When Denver sport and performance psychologist Steve Portenga, PhD, first started providing therapy to athletes, he taught them breathing and relaxation exercises to practice at home. But he often doubted whether the athletes were doing their homework correctly, if at all.
“I’d ask them how their relaxation went over the past week and was getting answers like, ‘Oh, yeah…right.'” he says. The replies left him thinking, “You didn’t do it, did you?”
Then Portenga learned about biofeedback—a tool that provides empirical evidence of physiological activity, such as heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension, skin temperature and brain wave patterns. Using sensors connected to displays, he and his clients could see how their bodies reacted to stress and to stress-reduction exercises. Athletes can also train with biofeedback apps at home and these sessions can be tracked, to see not only that they do their homework, but how well it works.
Portenga says he appreciates not just biofeedback’s ability to provide accountability, but the way it has helped his athletes learn to handle competitive pressure. He has used the technique with athletes in every major professional sport, including at Super Bowls, world championships and the Olympics.
Sedentary behavior is the new norm as most jobs do not require active movement. Sitting in a car instead of walking, standing on the escalator instead of walking up the stairs, using an electric mixer instead of whipping the eggs by hand, sending a text instead of getting up and talking to a co-worker in the next cubicle, buying online instead of walking to the brick and mortar store, watching TV shows, streaming movies, or playing computer games instead of socializing with actual friends, are all examples how the technological revolution has transformed our lives. The result is sitting disease which we belief can mitigate by daily exercise.
The research data is very clear– exercise does not totally reverse the health risks of sitting. In the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, researchers Matthews and colleagues (Matthews et al, 2012) completed an 8.5 year follow up on 240,819 adults (aged 50–71 year) who at the beginning baseline surveys did not report any cancer, cardiovascular disease, or respiratory disease.
After having constant abdominal pain, severe cramps, and losing 15 pounds from IBS, I found myself in the hospital bed where all the doctors could offer me was morphine to reduce the pain. I searched on my smart phone for other options. I saw that abdominal breathing could help. I put my hands on my stomach and tried to expand it while I inhaled. All that happened was that my chest expanded and my stomach did not move. I practiced and practiced and finally, I could breathe lower. Within a few hours, my pain was reduced. I continued breathing this way many times. Now, two years later, I no longer have IBS and have regained 20 pounds. – 21-year old woman who previously had severe IBS
Irritable bowel syndrome(IBS) affects between 7% to 21% of the general population and is a chronic condition. The symptoms usually include abdominal cramping, discomfort or pain, bloating, loose or frequent stools and constipation and can significantly reduce the quality of life (Chey et al, 2015). A precursor of IBS in children is called recurrent abdominal pain (RAP) which affects between 0.3 to 19% of school children (Chitkara et al, 2005). Both IBS and RAP appear to be functional illnesses, as no organic causes have been identified to explain the symptoms. In the USA, this results in more than 3.1 physician visits and 5.9 million prescriptions written annually. The total direct and indirect cost of these services exceeds $20 billion (Chey et al, 2015). Multiple factors may contribute to IBS, such as genetics, food allergies, previous treatment with antibiotics, severity of infection, psychological status and stress. More recently, changes in the intestinal and colonic microbiome resulting in small intestine bacterial overgrowth are suggested as another risk factor (Dupont, 2014).
Setting a personal best and winning the Gold medal is a remarkable feat. Jo Aita, age 46 and weighing 58 kg, set the Masters World Records and Masters Games Records in Snatch, Clean & Jerk and Total Olympic weight lifting at the World Masters Games in Auckland, New Zealand, April 26th, 2017. She lifted 71 kg in the Snatch and 86 kg in the Clean and Jerk Olympic lifts in the 45-49-year-old age group (see video in figure 1). What makes this more remarkable is that her combined lifts were 3 kilograms more than her life-time best in previous competition. She refuted the conventional wisdom that weight lifters peak in their mid to late twenties. There is hope for improvement as aging may not mean we have to decline.
There are many factors–and many more which we do not know–which contribute to this achievement such as genetics, diligent training and superb coaching at the Max’ Gym in Oakland as a member of Team Juggernauts. In the last three years, Jo Aita also incorporated biofeedback and visualization training to help optimize her performance. This report summarizes how breathing and electromyography feedback combined with imagery may have contributed to achieving her personal best. As Jo Aita stated, “I recommend this to everyone and hope that you can work with athletes in my gym.”
Components of the 30 sessions of biofeedback, internal language and visualization training program
The training was started in September 2014 to reduce anxiety and improve performance. The components embedded in the training are listed sequentially; however, training did not occur sequentially. They were dynamically interwoven throughout the many sessions and augmented with homework practices, as well as storytelling of other people achieving success using similar approaches. The major components included:
1. Mastering effortless slow diaphragmatic breathing in which the abdomen expanded during inhalations and constricted during exhalation. The respiration feedback and training was recorded with BioGraph Infinity respiration sensors and recorded from the abdomen and upper chest. Her homework included monitoring situations where she held her breath and then anticipate breath holding by continuing to breathe. She also practiced slower breathing with heart rate variability feedback from a Stress Eraser. Practicing these allowed her to become centered and regenerate more quickly. As she stated, “It helped me during the day when I am anxious to calm down.” Throughout the training, the focus was to use breathing to rapidly regenerate after exertion especially after training.
2. Learning to relax her shoulder muscles with electromyography (EMG) feedback to regenerate and learn awareness of minimal trapezius muscle tension. She could use this awareness to identify her emotional reactivity (Peper, Booiman, Lin, & Shaffer, 2014). Often emotional reactivity increases muscle tension. She learned to relax here muscles quickly after muscle contractions to allow regeneration
When Rob Stephens, a 22-year-old senior, walks into the Mindfulness Room at Carnegie Mellon University, he leaves his homework and stress at the door.
