Enhance Yoga with Biofeedback*

How can you demonstrate that yoga practices are beneficial?

How do you know you are tightening the correct muscles or relaxing the muscle not involved in the movement when practicing asanas?

How can you know that the person is mindful and not sleepy or worrying when meditating?

How do you know the breathing pattern is correct when practicing pranayama?

The obvious answer would be to ask the instructor or check in with the participant; however, it is often very challenging for the teacher or student to know. Many participants think that they are muscularly relaxed while in fact there is ongoing covert muscle tension as measured by electromyography (EMG). Some participants after performing an asana, do not relax their muscles even though they report feeling relaxed. Similarly, some people practice specific pranayama breathing practice with the purpose of restoring the sympathetic/parasympathetic system; however, they may not be doing it correctly. Similarly, when meditating, a person may become sleepy or their attention wanders and is captured by worries, dreams, and concerns instead of being present with the mantra. These problems may be resolved by integrating bio- and neurofeedback with yoga instruction and practice. Biofeedback monitors the physiological signals produced by the body and displays them back to the person as shown in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Biofeedback is a methodology by which the participant receives ongoing feedback of the physiological changes that are occurring within the body. Reproduced with permission from Peper et al, 2008.

With the appropriate biofeedback equipment, one can easily record muscle tension, temperature, blood flow and pulse from the finger, heart rate, respiration, sweating response, posture alignment, etc.** Neurofeedback records the brainwaves (electroencephalography) and can selectively feedback certain EEG patterns. In most cases participants are unaware of subtle physiological changes that can occur. However, when the physiological signals are displayed so that the person can see or hear the changes in their physiology they learn internal awareness that is associated with these physiological changes and learn mastery and control. Biofeedback and neuro feedback is a tool to make the invisible, visible; the unfelt, felt and the undocumented, documented.

Biofeedback can be used to document that a purported yoga practice actually affects the psychophysiology. For example, in our research with the Japanese Yogi, Mr. Kawakami, who was bestowed the title “Yoga Samrat’ by the Indian Yoga Culture Federation in 1983, we measured his physiological responses while breathing at two breaths a minute as well as when he inserted non-sterilized skewers through his tongue tongue (Arambula  et al, 2001; Peper et al, 2005a; Peper et al, 2005b). The physiological recordings confirmed that his Oxygen saturation stayed normal while breathing two breaths per minute and that he did not trigger any physiological arousal during the skewer piercing. The electroencephalographic recordings showed that there was no response or registration of pain. A useful approach of using biofeedback with yoga instruction is to monitor muscle activity to measure whether the person is performing the movement appropriately. Often the person tightens the wrong muscles or performs with too much effort, or does not relax after performing. An example of recording muscle tension as shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2: Recording the muscle tension with Biograph Infinity while performing an asana.

In our research it is clear that many people are unaware that they tighten muscles. For example, Mcphetridge et al, (2011) showed that when participants were asked to bend forward slowly to touch their toes and then hang relaxed in a forward fold, most participants reported that they were totally relaxed in their neck. In actuality, they were not relaxed as their neck muscles were still contracting as recorded by electromyography (EMG). After muscle biofeedback training, they all learned to let their neck muscles be totally relaxed in the hanging fold position as shown in Figure 3 & 4.


Figure 3: Initial assessment of neck SEMG while performing a toe touch. Reproduced from Harvey, E. & Peper, E. (2011).


Figure 4: Toe touch after feedback training. The neck is now relaxed; however, the form is still not optimum. . Reproduced from Harvey, E. & Peper, E. (2011).

Thus, muscle feedback is a superb tool to integrate with teaching yoga so that participants can perform asanas with least amount of inappropriate tension and also can relax totally after having tightened the muscles. Biofeedback can similarly be used to monitor body posture during meditation. Often participants become sleepy or their attention drifts and gets captured by imagery or worries. When they become sleepy, they usually begin to slouch. This change in body position can be readily be monitored with a posture feedback device. The UpRight,™  (produced by Upright Technologies, Ltd https://www.uprightpose.com/) is a small sensor that is placed on the upper or lower spine and connects with Bluetooth to the cell phone. After calibration of erect and slouched positions, the device gives vibratory feedback each time the participant slouches and reminds the participant to come back to sitting upright as shown in Figure 5.


Figure 5: UpRigh™ device placed on the upper spine to provide feedback during meditation. Each time person slouches which often occurs when they become sleepy or loose meditative focus, the device provides feedback by vibrating.

Alternatively, the brainwaves patterns (electroencephalography could be monitored with neurofeedback and whenever the person drifts into sleep or becomes excessively aroused by worry, neurofeedback could remind the person to be let go and be centered. Finally, biofeedback can be used with pranayama practice. When a person is breathing approximately six breaths per minute heart rate variability can increase. This means that during inhalation heart rate increases and during exhalation heart rate decreases. When the person breathes so that the heart rate variability increases, it optimizes sympathetic/parasympathetic activity. There are now many wearable biofeedback devices that can accurately monitor heart rate variability and display the changes in heart rate as modulated by breathing.

Conclusion: Biofeedback is a useful strategy to enhance yoga practice as it makes the invisible visible. It allows the teacher and the student to become aware of the dysfunctional patterns that may be occurring beneath awareness.


Arambula, P., Peper, E., Kawakami, M., & Gibney, K. H. (2001). The physiological correlates of Kundalini Yoga meditation: a study of a yoga master. Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback26(2), 147-153.

Harvey, E. & Peper, E. (2011). I thought I was relaxed: The use of SEMG biofeedback for training awareness and control. In W. A. Edmonds, & G. Tenenbaum (Eds.), Case studies in applied psychophysiology: Neurofeedback and biofeedback treatments for advances in human performance. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 144-159.

