A historical perspective of neurofeedback: Video interview by Larrry Berkelhammer of Erik Peper

Dr. Erik Peper is interviewed by Dr. Larry Berkelhammer about the research he did in the late 60s and early 70s on EEG alpha training. He describes how he learned to turn off alpha brain rhythms in one hemisphere and turn them on in the other.
Neurofeedback equipment allows researchers and clinicians to get extremely useful feedback, allowing people who are hooked up to get very good at identifying their own brain rhythms and to alter them at will. This can potentially allow us to re-train our brains. Dr. Peper talks about how the real gift of science is about being open to explore rather than to assume our beliefs are factual. Science is about curiosity, experimentation, and exploration. In studying people with cancer and other diseases it is vital that we study more than just pathology–we need to study those individuals who are the outliers, that is, those who recovered against all odds–let’s see what they did to mobilize their health.

 


Go for it: The journey from paraplegia to flying

After a catastrophic event occurs a person often becomes depressed as the future looks bleak. One may keep asking, ”Why, why me?” When people accept–acceptance without resignation— and concentrate on the small steps of the journey towards their goal, remarkable changes may occur. The challenge is to focus on new possibilities without comparing to how it was in the past. The limits of possibility are created by the limits of our beliefs. We may learn from athletes who aim to improve performance whereas clients usually come to reduce symptoms. As Wilson and Peper (2011) point out, Athletes want to go beyond normal—they want to be superb, to be atypical, to be the outlier. It is irrelevant what the athlete believes or feels. What is relevant is whether the performance is improved, which is a measurable and documented event”. They have described some of the factors that distinguish work with athletes from work with clients which includes intensive transfer of learning training, often between 2 and 6 hours of daily practice across days, weeks, and months. This process is described by the Australian cross-country skier, Janine Shepherd, who had hoped for an Olympic medal — until she was hit by a truck during a training bike ride. She shares a powerful story about the human potential for recovery. Her message: You are not your body, and giving up old dreams can allow new ones to soar. Watch Janine Shepherd’s 2012 Ted talk, A broken body isn’t a broken person.

Reference:

Wilson, V.E. & Peper, E. (2011). Athletes Are Different: Factors That Differentiate Biofeedback/Neurofeedback for Sport Versus Clinical Practice. Biofeedback, 39(1), 27–30.

Shepherd, J. (2012). A broken body isn’t a broken person. Ted talk. http://www.ted.com/talks/janine_shepherd_a_broken_body_isn_t_a_broken_person


Making the Unaware Aware*

“You only have to think to lift the hand and the muscles react.”

“I did not realize that muscle tension occurred without visible movement.”

“I was shocked that I was unaware of my muscle activity—The EMG went up before I felt anything.”

“Just anticipating the thought of the lifting of my hand increased the EMG numbers.”

“After training I could feel the muscle tension and it was one third lower than before I started.”

                                                            -Workshop participants after working with SEMG feedback

Many people are totally unaware that they are tightening their muscles and continuously holding slight tension until they experience stiffness or pain. This covert low-level muscle tension can occur in any muscle and has been labeled dysponesis, namely, misplaced and misdirected efforts (from the Greek: dys = bad; ponos = effort, work, or energy) (Whatmore & Kohli, 1974; Harvey & Peper, 2012). This chronic covert tension is a significant contributor to numerous disorders that range from neck, shoulder, and back pain to headaches and exhaustion and can easily be observed in people working at the computer.

While mousing and during data entry, most people are unaware that they are slightly tightening their shoulder muscles. One can often see this low level chronic tension when a person continuously lifts an index finger in anticipation of clicking the mouse or bends the wrist and lifts the fingers away from the keyboard while mousing with the other hand as shown in Figure 1.

