What Is Biofeedback?
Biofeedback refers to training yourself to self-regulate based on feedback from your body and your mind.
Biofeedback (BFB) is based on the notion that a change in your physiological state (i.e., increased heart rate) produces a change in your mental and emotional state (i.e., feel anxious or excited), which in turn, produces a change in your physiological state.
It’s a cycle.
To use an example, Theresa and I measure changes on the surface of athletes’ skin (galvanic skin response) as a method to measure physiological changes. To begin, athletes use imagery to mentally place themselves in various athletic scenarios (which will elicit at least some kind of emotion for them). They do this while holding a small device in their hand which produces an audible tone when it detects stress in the body. The athletes’ goal is to use the mental skill they’re practicing (i.e., centering breathing) to regulate their bodily activation, using the feedback from the device (the tone) to guide them. As they succeed with regulation (successfully using their breathing techniques), the device detects that change in the body (stress reduction), quieting the tone little by little as the athletes regulate their bodies more and more effectively, feeling calmer with every breath.
Why Is It Useful?
Just like a coach gives you feedback about your physical skills, biofeedback is a way to gain objective feedback about your mental skills. You can’t see inside your brain (like you can see your technique on a follow through), so you have to take cues from your body to measure success with regulatory mental skills.
The feedback you receive from BFB training allows you to tweak the mental strategies you’re employing to manage your athletic situation.
In time, as athletes become more adept with regulating mental skills based on BFB, they gain control over how they respond to various athletic situations. This is invaluable.
Picture this. Two athletes prepare to step into the blocks for a 200m dash. They both feel their heartrate jump up and their breathing rate spike. One athlete is trained in BFB, and the other is not.
The athlete trained in BFB would likely think, “I can feel that my body is highly activated. It’s time to take 3 deep, centering breaths to regulate my heart rate and slow down my breathing.” He would feel confident that employing this technique would produce the desired results because he trained to do so.
The athlete not trained in BFB would likely think, “I feel really nervous. What if I’m not ready for this? Maybe I should just try to shake out these jitters…” He may or may not use a strategy that works in that moment, but he probably won’t feel confident, and he certainly won’t be consistent.
Think of all the changes you feel in your body as you prepare for a competition or a big event. You might feel changes in your heart rate, breathing rate, or sweating.
There are different kinds of BFB training that focus on various physiological changes in the body. These methods measure changes in:
Think of it this way. When your coach watches you, she can evaluate your technique, your speed, your strength, and your recovery from mistakes. She can provide you feedback on all those different factors. BFB is no different. There are lots of things going on in your body at any given moment, and practitioners can measure most all of them!
Mental Skills in Tandem
No matter which measurement method you use, the real meat of BFB training is to learn to self-regulate by using mental skills effectively in response to the physiological changes you feel in your body.
In other words, which mental strategies can you use to respond to and regulate the feelings in your body? Try these:
If you’re interested in learning more about BFB or doing a BFB session with one of us, we’d love to hear from you! Head over to our website and reach out.