Mcphetridge, J., Thorne, E., Peper, E., & Harvey, R. (2011) SEMG for training awareness and muscle relaxation during toe touching. Paper presented at the 15th Annual Meeting of the Biofeedback Foundation of Europe. Munich, Germany, February 22-26, 2011.

Peper, E., Kawakami, M., Sata, M., Franklin, Y, Gibney, K. H. & Wilson, V.S. (2005a). Two breaths per minute yogic breathing. In: Kawakami, M. (2005). The Theses of Mitsumasa Kawakami II: The Theory of Yoga-Based Good Health. Tokyo, Japan: Samskara. 483-493. ISBN 4-434-06113-5

Peper, E., Kawakami, M., Sata, M. & Wilson, V.S. (2005b). The physiological correlates of body piercing by a yoga master: Control of pain and bleeding. Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine Journal. 14(3), 223-237.

Peper, E., Tylova, H., Gibney, K.H., Harvey, R., & Combatalade, D. (2008). Biofeedback Mastery-An Experiential Teaching and Self-Training Manual. Wheat Ridge, CO: AAPB. ISBN 978-1-60702-419-4

*Reprinted from: Peper, E. (2017). Enhancing Yoga with Biofeedback. J Yoga & Physio.2(2).*55584. DOI: 10.19080/JYP.2017.02.555584

**Biofeedback and neurofeedback takes skill and training.  For information on certification, see http://www.bcia.org  Two useful websites are:




Sitting disease is the new health hazard

sitting at computerSedentary 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.

The 8.5 year outcome data showed that the time spent in sedentary behaviors such as sitting and watching TV was positively correlated with an increased illness and death rates as shown in Figure 1. More disturbing, moderate vigorous exercises does not totally reverse the health risks of sitting and watching television (Matthews et al, 2012).  

mortality and sitting

Figure 1. The more you sit the higher the risk of mortality even if you if you attempt to mitigate the effect with moderate vigorous exercise (Matthews et al, 2012). From: https://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/national/the-health-hazards-of-sitting/750/

The harmful impact of sedentary behavior and simple ways to improve health have been superbly described and illustrated by Bonnie Berkowitz and Patterson Clark (2014), in their January 20, 2014, Washington Post article, The health hazards of sitting,  Their one page poster should be posted on the office walls and given to all clients.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/health/sitting/Sitting.pdf

As they point out, sitting disease increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, muscle degeneration especially weaker abdominal muscles and gluteus muscles, back pain and reduced hip flexibility, poor circulation in the legs which may cause edema in the ankles and deep vein thrombosis, osteoporosis, strained neck, shoulder and back pain. The effects are not only physical. Sitting reduces subjective energy level and attention as our brain becomes more and more sleepy.

The solution is both very simple and challenging. To reduce the risks, do less sedentary behavior and sitting and do more physical movement during the day.  Continuously interrupt sitting with standing and movement.  After sitting at the computer for 30 minutes, get up and move.  Even skipping in place for 30 seconds, significantly will increase your energy and mood (Peper and Lin, 2012).  There are many ways to remind and support yourself and others to move.  For example, use reminder programs on the computer such as StretchBreakTM  to remind you to get up and stretch. Employees who do episode movements, report fewer symptoms and have more energy (Peper & Harvey, 2008).  As one of the employees state after implementing the break program, “There is life after five.” Meaning he was no longer exhausted when he finished work.

Although challenging, wean  yourself away from the addicting digital screen and being a couch potato at home.  At those moments when you feel drained and all you want to do is veg out by watching another TV series, go for a walk.  After walking for 20 minutes, in most cases your energy will have returned and your low mood has been transformed to see new positive option.  Plan the walks with neighbors and friends who provide the motivation to pull you out of your funk and go out.




Berkowitz, B. & Clark, P. (Jan 20, 2014). The health hazard of sitting. The Washington Post. Retrieved July 29, 2017.https://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/national/the-health-hazards-of-sitting/750/

Matthews, C. E., George, S. M., Moore, S. C., Bowles, H. R., Blair, A., Park, Y., … Schatzkin, A. (2012). Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors and cause-specific mortality in US adults. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition95(2), 437–445. http://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.111.019620

Peper, E. & Lin, I-M. (2012). Increase or decrease depression-How body postures influence your energy level.  Biofeedback, 40 (3), 126-130.

Peper, E. & Harvey, R. (2008). From technostress to technohealth.  Japanese Journal of Biofeedback Research, 35(2), 107-114.


Education versus treatment for self-healing: Eliminating a headache[1]

“I have had headaches for six years, at first occurring almost every day. When I got put on an antidepressant, they slowed to about 3 times a week (sometimes more) and continued this way until I learned relaxation techniques. I am 20 years old and now headache free. Everyone should have this educational opportunity to heal themselves.”  -Melinda, a 20 year old student

Health and wellness is a basic right for all people. When students learn stress management skills which include awareness of stress, progressive muscle relaxation, Autogenic phrases, slower breathing, posture change, transforming internal language, self-healing imagery, the role of diet, exercise embedded within an evolutionary perspective  as part of a college class their health often improves. When students systematically applied these self-awareness techniques to address a self-selected illness or health behavior (e.g., eczema, diet, exercise, insomnia, or migraine headaches), 80% reported significant improvement in their health during that semester (Peper et al., 2014b; Tseng, et al., 2016).  The semester long program is based upon the practices described in the book, Make Health Happen, (Peper, Gibney, & Holt, 2002).  

