Using objective data to improve performance

Psychologists are using biofeedback to help clients identify and change their physical responses to stress and more

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.

Read more…

Healing Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Diaphragmatic Breathing

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).

Read more…

Winning the Gold in weight lifting-Using biofeedback, imagery and cognitive change

Watch the in-depth interview with Jo Aita in which she describes her experience of integrating imagery techniques and biofeedback to enhance performance on May 26, 2017.

“It was the best meet of my life.” -Jo Aita

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[3]. 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

see the full article and videos on “the peper perspective

Stress tracking technology: Can wiring up calm us down?

A hand rigged up with sensors for heart rate, microsweat and peripheral temperature, which Hiroko Demichelis uses with clients to help them learn how they respond to stress. (David Horemans/CBC)

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.

See the full article here

Meditation’s Calming Effects Pinpointed in Brain

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.

see the full article here

The Science Behind the emWave® and Inner Balance™ Technologies

The emWave and Inner Balance technologies, and the tools and techniques of the HeartMath system, are based on over 20 years of scientific research on the psychophysiology of stress, emotions, and the interactions between the heart and brain.

The Heart–Brain Connection

Most of us have been taught in school that the heart is constantly responding to “orders” sent by the brain in the form of neural signals. However, it is not as commonly known that the heart actually sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart! Moreover, these heart signals have a significant effect on brain function – influencing emotional processing as well as higher cognitive faculties such as attention, perception, memory, and problem-solving. In other words, not only does the heart respond to the brain, but the brain continuously responds to the heart.

Read more…

Listen to your head and your heart: Heart Rate Variability 101


February 2017/by Morgan Ingemanson

Pop duo Roxette said it best: Listen to your heart. Words of wisdom to remember this Valentine’s Day. And, excellent advice when it comes to taking care of your health. In fact, listening to your heart can help you understand what is going on in your head!

One biomarker to rule them all

It’s no secret that doctors encourage patients to place high importance on maintaining heart health. And for good reason – heart disease is still the leading cause of death is the US. Keeping a close eye on biomarkers like cholesterol, heart rate, and blood pressure just comes with the territory of aging. But you could be skipping over a key biomarker that serves as a broad indicator of overall physical and psychological health for people of all ages: heart rate variability.

An introduction to Heart Rate Variability

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a measure of the variation in the time between individual heart beats. Rather than simply counting how many times your heart beats per minute, HRV measures how consistent the length of time between each beat is. HRV helps doctors understand if your heart is beating in a simple and predictable pattern, like a metronome, or in a more variable pattern.

Read more…

Tap your holiday stress-busting super power: Breathing

By Dana Santas, from CNN Updated 10:47 PM ET, Sun November 20, 2016

Despite the myriad joys the season brings, it can be a stressful time for many of us. Between shopping, cooking, travel, parties, house guests, winter storms and shorter days, the holidays pile on the stress with little regard for the continued demands of our everyday lives. Instead of feeling festive, we’re often left tense, irritable and exhausted.

The good news is that we’re all equipped with a natural superpower to manage stress: breathing.

Read more…

How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve for Better Mental Health

Great article from a Optimal Living Dynamics blog about the benefits of HRV and stimulating the vagus nerve. Authored by Jordan Fallis

The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It connects your brain to many important organs throughout the body, including the gut (intestines, stomach), heart and lungs.

In fact, the word “vagus” means “wanderer” in Latin, which accurately represents how the nerve wanders all over the body and reaches various organs.

The vagus nerve is also a key part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system. It influences your breathing, digestive function and heart rate, all of which can have a huge impact on your mental health.

But what you really need to pay special attention to is the “tone” of your vagus nerve.
Vagal tone is an internal biological process that represents the activity of the vagus nerve.

Increasing your vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and having higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress.

In 2010, researchers discovered a positive feedback loop between high vagal tone, positive emotions, and good physical health. In other words, the more you increase your vagal tone, the more your physical and mental health will improve, and vice versa .

Read the full article How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve for Better Mental Health