When we think of alternative health we are quick to think of natural remedies, herbs and hands on healing. But what of high technology; does it have a place in alternative medicine? The answer is a resounding yes. Over the past decade, specific forms of electronic technology have proven valuable in healing, including biofeedback.
WHAT IS BIOFEEDBACK?
Biofeedback is a method for learned control of physiological responses of the body. These responses include the skeletal musculature, temperature/blood flow, heart rate, respiration, skin response/GSR and brain waves.
The experimental data to support the feasibility of such learned controls first appeared in the 1950s with the work of psychologists such as Neal E. Miller. They increased in the 1960s, mostly through animal studies, although some experiments with humans were also performed. Next came a joint endeavor between experimental psychology and physiology. It became clear that biofeedback training techniques could be used to help control certain body functions.
Biofeedback training includes electronic monitoring devices to feedback changes in your body functions, so that you can become aware of these often imperceptible changes, and learn to control them. The feedback modes include the use of a computer display, meter, light bar or tone.
Initially, the clinician makes the task easy, and as the client achieves skill, the clinician makes the task more difficult. The goal is that the client be able to control more competently his body functions, even under life stresses, without the biofeedback equipment.
Many people who learn biofeedback often report a renewed sense of physical and mental well-being and an improved self-image.
Over a period of years, many studies (see references below) indicate that biofeedback may be of benefit when used for health problems including stress reduction, headaches, anxiety, chronically taut muscles from accidents or sports injuries, high blood pressure, and chronic pain. EEG brainwave biofeedback appears to have demonstrated some benefit for ADD/ADHD (see article below by neurofeedback pioneer Dr. Joel Lubar), substance abuse, mild brain injury, depression/mood states and cognition enhancement. There has been success in the use of biofeedback for incontinence and in Vulvodynia.
Studies involving larger populations and longer follow-up are necessary; some studies are currently in progress. Biofeedback often is successful in conjunction with traditional medical treatment.
Biofeedback/brain wave training protocols have also been introduced that show potential efficacy in enhancing performance in sports, productivity and focus in business/corporate/industrial, university/school and performing arts environments.
When we say "mind machines," we are speaking of neurotechnology. Mind machines refer to those devices and techniques capable of producing changes in the electrical activity of the user's brain. When these occur, we may experience deep, stress-relieving relaxation, increased receptivity to information (with the ability to process and recall it), and changes in dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We may even enter a creative reverie with fertile ideas and solutions to problems.
Some people use the technology to improve their ability to learn and remember, some to center and establish a base of tranquillity in a stressful world, and others for entertainment. Mind machines may be thought of as accelerators of change.
HOW DO MIND MACHINES WORK?
Mind machines come in a number of forms. The most well-known, the light/sound machines, pulse lights and sounds with the purpose of entraining the brainwaves. Entraining the brainwaves towards certain frequencies may result in the reduction of stress, increase in relaxation, enhancement of cognitions, peak performance and even increased creativity. I have found that light/sound machines when used with relaxation tapes, can supply increased benefit.
It should be noted that light/sound instrumentation have not undergone rigorous clinical testing.
A potentially powerful tool, the combination of brainwave biofeedback with light/sound stimulation, is just now undergoing testing by Dr. Len Ochs and others.
In general, light/sound machines should not be used by those with epilleptic tendencies.
CES (cranial electrical stimulator) machines apply an extremely small amount of electrical energy (microamps) across the cranium using earclips on each ear. CES units are used for pain (even chronic pain and headaches) and more recently there are indications they may be beneficial for anxiety, mood states (hostility, anger, depression, rejection), insomnia, stress reduction, substance abuse and even performance enhancement. A prescription is required for such CES devices as the Alpha Stim.
Other Mind Machines that have potential health and mental benefits are:
Float Tanks, as described by Dr. John Lilly, that utilize reduced external stimulation to heighten brainwave activity, creativity, and manage stress.
Lucid Dreaming devices, that detect when you are dreaming by sensing the movement of your eyes during REM sleep with photoelectric sensors. Researcher, Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. describes how to use these devices to increase ability to recall your dreams and possible applications to creative problem solving , rehearsal for living, overcoming nightmares and achieving "psychological integration".
One may even consider as a type of mind machine, air and water purifiers, since they can help prevent polluted, odorous, or contaminated home or office/workplace environments from downgrading one's mental and physical facilities.
Biofeedback and other mind machines are high technology devices that can affect the body/mind and potentially improve both psychological and mental health. Many people who use biofeedback and mind machines report a renewed sense of physical and mental well-being and improved self image. These benefits are often long lasting.
Consultation with your health advisor or physician prior to use of these technologies is recommended. They can help you determine if you have a condition that merits caution in using this equipment, or they may be able to provide suggestions that can maximize the resulting benefits.
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