Your body is always speaking to you. But we can’t always hear what the body is saying — perhaps because we aren’t attuned to its subtle signals, or because we don’t know how to interpret them, or simply because we can’t hear them over the frantic noise of the mind. One powerful way to tune into those signals and soothe your nervous system is a brain-training technique called biofeedback.
So what is biofeedback? Biofeedback is already well known in the world of sports, where elite athletes use it to improve physical performance through greater mind-body connection. It’s also a highly successful treatment for migraine prevention. In studies, 65% of migraine patients had long-term success with fewer headaches after implementing biofeedback techniques, along with less anxiety and depression, less need for medication, and a greater ability to manage their headaches.
So what is this mysterious technique?
What is Biofeedback? Medically Guided Meditation
One way to think of biofeedback is as medically guided meditation. It takes place in the office of a trained psychologist, where you’ll be seated near a monitor. Depending on which parts of your autonomic nervous system the therapist wants to track that day, you’ll be outfitted with:
- A belt around your abdomen, to measure breathing
- Sensors on your fingertips, to measure sweat generated by the limbic system (the emotional part of the brain)
- A finger sensor to measure your skin temperature
- Stick-on electrodes on your shoulders, to measure muscle tension
- A sensor clipped to one earlobe, to measure pulse, heart rate, and the intervals between heartbeats
Your body’s feedback will play out on the monitor while you watch in real-time. Over the course of several sessions, your therapist will help you pay attention to your emotions while also teaching you deep-breathing techniques to help you control your breathing rate, rhythm, and volume. As you master the technique — observing the monitor to see the effects on your body, and making adjustments as needed — you’ll learn how to slow your heart rate, raise your body temperature, and relax your muscles. It’s fascinating to see the results right there on the screen, but patients also instantly feel it in their bodies as well. They emerge from sessions with a greater sense of calm, well-being, and self-awareness.
Amazing, right? There’s a healthy dose of psychotherapy involved as well because part of the technique involves (literally) seeing the way negative emotions in your mind immediately play out across your physical body systems. With your therapist’s help, you can learn to recognize those negative emotions, process them, and bring your body back to a steady state. That includes processing the emotional component of migraine. Typically, when a person experiences pain (or sometimes even thinks about the pain of migraine) their brains respond by unleashing emotions like fear, anger, or depression, which stress the body further. Learning how to deal with feelings around pain in a healthy way equips you to better handle the pain of migraine and gives you confidence in your ability to manage them.
Getting The Full Benefits Of Biofeedback
The overall goal of a biofeedback course is that by the time you “graduate,” your body awareness is high enough that you no longer need biofeedback machines and monitors to give you feedback, but rather can hear your body speaking and regulate it on your own, in everyday life.
Getting that long-lasting benefit of biofeedback requires commitment. To set yourself up for success, first ask yourself: Am I ready and able to see through a biofeedback course? Things to consider:
- Time and energy. Biofeedback training requires seven to ten sessions in a therapist’s office.
- Money. Insurance doesn’t usually cover biofeedback, which typically costs from $50 to $100 per session.
- Homework. You’ll need to practice biofeedback daily at home to truly absorb the techniques.
If you have the capacity for all three, go for it — for those who’ve been wondering what is biofeedback, it is a means of self-discovery and migraine management that can enhance your life. To find a practitioner near you, start with the Biofeedback Certification Alliance.