The benefits often last beyond the semester. Numerous students reported remarkable outcomes at follow-up many months after the class had ended because they had mastered the self-regulation skills and continued to implement these skills into their daily lives.  The educational model utilized in holistic health courses is often different from the clinical/treatment model.

Educational approach:   I am a student and I have an illness (most of me is healthy and only part of me is sick).

Clinical treatment approach:  I am a patient and I am sick (all of me is sick)

Some of the concepts underlying the differences between the educational and the clinical approach are shown in Table 1.

Educational approach Clinic/treatment approach
Focuses on growth and  learning Focuses on remediation
Focuses on what is right Focuses on what is wrong
Focuses on what people can do for themselves Focuses on how the therapist can help patients
Assumes students as being competent Implies patients are damaged and incompetent
Students defined as being competent to master the skills Patients defined as requiring others to help them
Encourages active participation in the healing process Assumes passive participation in the healing process
Students keep logs and write integrative and reflective papers, which encourage insight and awareness Patients usually do not keep logs nor are asked to reflect at the end of treatment to see which factors contributed to success
Students meet in small groups, develop social support and perspective Patients meet only with practitioners and stay isolated
Students experience an increased sense of mastery and empowerment Patients experience no change or possibly a decrease in sense of mastery
Students develop skills and become equal or better than the instructor Patients are healed, but therapist is always seen as more competent than patient
Students can become  colleagues and friends with their teachers Patients cannot become  friends of the therapist and thus are always distanced

Table 1. Comparison of an educational versus clinical/treatment approach

The educational approach focuses on mastering skills and empowerment. As part of the course work, students become more mindful of their health behavior patterns and gradually better able to transform  their previously covert harm promoting patterns. This educational approach is illustrated in a case report which describes how a student reduced her chronic migraines.

Case Example: Elimination of Chronic Migraines

Melinda, a 20-year-old female student, experienced four to five chronic migraines per week since age 14.  A neurologist had prescribed several medications including Imitrex (used to treat migraines) and Topamax (used to prevent seizures as well as migraine headaches), although they were ineffective in treating her migraines. Nortriptyline (a tricyclic antidepressant) and Excedrin Migraine (which contains caffeine, aspirin, and acetaminophen) reduced the frequency of symptoms to three times per week.

She was enrolled in a university biofeedback class that focused on learning self-regulation and biofeedback skills. All these students were taught the fundamentals of biofeedback and practiced Autogenic Training (AT) every day during the semester (Luthe, 1979; Luthe & Schultz, 1969; Peper & Williams, 1980).

In the class, students practiced with surface electromyography (SEMG) feedback to identify the presence of shoulder muscle overexertion (dysponesis), as well as awareness of minimum muscle tension.  Additional practices included hand warming, awareness of thoracic and diaphragmatic breathing, and other biofeedback or somatic awareness approaches. In parallel with awareness of physical sensations, students practiced behavioral awareness such as alternating between a slouching body posture (associated with feeling self-critical and powerless) and an upright body posture (associated with feeling powerful and in control). Psychological awareness was focused on transforming negative thoughts and self-judgments to positive empowering thoughts (Harvey and Peper, 2011; Peper et al., 2014a; Peper et al, 2015).  Taken together, students systematically increased awareness of physical, behavioral, and psychological aspects of their reactions to stress.

The major determinant for success is to generalize training at school, home and at work.  Each time Melinda felt her shoulders tightening, she learned to relax and release the tension in her shoulders, practiced Autogenic Training with the phrase “my neck and shoulders are heavy.”  In addition, whenever she felt her body beginning to slouch or noticed a negative self-critical thought arising in her mind, she shifted her body to an upright empowered posture, and substituted positive thoughts to reduce her cortisol level and increase access to positive thoughts (Carney & Cuddy, 2010; Cuddy, 2012; Tsai, et al., 2016). Postural feedback was also informally given by Melinda’s instructor. Every time the instructor noticed her slouching in class or the hallway, he visually changed his own posture to remind her to be erect.


Melinda’s headaches reduced from between three and five per week before enrolling in the class to zero following the course, as shown in Figure 2. She has learned to shift her posture from slouching to upright and relaxed. In addition, she reported feeling empowered, mentally clear, and her acne cleared up. All medications were eliminated.   At a two year follow-up, she reported that since she took the class, she had only few headaches which were triggered by excessive stress. figure3

Figure 2. Frequency of migraine and the implementation of self-practices.

The major factors that contributed to success were:

  • Becoming aware of muscle tension through the SEMG feedback. Melinda realized that she had tension when she thought she was relaxed.
  • Keeping detailed logs and developing a third person perspective by analyzing her own data and writing a report. A process that encouraged acceptance of self, thereby becoming less judgmental.
  • Acquiring a new belief that she could learn to overcome her headaches, facilitated by class lecture and verbal feedback from the instructor.
  • Taking active control by becoming aware of the initial negative thoughts or sensations and interrupting the escalating chain of negative thoughts and sensations by shifting the attention to positive empowering thoughts and sensations–a process that integrated mindfulness, acceptance and action. Thus, transforming judgmental thoughts into accepting and positive thoughts.
  • Becoming more aware throughout the day, at school and at home, of initial triggers related to body collapse and muscle tension, then changing her body posture and relaxing her shoulders. This awareness was initially developed because the instructor continuously gave feedback whenever she started to slouch in class or when he saw her slouching in the hallways.
  • Practicing many, many times during the day. Namely, increasing her ongoing mindfulness of posture, neck, and shoulder tension, and of negative internal dialogue without judgment.