Fig 1 hand lift

Figure 1. Lifting the hand without any awareness while mousing with the other hand (from Peper et al, 2014)

People may hold a position for a long time without being aware that they are contracting their muscles. They are focusing on their task performance. They are “captured by the screen” – until discomfort and pain occur. Only after they experience discomfort or pain, do they change position. Factors that contribute to this apparent lack of somatic awareness include:

  • Being captured by the task. People are so focused upon performing a task that they are unaware of their dysfunctional body position, which eventually will cause discomfort.
  • Institutionalized powerlessness. People accept the external environment as unchangeable. They cannot conceive new options and do not attempt to adjust the environment to fit it to themselves.
  • Lack of somatic awareness and training. People are unaware of their own low levels of somatic and muscle tension.

 Being Captured By the Task

People often want to perform a task well and they focus their attention upon correctly performing the task. They forget to check whether their body position is optimized for the task. Only after the body position becomes uncomfortable and interferes with task performance, do they become aware. At this point, the discomfort has often transformed into pain or illness.

This process of immediately focusing on task performance is easily observed when people are assigned to perform a new task. For example, you can ask people who are sitting in chairs arranged by row to form discussion groups to share information with the individuals in front or behind them. Some will physically lift and rotate their chair to be comfortable, while others will rotate their body without awareness that this twisted position increases physical discomfort. As instructors, we often photograph the participants as they are performing their tasks as shown in Figure 2.

Fig 2a sitting on chairs
Figure 2. Workshop participants rotating their bodies or chairs to perform the group exercise (from Peper et al, 2014).

Although there are many strategies to teach participants awareness of covert tension, our recent published article, Making the Unaware Aware-Surface Electromyography to Unmask Tension and Teach Awareness,describes a simple biofeedback approach to teach awareness and control of residual muscle contraction. Almost all the subjects can rapidly learn to increase their recognition of minimal muscle tension as shown in figure 3.

Fig 5 EMG graphFigure 3. Measurement of forearm extensor muscle awareness of minimum muscle tension before and after feedback training (from Peper et al, 2014).

This study showed that participants were initially unaware of covert tension and that they could quickly learn to increase their sensitivity of muscle tension and reduce this tension within a short time period. Surface electromyograpy (SEMG) provides an objective (third person) perspective of what is actually occurring inside the body and is more accurate than a person’s own perception (first person perspective). The SEMG feedback (numbers and graphs) learning experience was a powerful tool to shift participants’ illness beliefs and encourage them to actively participate in their own self-improvement. It demonstrated that: 1) they were unaware of low tension levels, and 2) they could learn to increase their awareness with SEMG feedback.

The participants became aware that covert tension could contribute to their discomfort and would inhibit regeneration. In some cases, they observed that merely anticipating the task caused an increase in muscle tension. Finally, they realized that if they could be aware during the day of the covert tension, they could identify the situation that triggered the response and also lower the muscle tension.

For detailed methodology and clinical application, see the published article, Peper,E., Booiman, A., Lin, I-M., & Shaffer, F. (2014). Making the Unaware Aware-Surface Electromyography to Unmask Tension and Teach Awareness. Biofeedback, 42(1), 16-23.

References:

Harvey, E. & Peper, E. (2012). I thought I was relaxed: The use of SEMG biofeedback for training awareness and control. In W. A. Edmonds, & G. Tenenbaum (Eds.),Case studiesin applied psychophysiology: Neurofeedback and biofeedback treatments foradvances inhuman performance. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 144-159.

Whatmore, G. B., & Kohli, D. R. (1974). The Physiopathology and Treatment of Functional Disorders: Including Anxiety States and Depression and the Role of Biofeedback Training. Grune & Stratton.

*Adapted from: Peper,E., Booiman, A., Lin, I-M., & Shaffer, F. (2014).Making the Unaware Aware-Surface Electromyography to Unmask Tension and Teach Awareness. Biofeedback.42(1), 16-23.


There is Hope! Interrupt Chained Behavior

“I was able to self-heal myself. I didn’t need anyone else to do it for me.”

“I was surprised that I actually succeeded and had some really great results.”

“How much control I really had over being able to change several of my habits, when I previously thought that it was impossible.”

“That I actually have control.”