He is surrounded by a waterfall wall, plants, lots of natural light and an open space with cushions on the floor — a 24/7 space is set aside for meditation or just peaceful thinking.
“I definitely think it helps to de-stress,” said Stephens, a global studies major from Atlanta, Georgia. “It’s the time I spend making sure I am OK.”
Mindfulness is as popular at colleges nationwide as it is now at CMU.
“It’s someone giving themselves uninterrupted mental space,” said Stephens. “Some focus on themselves or others. It’s a time to stop and refocus your purpose.”
Studies show the practice may be an antidote to the high levels of stress and depression seen on college campuses.
The American College Health Association found in a 2015 study that more than 85 percent said they “felt overwhelmed” by the demands of college. And a third of all student said stress had a negative effect on their overall academic performance.
CALGARY — The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Jun. 02, 2017 9:12PM EDT
There was a time when his eyes and brain were at odds with one another. He would try reading a book and found he couldn’t follow the words beyond four pages or even remember what he had just read. He was perpetually tired. He needed help.
So Dennis Polonich, the former Detroit Red Wings forward who decades earlier was left broken and bloodied on the ice after being smashed in the face with an opponent’s stick, ended up walking into Stuart Donaldson’s Myosymmetries Clinic in Calgary – for biofeedback and psychological services.
Mr. Polonich may not have understood all the science and technology behind his treatment, but this much he knows for certain: “I walked out of that office feeling more comfortable than I was going in. I feel better. I feel happy. I’m reading again.”
Biofeedback is not a new form of alternative therapy – the Biofeedback Research Society was formed in 1969 in Santa Monica, Calif. – but it is controversial. Dr. Donaldson’s use of detailed data collected by a quantitative electroencephalograph (qEEG), however, is at the leading edge of assessing and treating brain-injury symptoms. Using sensors in contact with a patient’s scalp, qEEG technology maps out the brain, producing charts and numbers that indicate which parts are overactive and underactive and whether there have been previous concussions or a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI).
Real-time data help us understand our response to stress but experts warn of unfounded claims in consumer tech
By Lisa Johnson, CBC News Posted: May 17, 2017 6:00 AM PT
Sitting in front of a computer screen is not normally considered a stress busting tactic.
But clinical counselor Hiroko Demichelis uses real-time data — from an array of sensors strapped to her clients — to help them learn relaxation techniques.
“I think we are all in a great need to explore the science of calming down,” she said.
“We all know about the accelerator in the Ferrari, but somehow we have forgotten, lost track of the brake.”
Among her clinical tools for biofeedback is an interesting metric called heart rate variability — a sort of proxy measure for stress that’s been used in studies to help pregnant women and army recruits.
It’s also frequently popping up in consumer-level stress tracking devices, though experts warn the accuracy and usefulness of those technologies may be works in progress.
A new mouse study reveals a set of neurons that may point to physiological roots for the calming effects of breathing control
By Diana Kwon on March 30, 2017 from Scientific American
During yoga pranayama exercises people practice controlling the breath, or prana, to induce a state of calm and focus. Paying attention to breathing and slowing down respiration is a core component of many mindfulness practices. Research suggests the practice has multiple benefits—it induces an overall sense of well-being while reducing anxiety and improved sleep.
But what exactly is going on in the brain during meditation? Imaging studies of humans have shown brain regions involved in mind-wandering, attention and emotion are involved in various stages of mindfulness practice. A new mouse study, published Thursday in Science, shows that neurons in the brain stem may also mediate the link between breathing and inducing a state of meditative calm.
OTTAWA, March 23, 2017 – Thought Technology has joined Cycling Canada’s family of performance partners with a commitment to provide biofeedback products and technologies to support Canada’s elite cyclists on the road to Tokyo 2020 and beyond.
The long-term partnership will provide state-of-the-art biofeedback and neurofeedback technologies as tools to help evaluate and enhance psychophysiological performances across Cycling Canada’s high performance programs. For over 40 years, Thought Technology has provided technology solutions for optimizing performance across the globe. The Montreal based company has worked with the likes of NASA, the US and international military and police forces, gold-medal winning Olympic athletes, and many of the top professional sports leagues all over the world.
“We are thrilled to welcome Cycling Canada into our peak performance family, and in being welcomed into theirs,” said Lucas Borgo, Sales & Marketing Account Executive. “We look forward to working with them to provide measurable mental performance metrics and mental skills to their competitive teams.”
“Partnering with Thought Technology will allow us to develop a whole new aspect of our mental training service, which is such an important part of helping our team to perform under pressure,” said Andrea Wooles, Sports Science and Medicine Manager for Cycling Canada. “The equipment, training, and expertise that Thought Technology is providing will allow our riders to train their minds using feedback, similar to how they use power meters to help them train their bodies.”
I know we are beginning the month of March, but it’s never too late to awaken to the moment. In my effort to be the best version of myself and live a resilient and optimal life, daily stresses and periodic emergencies have their way of taking me off The Path. We all have this “survival bias”, an automatic tendency to look for the dangers in our lives that shifts us away from avenues of new growth and creativity.
There is something about the beginning of the year that serves to wake me up, to bring me back to my intentions. The mark of the calendar serves to reignite these intentions. I’d like to share this process with you, as it is an approach that can serve you as well.
One thing that stress tends to do is shift our thinking and behavior into “instinct mode”. With danger comes a shift from creativity and expansiveness, to more habitual behaviors. This might include taking the easier tasks first and leaving more important ones that then don’t get done. Or it might mean excessive worry that causes procrastination, fatigue and loss of sleep. These old patterns keep us stuck in life. When you keep doing things the same way, you get the same old results. New approaches are important for greater resilience and success.