The benefits of this educational approach is captured by Melinda’s summary, “The combined Autogenic biofeedback awareness and skill with the changes in posture helped me remarkably. It improved my self-esteem, empowerment, reduced my stress, and even improved the quality of my skin. It proves the concept that health is a whole system between mind, body, and spirit. When I listen carefully and act on it, my overall well-being is exceptionally improved.”


Carney, D. R., Cuddy, A. J., & Yap, A. J. (2010). Power posing brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance. Psychological Science, 21(10), 1363-1368.

Cuddy, A. (2012).  Your body language shapes who you are.  Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) Talk, available at:  http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are

Harvey, E. & Peper, E. (2011). I thought I was relaxed: The use of SEMG biofeedback for training awareness and control (pp. 144-159). In W. A. Edmonds, & G. Tenenbaum (Eds.), Case studies in applied psychophysiology: Neurofeedback and biofeedback treatments for advances in human performance. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Luthe, W. (1979). About the methods of autogenic therapy (pp. 167-186). In E. Peper, S. Ancoli, & M. Quinn, Mind/body integration. New York: Springer.

Luthe, W., & Schultz, J.H. (1969). Autogenic therapy (Vols. 1-6).  New York, NY: Grune and Stratton.

Peper, E., Booiman, A., Lin, I-M., & Shaffer, F. (2014a). Making the unaware aware-Surface electromyography to unmask tension and teach awareness. Biofeedback. 42(1), 16-23.

Peper, E., Gibney, K.H. & Holt. C. (2002).  Make health happen: Training yourself to create wellness.  Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt. ISBN-13: 978-0787293314

Peper, E., Lin, I-M, Harvey, R., Gilbert, M., Gubbala, P., Ratkovich, A., & Fletcher, F. (2014b). Transforming chained behaviors: Case studies of overcoming smoking, eczema and hair pulling (trichotillomania). Biofeedback, 42(4), 154-160.

Peper, E., Nemoto, S., Lin, I-M., & Harvey, R. (2015). Seeing is believing: Biofeedback a tool to enhance motivation for cognitive therapy. Biofeedback, 43(4), 168-172.   doi: 10.5298/1081-5937-43.4.03

Peper, E. & Williams, E.A. (1980). Autogenic therapy (pp. 131-137). In: A. C. Hastings, J. Fadiman,  & J. S. Gordon (Eds.). Health for the whole person. Boulder: Westview Press.

Tsai, H. Y., Peper, E., & Lin, I. M. (2016). EEG patterns under positive/negative body postures and emotion recall tasks. NeuroRegulation, 3(1), 23-27.

Tseng, C., Abili, R., Peper, E., & Harvey, R. (2016). Reducing acne-stress and an integrated self-healing approach. Poster presented at the 47th Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Seattle WA, March 9-12, 2016.

[1] Adapted from: Peper, E., Miceli, B., & Harvey, R. (2016). Educational Model for Self-healing: Eliminating a Chronic Migraine with Electromyography, Autogenic Training, Posture, and Mindfulness. Biofeedback, 44(3), 130–137. https://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/a-educational-model-for-self-healing-biofeedback.pdf


Resolving pelvic floor pain-A case report

It’s been a little over a year since I began practicing biofeedback and visualization strategies to overcome vulvodynia. Today, I feel whole, healed, and hopeful. I learned that through controlled and conscious breathing, I could unleash the potential to heal myself from chronic pain. Overcoming pain did not happen overnight; but rather, it was a process where I had to create and maintain healthy lifestyle habits and meditation. Not only am I thankful for having learned strategies to overcome chronic pain, but for acquiring skills that will improve my health for the rest of my life. –-24 year old woman who successfully resolved vulvodynia

Pelvic floor pain can be debilitating, and it is surprisingly common, affecting 10 to 25% of American women. Pelvic floor pain has numerous causes and names. It can be labeled as vulvar vestibulitis, an inflammation of vulvar tissue, interstitial cystitis (chronic pain or tenderness in the bladder), or even lingering or episodic hip, back, or abdominal pain. Chronic pain concentrated at the entrance to the vagina (vulva), is known as vulvodynia. It is commonly under-diagnosed, often inadequately treated, and can go on for months and years (Reed et al., 2007; Mayo Clinic, 2014). The discomfort can be so severe that sitting is uncomfortable and intercourse is impossible because of the extreme pain. The pain can be overwhelming and destructive of the patient’s life. As the participant reported,

I visited a vulvar specialist and he gave me drugs, which did not ease the discomfort. He mentioned surgical removal of the affected tissue as the most effective cure (vestibulectomy). I cried immediately upon leaving the physician’s office. Even though he is an expert on the subject, I felt like I had no psychological support. I was on Gabapentin to reduce pain, and it made me very depressed. I thought to myself: Is my life, as I know it, over?

Physically, I was in pain every single day. Sometimes it was a raging burning sensation, while other times it was more of an uncomfortable sensation. I could not wear my skinny jeans anymore or ride a bike. I became very depressed. I cried most days because I felt old and hopeless instead of feeling like a vibrant 23-year-old woman. The physical pain, combined with my negative feelings, affected my relationship with my boyfriend. We were unable to have sex at all, and because of my depressed status, we could not engage in any kind of fun. (For more details, read the published case report,Vulvodynia treated successfully with breathing biofeedback and integrated stress reduction: A case report).

