Step-by-step mind-body demo — Integrating mindfulness with biofeedback series, continued

By Yuval Oded

Yuval Oded clinican biofeedback seriesThis walkthrough shows a clinician how to demonstrate the effect of mental stress on the body in real-time using Alive Clinical Version biofeedback graphing. We can tell clients what we know, but showing them is much more powerful and motivating.
  1. From the baseline level we let the SCL line stabilize, preferably letting it get a downward trend as in the example shown below example.

    After going down from 2.71 microsiemens to 2.16 microsiemens, this is the perfect point at which to evoke an anticipation reaction. At timeline 1 min. 50 sec., the client was told “I will now ask you a difficult math question.”

    Notice the sharp rise in the SCL line climbing to 3.50 microsiemens.

    The client did not move or say anything (since the proposed question was not yet asked), so it is clear that the rise in arousal level stems from the psychological impact of anticipation.

    SCL training demo screenshot
  2. By pressing the Hide button we can show the client only the SCL line. After the first anticipation trigger, she is asked to rest.

    SCL training demo screenshot
  3. After approx 2 min. rest time the client is asked a question in math. Notice the very sharp rise in arousal level (to 8.5 microsiemens) showing the psychological impact on the client. Later, she commented that the thought “What if I am wrong?” passed through her mind, causing this rise in arousal level.

    SCL training demo screenshot
  4. Showing the sweat stability graph to the client at this stage can be useful, as it indicates the sharp difference in stability when resting compared to being emotionally agitated by the math task.

    SCL training demo screenshot
  5. Show the rest period, line going down. Take some time with the client to discuss this demo of how thoughts affect the body.

    SCL training demo screenshot
  6. Using the clinical-view option can deepen the client’s understanding of his body’s reaction: the sharp rise in average heart rate when asked the math question, the dramatic sweat stability changes at rest compared to when challenged.

    SCL training demo screenshot

    SCL training demo screenshot
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A great way to get in touch with the present

image of a single raisin

Eating a Raisin with All Your Senses

By Yuval Oded, inspired by Zindel Segal

Try this simple exercise for moment-by-moment observation: Mindful eating. By slowing down and paying close attention to different aspects of the sensory experience.

By immersing in the here-and-now, we notice things that we have not noticed before and that go unnoticed when we act without mindfulness. First take the raisin and hold it between your thumb and finger. Close your eyes Roll it between your fingers…feel its texture…lightly squeeze it how does it feel at your finger tips?

Open your eyes, gaze at it...does it look like it felt? Examine the shades and dark hollows, its features, its surfaces. Now smell the raisin a few times while inhaling. Notice any sensations in your mouth or throat. Gently place the raisin between your frontal teeth and hold it there, touch it with your tongue and notice any sensations arising in your mouth, throat or stomach. Without chewing on it yet, notice how, moment by moment, changes occur inside your mouth and in the raisin, too.

Place it on your tongue and roll it around sensing, moment after moment. Now before chewing it, notice what conditions the intention to chew causes. As you chew, what do you hear? Now before swallowing the raisin, notice any physical conditions the intention to swallow causes.

Notice how the whole body feels after swallowing, after you’ve completed this whole exercise.

Photo by Cary Bass via Wikimedia Commons

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Learn to change your heart rate patterns by breathing

Videos are a great way to better understand how biofeedback works to help people learn to control their stress levels. Over at YouTube Somatic Vision founder and engineer Ryan Deluz has posted the first of a series of videos he is making that will help people understand the purpose and experience of the Alive comprehensive training environment. Check it out, and if you find it interesting and useful, make sure to click the subscribe button above the video to the series so you don't miss upcoming videos in the series.

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Integrating mindfulness with biofeedback — A new way to enhance results in individual therapy — Introduction

By Yuval Oded, inspired by Zindel Segal

Yuval Oded clinican biofeedback series

As mindfulness and other Eastern spiritual practices are introduced into psychotherapy, both therapists and clients seek for ways to deepen the practice. In the next few weeks I will describe how I integrate Alive biofeedback with mindfulness practices.

“Mindfulness” refers to keeping one’s consciousness alive to the present reality. John Kabat-Zinn, one of pioneers in integrating mindfulness into therapy, says, “when we use the term mindfulness we refer to ‘an openhearted, moment to moment, nonjudgmental awareness’.”