                                    Students who have practiced stress management at SFSU

This blog summarizes our recent published article that describes a teaching healing approach that can be used by many clients to mobilize their health.  The process is illustrated by a case report student who had suffered from psoriasis for more than five years totally cleared his skin in six weeks and has continued to this benefit (Klein & Peper, 2013).  At the recent one year follow-up his skin is still clear.

Low energy, being tired and depressed,  having pain, insomnia, itching skin, psoriasis, nervously pulling out hair, hypertension and other are symptoms that affects our lives. In many cases there is no identifiable biological cause. Currently, 74% of patients who visit their health care providers have undiagnosed medical conditions. Most of the symptoms are a culmination of stress, anxiety, and depression.  In many cases, health care professionals treat these patients ineffectively with medications instead of offering stress management options. For example, if patients with insomnia visits their physicians, they are most likely prescribed a sleep inducing medication (hypnotics). Patients who take sleeping medication nightly have a fourfold increase in mortality (Kripke et al., 2012).  If on the other hand if the healthcare professional takes time to talk to the patient and explores the factors that contribute to the insomnia and teach sleep hygiene methods, 50s% fewer prescriptions are written. Obviously, you may not be able to sleep if you are worried about money, job security, struggles with your partner or problems with your children; however, medication do  not solve these problems. Learning problem solving and stress management techniques often does!

When students begin to learn these stress management and self-healing skills as part of a semester long Holistic Health Class at San Francisco State University, 82% reported improvement in achieving benefits such as increasing physical fitness, healthier diets, reducing depression, anxiety, pain and eliminating eczema or reducing hair pulling (one student with Trichotillomania reduced her hair pulling from 855 to 19 minutes per week) (Peper et al., 2003; Bier et al., 2005; Ratkovich et al., 2012). The major factors that contributed to the students’ improvement are:

  • Daily monitoring of subjective and objective experiences to facilitates awareness and identify cues that trigger or aggravate the symptoms.
  • Ongoing practicing during the day and during activities of the stress management skills as adapted from the book, Make Health Happen (Peper et al, 2003)
  • Sharing subjective experiences in small groups which reduces social isolation, normalizes experiences, and encourages hope. Usually, a few students will report rapid benefits such as aborting a headache, falling asleep rapidly, or reducing menstrual cramps, which helps motivate other students to continue their practices.
  • Writing an integrative summary paper, which provides a structure to see how emotions, daily practices and change in symptoms are related.

The first step is usually Identifying the trigger that initiates the illness producing patterns. Once identified, the next step is to interrupt the pattern and do something different.  This can include transforming internal dialogue, practicing relaxation or modifying body posture. The mental/emotional and physical practices interrupts and diverts the cascading steps that develop the symptoms (Peper et al., 2003).

Interrupting and transforming the chained behavior is illustrated in our article “There Is Hope: Autogenic Biofeedback Training for the Treatment of Psoriasis” published in the recent issue of Biofeedback. We report on the process by which a 23-year-student totally cleared his skin after having had psoriasis for the last five years. Psoriasis causes red, flaky skin and is currently the most common autoimmune disease affecting approximately 2% of the US population. Many people afflicted with this disease use steroids, topical creams, special shampoos, and prescription medication. Unfortunately, the disease can only be suppressed, not cured.  Thus many people with psoriasis feel damaged and have a difficult time socially. Stress is often one of the triggers that makes psoriasis worse. In this case study, the 23-year-old student learned how to train his mind/body to transform his feelings of stress, anxiety, self-doubt, and urge to scratch his skin into a positive self-healing process.

Initially, the student was trained in stress management and biofeedback techniques that included relaxation, stress reduction, and desensitization. He learned how to increase his confidence by changing his body posture while sitting and standing. He also took time to stop and refocus his energy when he felt the need to fall back into old habits. What did he really do?

The moment he became aware of skin sensations, he would:

  1. Stop, take a deep breath into his abdomen and slowly exhale
  2. Assess how he was thinking-having negative and hopeless thoughts
  3. Change the negative thoughts into positive affirmative thoughts
  4. Breathe deeply
  5. Imagine as he exhaled feeling heaviness and warmth in his arms and feet
  6. Talk to his body by saying, “My skin is cool, clear, and regenerative.” “I am worthy.”