The four-session holistic biofeedback interventions to successfully resolved vulvodynia included teaching diaphragmatic breathing to transform shallow thoracic breathing into slower diaphragmatic breathing, transforming feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness to empowerment and transforming her beliefs that she could reduce her symptoms and optimize her health. The interventions also incorporated self-healing imagery and posture-changing exercises. The posture changes consisted of developing awareness of the onset of moving into a collapsed posture and use this awareness to shift to an erect/empowered postures (Carney, Cuddy, & Yap, 2010; Peper, 2014; Peper, Booiman, Lin, & Harvey, in press). Finally, this case report build upon the seminal of electromyographic feedback protocol developed by Dr. Howard Glazer (Glazer & Hacad, 2015) and the integrated relaxation protocol developed Dr. David Wise (Wise & Anderson, 2007).

Through initial biofeedback monitoring of the lower abdominal muscle activity, chest, and abdomen breathing patterns, the participant observed that when she felt discomfort or was fearful, her lower abdomen muscles tended to tighten. After learning how to sense this tightness, she was able to remind herself to breathe lower and slower, relax the abdominal wall during inhalation and sit or stand in an erect power posture.

The self-mastery approach for healing is based upon a functional as compared to a structural perspective. The structural perspective implies that the problem can only be fixed by changing the physical structure such as with surgery or medications. The functional perspective assumes that if you can learn to change your dysfunctional psychophysiological patterns the disorder may disappear.

The functional approach assumed that an irritation of the vestibular area might have caused the participant to tighten her lower abdomen and pelvic floor muscles reflexively in a covert defense reaction. In addition, ongoing worry and catastrophic thinking (“I must have surgery, it will never go away, I can never have sex again, my boyfriend will leave me”) also triggered the defense reaction—further tightening of her lower abdomen and pelvic area, shallow breathing, and concurrent increases in sympathetic nervous activation—which together activated the trigger points that lead to increased chronic pain (Banks et al, 1998).

When the participant experienced a sensation or thought/worried about the pain, her body responded in a defense reaction by breathing in her chest and tightening the lower abdominal area as monitored with biofeedback. Anticipation of being monitored increased her shoulder tension, recalling the stressful memory increased lower abdominal muscle tension (pulling in the abdomen for protection), and the breathing became shallow and rapid as shown in Figure 1.

Fig 3 biofeedback relax memory relax

Figure 1. Physiological recording of pre-stressor relaxation, the recall of a fearful driving experience, and a post-stressor relaxation. The scalene to trapezius SEMG increased in anticipation while she recalled the experience, and then initially did not relax (from Peper, Martinez Aranda, & Moss, 2015).

This defense pattern became a conditioned response—initiating intercourse or being touched in the affected area caused the participant to tense and freeze up. She was unaware of these automatic protective patterns, which only worsened her chronic pain.

During the four sessions of training, the participant learned to reverse and interrupt the habitual defense reaction. For example, as she became aware of her breathing patterns she reported,

It was amazing to see on the computer screen the difference between my regular breathing pattern and my diaphragmatic breathing pattern. I could not believe I had been breathing that horribly my whole life, or at least, for who knows how long. My first instinct was to feel sorry for myself. Then, rather than practicing negative patterns and thoughts, I felt happy because I was learning how to breathe properly. My pain decreased from an 8 to alternating between a 0 and 3.

The mastery of slower and lower abdominal breathing within a holistic perspective resulted in the successful resolution of her vulvodynia. An essential component of the training included allowing the participant to feel safe, and creating hope by enabling her to experience a decrease in discomfort while doing a specific practice, and assisting her to master skills to promote self-healing. Instead of feeling powerless and believing that the only resolution was the removal of the affected area (vestibulectomy). The integrated biofeedback protocol offered skill mastery training, to promote self-healing through diaphragmatic breathing, somatic postural changes, reframing internal language, and healing imagery as part of a common sense holistic health approach.

For more details about the case report, download the published study,  Peper, E., Martinez Aranda, P., & Moss, E. (2015). Vulvodynia treated successfully with breathing biofeedback and integrated stress reduction: A case report. Biofeedback. 43(2), 103-109.

The participant also wrote up her subjective experience of the integrated biofeedback process in the paper, Martinez Aranda & Peper (2015). Healing of vulvodynia from the client perspective.  In this paper she articulated her understanding and experiences in resolving vulvodynia which sheds light on the internal processes that are so often skipped over in published reports.


Banks, S. L., Jacobs, D. W., Gevirtz, R., & Hubbard, D. R. (1998). Effects of autogenic relaxation training on electromyographic activity in active myofascial trigger points. Journal of Musculoskeletal Pain, 6(4), 23-32. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/David_Hubbard/publication/232035243_Effects_of_Autogenic_Relaxation_Training_on_Electromyographic_Activity_in_Active_Myofascial_Trigger_Points/links/5434864a0cf2dc341daf4377.pdf

Carney, D. R., Cuddy, A. J., & Yap, A. J. (2010). Power posing brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance. Psychological Science, 21(10), 1363-1368. Available from: https://www0.gsb.columbia.edu/mygsb/faculty/research/pubfiles/4679/power.poses_.PS_.2010.pdf

Glazer, H. & Hacad, C.R. (2015). The Glazer Protocol: Evidence-Based Medicine Pelvic Floor Muscle (PFM) Surface Electromyography (SEMG). Biofeedback, 40(2), 75-79. http://www.aapb-biofeedback.com/doi/abs/10.5298/1081-5937-40.2.4

Martinez Aranda, P. & Peper, E. (2015). Healing of vulvodynia from the client perspective. Available from: https://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/a-healing-of-vulvodynia-from-the-client-perspective-2015-06-15.pdf

Mayo Clinic (2014). Diseases and conditions: Vulvodynia. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/vulvodynia/basics/definition/con-20020326

Peper, E. (2014). Increasing strength and mood by changing posture and sitting habits. Western Edition, pp.10, 12. Available from: http://thewesternedition.com/admin/files/magazines/WE-July-2014.pdf

Peper, E., Booiman, A., Lin, I, M.,& Harvey, R. (in press). Increase strength and mood with posture. Biofeedback.

