While some of
these ancient methods are still being used (and/or being rediscovered),
science is beginning to recognize that many ancient practices are;
indeed, highly effective, although much remains to be learned.
Another area of interest to some include related "new
agey stuff" but, if one is willing to sift through much
of the "bad
abounds in these circles and seek out sound (no pun intended)
ideas, there may be some exciting things waiting to be discovered.
- Ancient Practices - ranging from use of music to
shamanistic sound healing, there appears to be some interesting
information that may be highly applicable to biofeedback.
- New Age Stuff - some of the most bizarre and
just plain weird ideas pertaining to the use of
"energy healing," force fields, and other such things
are found here. Even so, there may be merit to some of these
ideas, even though there is also a lot of "garbage" to filter
through first in order to get to real substance.