To become aware of his automatic negative behavior was very challenging. He had to stop focusing on the task in front of him and to put all of his energy into regaining his composure. This is very difficult because people are normally captured by whatever they are doing at that moment. As he stated: “Breaking this chain behavior was by far the hardest things I’ve ever done. It didn’t matter what situation I found myself in, my practice took precedence. The level of self- control I had to maintain was far beyond my norm. I remember taking an exam. I was struggling to recall the answer to the last essay question. All I wanted to do was finish the exam and go home. I knew that I knew it, it was coming to me, I began to write… Yet in that same moment I felt my right elbow start to tingle (the location of one of the psoriasis plagues) and my left hand started to drift towards it. Immediately I had to switch my focus. Despite my desire to finish I dropped my pen. I paused to breathe and focused upon my positive thoughts. Moments like this happened daily, my normal functions were routinely interrupted by urges to scratch. Sometimes I would spend significantly more time doing the practices than the task at hand.

Similarly, whenever he observed his body posture “collapsing” and “hiding” — thus falling into a more powerless posture — he would interrupt the collapse and shift to a power position by expanding and being more erect.  He did this while standing, sitting, and talking to other students. As he stated: “I hadn’t realized how my collapsing posture was effecting my self-image until I began practicing a more powerful posture. In class I made myself sit with my butt pushed back against the back of the chair instead of letting myself slide forwarding into a slouch. Just like the urge to itch I had to stay conscious of my posture constantly.  At work, at school, even at home on the couch I practiced expanding body posture. The more I was aware of my posture the better my posture became, and the more time I spent in power pose the more natural it began to feel. The more natural it felt the more powerful I felt.”

After three weeks, his skin had cleared and has continued to stay this way for the last year as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 2 elbow and knee croppedFigure 1. Pre and post photos of the elbow and knee showing the improvement of the skin.

There are many diseases and ailments that require the use of medication for appropriate treatment, but when stress is a factor in any diagnosis, or when a diagnosis cannot be found, it is important for stress management to be offered as a viable option for patients to consider. As shown by the student with psoriasis, learning stress management skills and then actually practicing them during the day can play a major factor in improving the health of an individual. The same process is applicable for numerous symptoms. There is hope=-Just do it.

References:

Bier, M., Peper, E., & Burke, A. (2005). Integrated stress management with ‘Make Health Happen: Measuring the impact through a 5-month follow-up. Presented at the 36th Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. Abstract published in: Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 30(4), 400. http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/2005-aapb-make-health-happen-bier-peper-burke-gibney3-12-05-rev.pdf

Klein, A. & Peper, W. (2013). There is Hope: Autogenic Biofeedback Training for the Treatment of Psoriasis. Biofeedback, 41(4), 194–201. http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/published-article-there-is-hope.pdf

Kripke, D.F., Langer, R.D., Kline. L.E. (2012). Hypnotics’association with mortality or cancer: a matched cohort study. BMJOpen, 2:e000850. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-000850 http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/2/1/e000850.full.pdf+html

Peper, E., Gibney, K.H. & Holt. C. (2002).  Make Health Happen: Training Yourself to Create Wellness.  Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt. http://www.amazon.com/Make-Health-Happen-Training-Yourself/dp/0787293318

Peper, E., Sato-Perry, K & Gibney, K. H. (2003). Achieving health: A 14-session structured stress management program—Eczema as a case illustration. 34rd Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. Abstract in: Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 28(4), 308. http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/2003-aapb-poster-peper-keiko-long1.pdf

Ratkovich, A., Fletcher, L., Peper, E., & Harvey, R. (2012). Improving College Students’ Health-Including Stopping Smoking and Healing Eczema. Presented at the 43st Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. Baltimore, MD. http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/2012-improving-college-student-health-2012-02-28.pdf