Peper, E., Martinez Aranda, P., & Moss, E. (2015). Vulvodynia treated successfully with breathing biofeedback and integrated stress reduction: A case report. Biofeedback. 43(2), 103-109. Available from: https://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/a-vulvodynia-treated-with-biofeedback-published.pdf

Reed, B. D., Haefner, H. K., Sen, A., & Gorenflo, D. W. (2008). Vulvodynia incidence and remission rates among adult women: a 2-year follow-up study. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 112(2, Part 1), 231-237. http://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Abstract/2008/08000/Vulvodynia_Incidence_and_Remission_Rates_Among.6.aspx

Wise, D., & Anderson, R. U. (2006). A headache in the pelvis: A new understanding and treatment for prostatitis and chronic pelvic pain syndromes. Occidental, CA: National Center for Pelvic Pain Research.http://www.pelvicpainhelp.com/books/

The surprising and powerful links between posture and mood

Enjoy Vivian Giang’s superb blog, The surprising and powerful links between posture and mood,  published by Fast Company and reprinted with permission.   It summarizes in a very readable way how posture affects health and well being.

The Surprising and Powerful Links between Posture and Mood

Why feeling taller tricks your brain into making you feel more confident and why your smartphone addiction might be making you depressed.

The next time you’re feeling sad and depressed, pay close attention to your posture. According to cognitive scientists, you’ll likely be slumped over with your neck and shoulders curved forward and head looking down.

While it’s true that you’re sitting this way because you’re sad, it’s also true that you’re sad because you’re sitting this way. This philosophy, known as embodied cognition, is the idea that the relationship between our mind and body runs both ways, meaning our mind influences the way our body reacts, but the form of our body also triggers our mind.

In large part due to Amy Cuddy’s widly popular 2012 TED talk, most of us know that two minutes of “power poses” a day can change how we feel about ourselves. This isn’t just about displaying confidence to others around; this is about actually changing your hormones—increased levels of testosterone and decreased levels of cortisol, or the stress hormone, in the brain.

“The brain has an area that reflects confidence, but once that area is triggered it doesn’t matter exactly how it’s triggered,” says Richard Petty, professor of psychology at Ohio State University. “It can be difficult to distinguish real confidence from confidence that comes from just standing up straight … these things go both ways just like happiness leads to smiling, but also smiling leads to happiness.”

When it comes to posture, Petty explains that the way we ultimately feel has a lot to do with the associations we have with being taller. For example, if you take two people and you put one on a chair that’s above the other person, the one that’s looking down will feel more powerful because “we have all these associations” with height and power that “gets triggered automatically when certain movements are made,” he says. The function of your body posture tells your brain that you’re powerful, which, in turn, affects your attitude.

In a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Petty along with other researchers instructed 71 college students to either “sit up straight” and “push out [their] chest” or “sit slouched forward” with their “face looking at [their] knees.” While holding their assigned posture, the students were asked to list either three positive or negative personal traits they thought would contribute to their future job satisfaction and professional performance. Afterward, the students were asked to take a survey where they rated themselves on how well they thought they would perform as a future professional.

The researchers found that how the students rated themselves depended on the posture they kept when they wrote the positive or negative traits. Those who were in the upright position believed in the positive and negative traits they wrote down while those in the slouched over position weren’t convinced of their positive or negative traits. In other words, when the students were in the upright, confident position, they trusted their own thoughts whether those thoughts were positive or negative. On the other hand, when the students sat in a powerless position, they didn’t trust anything they wrote down whether it was positive or negative.

However, those in the upright position likely had an easier time thinking of “empowering, positive” traits about themselves to write down while those in the slouched over position probably had an easier time recalling “hopeless, helpless, powerless, and negative” feelings, according to Erik Peper, professor of Holistic Health at San Francisco State University.

In a series of experiments, Peper found that sitting in a collapsed, helpless position makes it easier for negative thoughts and memories to appear while sitting in an upright, powerful position makes it easier to have empowering thoughts and memories.

“Emotions and thoughts affect our posture and energy levels; conversely, posture and energy affect our emotions and thoughts,” says one of Peper’s studies from 2012, and two minutes of skipping versus walking in a slouched position can make a significant difference on our energy levels. Like Cuddy, Peper’s research finds that it only takes two minutes to change your hormones, meaning you can basically change the chemistry in your brain while waiting for your food to heat up in the microwave.

Since posture affects our mood and thoughts so much, the increase of collapsed sitting and walking—from sitting in front of our computer to looking down at our smartphones—may very much have an effect on the rise of depression in recent years. Peper and his team of researchers suggest that posture is a significant contributor to decreased energy levels and depression. Slouching is also known to result in frequent headaches and neck and shoulder pains.

With so much research proving the influence posture has on our mind, Peper suggests hanging photos of people you love slightly higher on the wall or above your desk so that you have to look up. Also, adjust your rear view mirror slightly higher so that you have to sit up taller while driving. If you need reminders, Petty advises setting reminders on your phone, computer, or even a Post-It note. When you do have negative thoughts, instead of validating them by slumping over or bending your head, Petty says that you should write them down on a piece of paper, then throw that piece of paper away in the trash.

“People who throw those negative thoughts into the trash can are less affected by them then people who had the same thoughts but symbolically put them in their pocket,” he says. “It’s this idea that it’s not what we think that’s important; it’s how much we trust what we think.”

