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Al Mumma M.S. Licensed Psychologist

723 Park Avenue
North Mankato, MN
507-388-5224

What Is Biofeedback?

Simply put, biofeedback is a means for gaining control of our body processes to increase relaxation, relieve pain, and develop healthier, more comfortable life patterns. Biofeedback gives us information about ourselves by means of external instruments. Using a thermometer to take our temperature is a common kind of biofeedback. Clinical biofeedback follows the same principle; precise instruments measure physiological activity such as brainwaves, heart function, breathing, muscle activity, and skin temperature. These instruments rapidly and accurately "feed back" information to the user. The presentation of this information — often in conjunction with changes in thinking, emotions, and behavior - supports desired physiological changes.

Biofeedback training familiarizes us with the activity in our various body systems so we may learn to control this activity to relieve stress and improve health. Trying to change physiological activity without biofeedback is like playing darts while blindfolded - we can't see whether we are hitting the mark or not. Biofeedback lets us know precisely when we are changing our physiologies in the desired direction.

Biofeedback is not a treatment. Rather, biofeedback training is an educational process for learning specialized mind/body skills. Learning to recognize physiological responses and alter them is not unlike learning how to play the piano or tennis - it requires practice. Through practice, we become familiar with our own unique psychophysiological patterns and responses to stress, and learn to control them rather than having them control us.

Why Do We Need Biofeedback?

When we are confronted with different stressful situations - anything from a sudden stop in traffic to being interviewed for a job - our bodies respond in much the same way, with the "fight or flight response." We automatically prepare either to fight the stressor or to run from it: Our heart rate increases, muscles tense, breathing becomes more shallow, we start to sweat, our minds race, etc. But this ancient, unconscious pattern, which once provided human beings with the responses necessary for self-protection in a challenging physical environment, is today the root of many stress-related illnesses and a reduced quality of life. Throughout our lives, as we confront the various stressors that occur every day, we respond by constantly tensing and relaxing. Eventually, after each instance of tensing, we cease to return to our original level of physiological relaxation. Thus, through the years we establish a stair-step pattern: We adapt to increasing levels of physiological activity. In so doing, we lose familiarity with deeper levels of relaxation and get used to greater levels of tension as the norm. This habituation to unnecessary physiological activity has a wearing effect and can cause such conditions as high blood pressure, headaches, digestive problems, and other illnesses.