Mind-Guided Body Scans for Awareness and Healing–Youtube Interview of Erik Peper, PhD by Larry Berkelhammer, PhD

In this interview psychophysiology expert Dr. Erik Peper explains the ways how a body scan can facilitate awareness and healing. The discussion describes how the mind-guided body scan can be used to improve immune function and hold passive attention (mindfulness) to become centered. It explores the process of passive attentive process that is part of Autogenic Training and self-healing mental imagery. Mind-guided body scanning involves effortlessly observing and attending to body sensations through which we can observe our own physiological processes. Body scanning can be combined with imagery to be in a nonjudgmental state that supports self-healing and improves physiological functioning.


Focus On Possibilities, Not On Limitations. Youtube interviews of Erik Peper, PhD, by Larry Berkelhammer, PhD

Focus On Possibilities, Not On Limitations

This interview with psychophysiologist Dr. Erik Peper reveals self-healing secrets used by yogis for thousands of years. Mind-training methods used by yogis like Jack Schwarz were explored. The underlying message throughout the discussion was that suffering and even actual tissue damage are profoundly influenced by both our negative and our positive attributions. The methods by which yogis have learned to self-heal is available to all of us who are willing to assiduously adopt a daily practice. It is very clear that when our attention goes to our pain or other symptoms, our suffering and even tissue damage worsens. When we focus all our attention on what we want rather than on what we are afraid of, we achieve a healthier, more positive, and more robust level of healing. We suffer when we have negative expectancies and we reduce suffering when we focus our attention on positive expectancies. We can train the mind to fully experience sensations without negative attributions. For the vast majority of us, we have far greater potential than we believe we have. Biofeedback, concentration practices, mindfulness practices, and other yogic practices allow us to condition ourselves to concentrate on the present moment, rather than on our negative expectancies, limitations, attributions, and fears.

Belief Becomes Biology

Dr. Larry Berkelhammer speaks with Dr. Erik Peper about the connection of our beliefs and our health.


Epilepsy: New (old) treatment without drugs

Nothing is so hard as watching a child having a seizure.

           –Elizabeth A. Thiele, MD, PhD, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School

Until recently, when people asked me, “What would I suggest as a non-toxic/non-invasive biofeedback approach for the treatment of epilepsy?” I automatically replied, “A combination of neurofeedback, behavioral analysis treatment, respiration training, a low glycemic diet, and stress management and if these did not work, medications.” I have now changed my mind!

Epilepsy is diagnosed if the person has two or more seizures. About one to two percent of the population is diagnosed with epilepsy and it is the most common neurological illness in children. Medication is usually the initial treatment intervention; however, in about one third of the people, the seizures will still occur despite the medications. In some cases, people -often without the support of their neurologist/healthcare provider–will explore other treatment strategies such as diet, respiration training, neurofeedback, behavioral control, diet, or traditional Chinese medicine.

It is ironic that one of the tools to diagnose epilepsy is recording the electroencephalography (EEG)– brain waves–of the person after fasting while breathing quickly (hyperventilating). For some, the combination of low blood sugar and hyperventilation will evoke epileptic wave forms in their EEG and can trigger  seizures (hyperventilation when paired with low sugar levels tends to increase slow wave EEG which would promote seizure activity).
If hyperventilation and fluctuating blood sugar levels are contributing factors in triggering seizures, why not teach breathing control and diet control as the first non-toxic clinical intervention before medications are prescribed. This breathing approach has shown very promising clinical success.  (For more details  see the book, Fried, R. (1987). The Hyperventilation syndrome-Research and Clinical Treatment. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press).

Self-management should be the first clinical intervention and not the last. Similarly, neurofeedback– brain wave biofeedback–is another proven approach to reduce seizures. This approach was developed by Professor Maurice B. Sterman at UCLA and was based upon animal studies. He demonstrated that cats who were trained to increase sensory motor rhythm (SMR) in their EEG  could postpone seizure onset when exposed to a neurotoxin that induced seizures. He then demonstrated that human beings with epilepsy could equally learn to control their EEG patterns and inhibit seizures. This approach, just as the breathing approach, is non-toxic and reduces seizures.