Reprinted by permission from Vivian Giang

Cellphone harm: Cervical spine stress and increase risk of brain cancer

It is impossible to belief that that only a few years ago there were no cell phones.

When I go home, I purposely put the phone away so that I can be present with my children.

I just wonder if the cell phone’s electromagnetic radiation could do harm?

Cell phone use is ubiquitous since information is only a key press or voice command away.  Students spend about many hours a day looking and texting on a cell phone and experience exhaustion and neck and shoulder discomfort (Peper et al, 2013).  Constant use may also have unexpected consequences:  Increased stress on the cervical spine and increased risk for brain cancer.

Increased cervical spine stress

As we look at the screen, text messages or touch the screen for more information, we almost always bend our head down to look down. This head forward position increases cervical compression and stress. The more the head bends down to look, the more the stress in the neck increases as the muscles have to work much harder that hold the head up. In a superb analysis Dr. Kennth Hansraj, Chief of Spine Surgery 0f New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine, showed that stress on the cervical spine increases from 10-12 lbs when the head is in its upright position to 60 lbs when looking down.

weight of headFigure 1. Stress on the cervical spine as related to posture. (From: Hansraj, K. K. (2014). Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head. Surgical technology international, 25, 277-279.)

Looking down for a short time period is no problem; however, many of us look down for extended periods. This slouched collapsed position is becoming the more dominant position. A body posture which tends to decrease energy, and increase hopeless, helpless, powerless thoughts (Wilson & Peper, 2004; Peper & Lin, 2012). The long term effects of this habitual collapsed position are not know–one can expect more neck and back problems and increase in lower energy levels.

increased risk for brain cancer and inactive sperm and lower sperm count

Cell phone use not only affect posture, the cell phone radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation by which the cell phone communicates to the tower may negatively affect biological tissue. It would not be surprising that electromagnetic radiation could be harmful; since, it is identical to the frequencies used in your microwave ovens to cook food. The recent research by Drs Michael Carlberg and Lennart Hardell of the Department of Oncology, University Hospital, Örebro, Sweden,  found that long term cell phone use is associated by an increased risk of developing malignant glioma (brain cancers) with the largest risk observed in people who used the cell phone before the age of 20. In addition, men who habitually carry the cell phone in a holster or in their pocket were more likely to have inactive or less mobile sperm as well as a lower sperm count.

What can you do:

Keep an upright posture and when using a cell phone or tablet. Every few minutes stretch, look up and reach upward with your hands to the sky.

Keep your cell phone away from your body such as putting it in your purse or outer pocket of your coat

Use your speaker phone or ear phones instead of placing the phone against your head.

Enjoy the cartoon video clip, Smartphone Ergonomics – Safe Tips – Mobile or Smart Phone Use while Driving, Traveling on the Move.


Agarwal, A., Singh, A., Hamada, A., & Kesari, K. (2011). Cell phones and male infertility: a review of recent innovations in technology and consequences. International braz j urol, 37(4), 432-454. http://www.isdbweb.org/documents/file/1685_8.pdf

Carlberg, M., & Hardell, L. (2014). Decreased Survival of Glioma Patients with Astrocytoma Grade IV (Glioblastoma Multiforme) Associated with Long-Term Use of Mobile and Cordless Phones. International journal of environmental research and public health, 11(10), 10790-10805.  http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/11/10/10790/htm

De Iuliis, G. N., Newey, R. J., King, B. V., & Aitken, R. J. (2009). Mobile phone radiation induces reactive oxygen species production and DNA damage in human spermatozoa in vitro. PloS one, 4(7), e6446.

Hansraj, K. K. (2014). Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head. Surgical technology international, 25, 277-279.

Peper, E. & Lin, I-M. (2012). Increase or decrease depression-How body postures influence your energy level. Biofeedback, 40 (3), 126-130.

Peper, E., Waderich, K., Harvey, R., & Sutter, S. (2013). The Psychophysiology of Contemporary Information Technologies Tablets and Smartphones Can Be a Pain in the Neck. In Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 38(3), 219.

Wilson, V.E. and Peper, E. (2004). The Effects of upright and slumped postures on the generation of positive and negative thoughts. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback.29 (3), 189-195.

Adjust your world to fit you: Become the unreasonable person!*

 “Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world; unreasonable people persist in trying to adapt the world to themselves. Therefore all progress depends on unreasonable people.”             

–Paraphrased from Bernard Shaw

Man at deskPhoto by Erik Peper

Having the right equipment and work environment will reduce injury and improve performance. This is true for athletes as well as for people using computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. We look down and curve our upper spine to read the tablet, crane our heads forward to read the screen, lift our shoulders, arms and hands up to the laptop keyboard to enter data, and we bend our heads down and squint to read the smartphone—all occurring without awareness (Straker et al, 2008; Asunda, Odell, Luce, & Dennerlein, 2010; Peper et al, 2014). We are captured by the devices and stay immobilized until we hurt. At the end of the work day, we are often exhausted and experience neck and shoulder stiffness, arm pain and eye fatigue. This stress immobility syndrome is the twenty first century reward for digital immigrants and natives.

We hurt because we fit ourselves to the environment instead of changing the environment to fit us. The predominant slouched position even affects our mood and strength (Peper and Lin, 2012). Experience how your strength decreases when you slouch and look downward as compared when you sit tall with your spine lengthened at your laptop, tablet or phone. You will need a partner to do this practice as shown in Figure 1.

