I have used a number of biofeedback relaxation techniques in my counseling practice including handwarming, EEG biofeedback, and Heartmath heart rate variability biofeedback, which is the tool I have used since becoming a licensed one on one provider in 2000.
I like to teach my Heartmath clients another tool, which I believe works very synergistically with it, called Open Focus. Open Focus helps me to remember the space in and around everything, including my heart, and when I create an Open Focus, my brain moves into an alpha brain wave (or relaxed external focus) very quickly.
I think the key to biofeedback relaxation is to be able to switch attentional styles, brainwave status, or heart rate variability coherence quickly, moving into and out of eustress and avoiding distress.
I think it is important to understand that a couple of factors mitigate a constant brain wave pattern or heart rate variability coherence.
One is the human orienting response, which means I pay attention to movements and changes around me, and when I attend to a change in the environment, like a noise behind me, I move quickly into an alarm physiology, which can take me away from my heart rate variability coherence and my alpha brainwave state and into beta (focused external awareness) in perhaps 1/18th second, according to Mihalyi Csiszentmihalyi, Ph.D. or 1/25th second response time for facial expressions like a look of contempt. By comparison, it takes me 1/10th second to blink my eyes.
My thoughts change that rapidly, and once I have identified that the noise behind me is not dangerous, and the facial expression is not a concern, then I can, with some mindfulness, return my heart rate variability to coherence.
How does Heartmath coupled with Open Focus help me be that mindful?
Heartmath heart rate variability biofeedback is a computerized program that provides the feedback on a computer screen, and clients get a sense, from the audio and visual feedback, of how fast their physiology changes when they create a stressful thought rather than a affiliative or cooperative thought, even though they are sitting quietly, attending to a computer.
Once clients get a sense that by switching thoughts from "I do not know how I am going to pay the gas bill this month" to "that fun birthday party with their children", they can move into heart rate variability coherence, which is a very relaxed feeling of contentment, clients begin to understand that they can mindfully engineer their internal state of biofeedback relaxation heart beat by heart beat.
Why is that heart beat by heart beat distinction important? If your heart stops, do you have to worry about biofeedback relaxation anymore? No.
I have made Heartmath heart rate variability a part of my domestic violence and anger management groups for about 10 years.
In fact, I would have a client hooked up to the computer sitting on a table that was purposefully placed in the center of the room, and each client would do the Heartmath heart rate variability biofeedback while the group swirled about them, which is the way life is, lots of noise and distractions.
Most clients were surprised to see how they responded to a tone of voice or a particular topic, and almost all of them could still move into a medium of even high level of coherence.
I would stop the group and ask them how they did that, and many would relate that they were thinking of some pleasant experience from the past, so I of course asked them if they could repeat that experience on demand. Of course, most said they could.
If you have been reading about neurogenesis and neuroplasticity at all in the last two or three years, then you have seen that we actually grow neurons daily if we attend to the pillars of brain fitness including stress management.
The Heartmath heart rate variability biofeedback tool was recommended by Alvaro Fernandez, one of the leading lights in the brainfitness field.
He says it is the best stress management tool in the marketplace.
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