When I heard of HeartMath I was still a young yogi, just out of my masters, and ready to take on the world of yoga therapy. It was intriguing, but I had a good thing going. I didn’t need any technology to help my clients; the wisdom of mindfulness, yoga, and somatic therapies was more than enough. And it was, for a time. My clients were having great success in moving through difficult emotions with somatic & mindfulness therapy and I was not ready to do anything different. This works, why mess up a good thing? So I left HeartMath behind.
And then came the Adolescents
Then I started working with adolescents in a private practice setting, and then a school setting. And all of a sudden, my tried and true methods just didn’t fit. It wasn’t that they didn’t work—if kids were interested and they tried it, it worked just as well as I remembered—it just wasn’t something that interested most adolescents so they wouldn’t use it.
I scrambled. I brought up all of the research I had amassed (I’m a research nerd, so this was A LOT to go through) and stumbled upon the HeartMath Quick Coherence Technique script that I had filed away so long ago. As I read the script I started to make connections. This technique WAS an integration of mindfulness and somatic therapies in a simple, easy to follow, and quick way. Of course I had skipped over the easy way to try the hard way first. It’s in my nature.
I can hear you asking, though, how does this work? And what is Biofeedback? Let me answer those questions for you, in reverse order.
What is Biofeedback?
Biofeedback is a mind-body technique that uses audio or visual cues to help you gain control over parts of your body, like muscles or your breathing. You are hooked to a device that measures whatever bodily function you are targeting, like a bloodflow sensor or a breath sensor, and as you manipulate that target function, you get some sort of feedback from the sensor telling you if you are in the target range or if you need to make more adjustments. It is basically teaching you how to self-regulate parts of your body that you didn’t have control over before. Biofeedback has been used to treat a number of different ailments:
- Chronic Pain disorders
- Digestive disorders
- High blood pressure
- Sleep Disorders
- And many more…
Biofeedback is a safe, noninvasive, and easy to use treatment for a lot of people. Depending on the type of sensors used and the condition being treated, it can also be pretty quick to show results, though you always need to consult with your therapist before deciding when to stop treatment.
It is also important to note that if you are using Biofeedback to help with your mental health, your therapist might use other interventions in combination with biofeedback to help you get the best results. (Source;Source)
Onto the second question:
How does this work? And is it Effective?
The general answer is that biofeedback teaches you how to read your bodily sensations and then how to manage those sensations before they become severe. This appears, in general, to be a pretty effective treatment for a lot of conditions.
The more specific answer is that it depends. It depends on the specific concern you are targeting.
For example, a study done to determine the efficacy of biofeedback for specific conditions found that there is research showing biofeedback to be efficacious in multiple randomized, controlled trials for a number of conditions:
- Chronic Pain
- Motion Sickness
- And others
The study also found that biofeedback treatment for these conditions is probably effective:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Children’s headaches
- Substance abuse
Lastly, the same study found that biofeedback was found efficacious in at least one study that wasn’t a randomized, controlled trial:
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- And more
The study does say that their findings do not mean that biofeedback isn’t efficacious for their lower ranking conditions, but that there isn’t any strong evidence that it is or isn’t at this time. I’d invite you to check it out for yourself as they link to the specific studies they reviewed. (Source)
Using Biofeedback in My Practice
After the realization that biofeedback could integrate into the way I do things, I started using the script to work with the adolescents I saw as a school counselor. They were much more eager to try a 5 minute exercise that had them feeling better almost immediately than they were to do the 10 minutes of meditation a day I was used to prescribing. So I bought the emWavePro.
Let me tell you a little secret: games always work better with adolescents and children. I know that isn’t a secret to you, and it wasn’t to me. I just hadn’t found any games made to help adolescents use mindfulness to drop into their bodily sensations and allow their body to help them move through whatever emotion was causing distress. Until this. This biofeedback device gave me a myriad of options to help my clients come into a calm, safe space where their fight-flight-freeze response was switched off. For some of them this was the first time in years they had felt their fear response turn off and the surprise (and delight) in their faces is worth every penny and more what I paid for this device.
Now, I know that this is sounding more and more like a sales pitch for HeartMath. It isn’t, though I’d love to get paid every time I talked them up to people in my life. Honestly, I just really, really enjoy their product and it has created some great results in my clients, in me, and in some of my friends.
Should you try it?
If you are dealing with a condition that isn’t responding to traditional therapy and is on the list for at least possible efficacy, I would find a provider in your area to discuss the possibility. Not everyone is a candidate for biofeedback as it does take motivation and determination to gain control of involuntary bodily systems.
But I can tell you this definitively: I’m keeping my HeartMath sensor.
If you want to try the HeartMath sensor yourself, I have a link on my Resources page!