Underlying both these approaches is the concept of behavioral analysis to identify and interrupt the  chained behavior that leads to a seizure. Namely, a stimulus (internal or external) triggers a cascading chain of neurological processes that eventually results in a seizure. Thus, if the person learns to identify and interrupt/divert this cascading chain, the seizure does not occur. From this perspective, respiration training and neurofeedback could be interpreted to interrupt this cascading process. Behavioral analyses includes all behaviors (movement, facial expressions, emotions, etc) which can be identified and then interrupted. As professors Joanne Dahl and Tobias Lundgren from Uppsala University in Sweden state, The behavior technology of seizure control provides low-cost, drug free treatment alternative for individual already suffering from seizures and the stigmatization of epilepsy.

Until recently, I would automatically suggest that people explore these self-control strategies as the first intervention in treatment of epilepsy and only medication for the last resort. Now, I have changed my mind. I suggest the ketogenic diet as the first step for the treatment of epilepsy in conjunction with the self-regulation strategies—medication should only be used if the previous strategies were unsuccessful.

A ketogenic diet  has a 90% clinical success rates  in children–even in patients with refractory seizures. This diet stabilizes blood sugar levels  and is very low on simple carbohydrates, high in fat,  some protein, and lots of vegetables (a ratio of 4 grams of fat to 1 gram of carbohydrates and protein). In adults, the success rates drops to about 50%. The lower success rate may be the result of   the challenges in implementing these self-regulatory diet approaches. As Elizabeth A. Thiele, MD, PhD, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School points out, dietary therapy is the most effective known treatment strategy for epilepsy. Even though, ketogenic diet is the most effective therapy, it is less likely to be prescribed than medications—there are no financial incentives; there are, however, many financial incentives for prescribing pharmaceuticals.

These lifestyle changes are very challenging to implement. They need to be taught and socially supported. Just telling people what to do does not often work. It is similar to learning to play a musical instrument.  The person needs step by step coaching and social support which is an intensive educational approach. To learn more about the research underlying the ketogenic diet as the first level of intervention for epilepsy, watch Professor Thiele’s presentation from the 2012 Ancentral Health Symposium, Dietary Therapy: Role in Epilepsy and Beyond.


Change Illness Beliefs with Words, Biofeedback, and Somatic Feedback*

I never felt that thinking about my work affected my body. I was totally surprised to see my body’s reaction on the computer screen. I now realized how I contributed to my illness and could see other ways to  change and improve my health. The feedback made the invisible visible, the undocumented documented.

Use of words, biofeedback and somatic feedback to transform illness beliefs. Many clients are unaware how much their thoughts and emotions affect their physiology. The numbers and graphs on the computer screen show how the body is responding. Seeing the changes in the physiological recording and the  immediate feedback signals are usually accepted by the client as evidence, whereas the verbal comments made by a therapist might be denied as the therapist’s subjective opinion. The feedback is experienced as objective data—numbers and graphs ‘‘do not lie’’—which represents truth to the client. Clients seek biofeedback therapy because they believe the cause of illness is in their body, and then the biofeedback may demonstrate that emotions and cognitions influence their somatic illness patterns. This process has been labeled by Ian Wickramasekera (2003) as a ‘‘Trojan Horse’’ approach. Biofeedback and somatic feedback exercises provide effective tools for changing illness attributions and awaken the client to the impact of thoughts and emotions on physiology. Whether the feedback comes from a biofeedback device that records the covert physiological signal or is subjectively experienced through a somatic exercise, the self-experience is a powerful trigger for an ‘‘aha’’ experience—a realization that mind, body, and emotions are not separate (Wilson, Peper, & Gibney, 2004). Clinically, this approach can be used to facilitate changing illness beliefs and to motivate clients to begin changing their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral patterns. Clients begin to realize that they can be active participants in the healing process and that in many cases it is their mind-body life patterns that contribute to illness or health. For more information, case example and detailed description of a somatic feedback practice, download a pre-publication of our  article,  The Power of Words, Biofeedback, and Somatic Feedback to Impact Illness Beliefs.