Sit in your slouched position while looking down and extend your arm to the side. Have your partner stand behind you and gently press downward on your upper arm near your wrist while you attempt to resist the pressure. Now relax and let your arms hang along the side of your body. Now sit upright in a tall position with your spine lengthening while looking straight ahead. Again extend your arm and gently have your gently press downward on your upper arm near your wrist while you attempt to resist the pressure.

pressing down on arm slouched erect trimmedFigure 1. Measuring the ability to resist the downward pressure on the forearm while sitting in either slouched or tall position.

You probably experienced significantly more strength resisting the downward pressure when sitting erect and tall than when sitting collapsed as we discovered in our study at San Francisco State University in with students as shown in figure 2.

subject exp rating tall slouch

Figure 2. Change in perceived strength resisting a downward pressure on the extended arm while sitting. Reproduced by permission from Schwanbeck, R., Peper, E., Booiman, A., Harvey, R., and Lin, I-M. (in press).

Increase your power and take charge! Arrange your laptop, computer and tablet so it fits you. This usually means changing your home and office chairs and desks; since, they have been manufactured for the average person. Just like the average coach airplane seat – it is uncomfortable for most people. As my colleague Annette Booiman who is a Mensendiek practitioner has pointed out, “An incorrectly adjusted chair or table height will force you to work in a dysfunctional body position while an appropriately adjusted chair or table height offers you the opportunity to work in a healthy position.”

Become the unreasonable person and fit the world so that you are comfortable while using digital devices. There are solutions! Take responsibility and adjust your posture to a healthy one–it will make your life so much more energetic. Sit on your sit bones (ischial tuberosities) as if they are the feet of your pelvis and feel your spine lengthening as you sit tall. Alternatively, stand while working and adjust the desk height for your size. Regardless of whether you sit or stand while working, take many breaks to interrupt your immobilized posture. Install a software program on computer to remind you to take breaks and watch the YouTube  clips on cartoon ergonomics  for working at the computer.

Implement the following common sense ergonomic guidelines:

For working at a computer sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, the elbows bend at 90 degrees with the hands, wrists, and forearms are straight, in-line and roughly parallel to the floor so that the hands can be on the keyboard while the top of monitor is at eye brow level as shown in Figure 3.

Optimum sitting position

Figure 3. Optimum position to sit at a computer work station. From: http://bmarthur.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/good-posture-how-to-sit-at-a-desk.png

For working with a laptop you will always compromise body position. If the screen is at eye level, you have to bring your arms and hands up to the keyboard, or, more commonly, you will look down at the screen while at the same time raising your hands to reach the keyboard. The solution is to use an external keyboard so that the keyboard can be at your waist position and the laptop screen eye level as shown in Figure 4.

optimum laptop use

Figure 4. Optimum position to sit while using a laptop. From: http://www.winwin-tech.com/uploadfile/cke/images/6.jpg

For working with tablets and smart phones you have little choice. You either look down or reach up to touch the screen. As much as possible tilt and raise the tablet so that you do not have slouch to see the screen.

If you observe that you slouch and collapse while working, invest in an adjustable desk that you can raise or lower for your optimum height. An adjustable height desk such as the unDesk offers the opportunity to change work position from sitting to standing as shown in Figure 5.


Figure 5. Example of a height adjustable desk (the unDesk) that can be used for sitting and standing.

Although office chairs can give support, we often slouch in them. While at home we use any chair that is available—again encouraging slouching. Reduce the slouching by sitting on a  seat insert such as a BackJoy® which tends to let you sit more erect and in a more powerful and energizing position see Figure 6.

backjoy insert sitting with spine markers a

Figure 6. Example how BackJoy® seat inserts allows you to sit more erect. Reproduced with permission from: http://www.backjoy.com/sit/

Finally, whether or not you can change your environment, take many, many short movement breaks– wiggle, stretch, get up and walk–to interrupt the muscle tension and allow yourself to regenerate. To remind yourself to take breaks while being captured by your work, install a reminder program on your computer such as Stretchbreak that pops up on the screen and guides you through short stretches to regenerate.

Suggested sources:

Cartoon videos on ergonomics: https://peperperspective.com/2014/09/30/cartoon-ergonomics-for-working-at-the-computer-and-laptop/

Healthy computing tips: http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/health-computing-email-tips.pdf

Seat insert such as BackJoy®: http://www.backjoy.com/sit/

Height adjustable desk such as The unDesk: http://www.theundesk.com/

Interrupt computer program such as Stretchbreak: http://www.paratec.com


Asundi, K., Odell, D., Luce, A., & Dennerlein, J. T. (2010). Notebook computer use on a desk, lap and lap support: Effects on posture, performance and comfort. Ergonomics, 53(1), 74-82.

Peper, E., & Lin, I. M. (2012). Increase or decrease depression-How body postures influence your energy level. Biofeedback, 40 (3), 126-130.

Peper, E., Booiman, A., Lin, I-M., & Shaffer, F. Making the Unaware Aware-Surface Electromyography to Unmask Tension and Teach Awareness. Biofeedback, 2(1), 16-23.

Schwanbeck, R., Peper, E., Booiman, A., Harvey, R., and Lin, I-M.  Posture changes with a seat insert: Changes in strength and implications for breathing and HRV. Poster submitted for the 46th Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback.

Straker, L. M., Coleman, J., Skoss, R., Maslen, B. A., Burgess-Limerick, R., & Pollock, C. M. (2008). A comparison of posture and muscle activity during tablet computer, desktop computer and paper use by young children. Ergonomics, 51(4), 540-555.


* Adapted from: Peper, E. (in press). Become the unreasonable person: Adjust your world to fit you! Western Edition and Schwanbeck, R., Peper, E., Booiman, A., Harvey, R., and Lin, I-M. (in press). Posture changes with a seat insert: Changes in strength and implications for breathing and HRV.