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.
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
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).
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) as applied by behavioral scientists includes strategies for changing negative cognitions that contribute to depression and anxiety. Biofeedback is a useful strategy to demonstrate to clients the mind (cognitive, psychological) to body (physiological) interaction. For example, a cognitive, psychological reaction to a stimuli results in a physiological effects as illustrated by changes in skin conductance or muscle tension. A case example is used to demonstrate an anticipatory psychophysiological response resulting in covert activity of the forearm as a client simply imagines playing the piano.
“SYDNEY (Reuters) – Thought-controlled prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs and computers may be available within a decade, say Australian scientists who are planning to conduct human trials next year on a high-tech implant that can pick up and transmit signals from the brain.”
“A Brooklyn-based company called OpenBCI (short for brain computer interface) makes these headsets and sells them to students and hobbyists. And unlike most commercial products on the market, all of their software and hardware plans are open source.”
We are often asked by counselors in counseling programs how they can incorporate biofeedback in to their counseling programs. Helping students cope with stress and offering an avenue for counseling services is a very valuable commodity to any university and its student body. Dr Wyner and Emory University have an excellent counseling program at Emory and asked her Emorys’ model This is from the desk of Dr Wyner:
This is the core of the letter that I send to counseling center psychologists who ask me how we run our program…
Great article about the student counseling program at Emory University. See the full story below.
“As the calm and collected overseer of Eagles at Ease Stress Management Services, Dana Wyner ’04 PhD encourages her clients to take a mental mini holiday, go limp like JELL-O and feel snug as a bug in a rug.
Those practical lessons for relaxation on the go are particularly helpful during exam time, when nerves are frayed and performance anxieties go into overdrive.
The Student Counseling Center Stress Clinic, funded by Emory’s new mental health fee, sees more than 30 students each semester for issues such as test-taking anxiety, phobias, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, headaches and hypertension. Services include helping students develop a personalized toolbox of positive coping strategies, small group training in relaxation skills and biofeedback, and individualized therapy sessions.”