*Adapted from: Peper, E., Shumay, D.M., & Moss, D. (2012). Change Illness Beliefs with Biofeedback and Somatic Feedback. Biofeedback. 40(4), 154–159.


Biofeedback and pain control. Two YouTube interviews of Erik Peper, PhD by Larry Berkelhammer, PhD

Erik Peper, Biofeedback Builds Self-efficacy, Hope, Health, & Well-being

Interview with biofeedback pioneer Dr. Erik Peper on how biofeedback builds self-efficacy, hope, health and well-being.  How to use the mind to improve physiological functioning and health. Skill-building to develop self-efficacy, self-empowerment, and hope. Evidence-based mental training to manage symptoms, self-regulate blood pressure, chronic pain & fatigue, cardiac dysrhythmias, digestion, and many other bodily processes.

Erik Peper, Pain Control Through Relaxation

This interview of Dr. Erik Peper explores the frontier of psychophysiological self-regulation. Included is conscious regulation of pain, blood pressure, and other physiological measures. We discuss how you can take control and consciously calm your sympathetic nervous system in order to attenuate pain. Autogenic Training, yogic disciplines, biofeedback, and other methods are mentioned as ways to use the mind to gain conscious control of cognitive, emotional, and physiological processes. For example, when we experience sudden pain, we automatically brace against it in the hope of resisting it. Paradoxically, this increases suffering. Autogenic Training and many other disciplines provide us with the skills to relax into any painful stimulus. Although it seems counterintuitive, learning to fully accept and relax into the pain allows us to take control over the pain, whereas trying to control it serves to increase the suffering.  Another concept that is discussed in this video is that we can reduce pain and speed healing by extending loving self-care to any injury.

 

 


Muscle biofeedback makes the invisible visible

“I feel much more relaxed and realize now how unaware I was of the unnecessary tension I’ve been holding”  is a common response after muscle biofeedback training. Many people experience  exhaustion, stiffness, tightness, neck, shoulder and back pain while working long hours at the computer or while exercising.  As we get older, we assume that discomforts are the result of aging. You just have to accept it and live with it–grin and bear it–or you need to be more careful while doing your job or performing your hobby.  The discomfort in many cases is the result of misuse of your body.  Observes what happens when you perform the following experiential practice Threading the needle.

Perform this task so that an observer would think it was real and would not know that you are only simulating threading a needle.

Imagine that you are threading a needle — really imagine it by picturing it in your mind and acting it out. Hold the needle between your left thumb and index finger. Hold the thread between the thumb and index finger of your right hand. Bring the tip of the thread to your mouth and put it between your lips to moisten it and make it into a sharp point. Then attempt to thread the needle, which has a very small eye. The thread is almost as thick as the eye of the needle.

As you are concentrating on threading this imaginary needle, observed what happened? While acting out the imagery, did you raise or tighten your shoulders, stiffen your trunk, clench your teeth, hold your breath or stare at the thread and needle without blinking?

Most people are surprised that they have tightened their shoulders and braced their trunk while threading the needle.  Awareness only occurred after their attention was directed to the covert muscle bracing patterns.

In many cases muscles are tense even though the person senses and feels that they are relaxed.  This lack of awareness can be resolved with muscle biofeedback–it makes invisible visible.  Muscle biofeedback (electromyographic feedback) is used to monitor the muscle activity, teach the person awareness of the previously unperceived muscle tension and  learn relax and control it. For more information of the use of muscle biofeedback to   improve health and performance at work or in the gym, see the published chapter, I thought I was relaxed: The use of SEMG biofeedback for training awareness and control, by Richard Harvey and Erik Peper. It was published in W. A. Edmonds, & G. Tenenbaum (Eds.). (2012), Case studies in applied psychophysiology: Neurofeedback and biofeedback treatments for advances in human performance. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 144-159.