In therapy we often aim at helping our clients to promote acceptance of internal experience. In a wide range of clinical problems, what is common is the avoidance or over-attention to internal experiences such as thoughts, images, emotions and sensations. For example, many clients are not aware of the moment-to-moment fluctuations in mood they are experiencing. A patient may describe his panic attack as lasting 4 days while scientific findings show that the human body is not capable of sustaining such high levels of arousal for long. Anxiety sensitivity, or fear of fear, often causes this sustained attention to anxiety-related symptoms.

The process of trying to help our clients to pay attention to whatever arises internally or externally, without becoming hooked on the wish that things were otherwise, and diminishing avoidance behaviors is part of therapy.

Mindfulness practices within therapy include improving awareness through learning to focus one’s attention in a different way than our daily “jumpy” mode of attention. In this, we focus on first becoming aware of thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations as well as sounds , smells, tastes as they are. Another aspect of mindfulness is nonjudgmental observation, the ability to develop a sense of compassion towards one’s internal experience, becoming aware of one’s inner critic, learning to step back from it and notice experiences without labeling them good or bad. We try to cultivate a “beginner’s mind” that observes things as they are rather than letting what we “know” dominate our perceptions. By participating in experiences as they occur we teach our mind to observe the here-and-now rather than to keep on focusing on the past or the future. Learning to “stay in the moment” is not easy and requires many hours of practice. Many clients who are introduced to mindfulness skills, particularly early in treatment, find it difficult to see the value of these practices. Furthermore, those who are convinced they want to integrate these practices will often say to the therapist, “I intended to set aside some time for practice this week but I have too much else going on and it just did not happen.” Enhancing their motivation to practice is of extreme importance if we want to achieve changes of automatic patterns of the mind.

After many years of integrating mindfulness skill training with biofeedback I would like to share with you the wonderful benefits of combining both. In the coming weeks I will focus on the roles and benefits of using biofeedback at different stages of skill acquisition.

  1. Becoming aware of the mind body connection using Alive SCL screens
  2. Initial mindfulness breathing exercise with Alive breathing coach
  3. Attention modes training with Zoom Out ™, Change the Channel ™, and Mental Mini-Breaks™ feedback from Alive HRV and SCL graphing
  4. Body Scan training with Alive mindfulness workshop and SCL graph training (introducing the sweat stability graph)
  5. Cultivating mindfulness and acceptance using the Dream house, Green Thumb, and Four Seasons mini-games
  6. Opening our heart using Alive HRV graph training and games and Finding Gratitude and Trust workshop
  7. Mindful eating with biofeedback
  8. 5-Minute Daily Break with HRV and SCL screens

And lots more.

Feel free to contact me in this blog with any questions or feedback.

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The effects of stress on relationships

It's a pretty simple (but powerful) calculus offered up by David Code today in his piece, "The Real Reason Couples Divorce:" Badly-managed stress can cause us to scapegoat each other, giving us the false impression that a spouse is making us unhappy.

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Sounds and pictures to relax to!

I just stumbled across a great resource for relaxation mini-breaks: YouTube videos! Many people seem to have uploaded videos from 6 to 30 minutes long (with links to longer versions, in many cases) specifically made for relaxing.

I love that there is a wide variety of videos, some with music and some without to suit all types. A favorite of mine: the Pacific ocean at dusk.

Relaxation video

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Super Table-Flip: Fun, but not really stress relief

Wired recently ran a story about an arcade game in Japan that seeks to help pressurized people relieve everyday stress. Super Table-Flip lets the game player pound on a table replica input device to get the attention of his virtual family or co-workers, and as they become more annoying make the ultimate decision to flip the table altogether, sending everything and everyone flying.

Hmmm. Very funny, but stress relief? Science knows effective stress relief to be much more about consciously controlling the body's built-in stress response than it is about fantasy "venting."

WebMD has a good overview article on stress that includes the following sound information:

What Are the Warning Signs of Stress?
Chronic stress can wear down the body's natural defenses, leading to a variety of physical symptoms, including:

  • Dizziness or a general feeling of "being out of it"
  • General aches and pains
  • Grinding teeth, clenched jaw
  • Headaches
  • Indigestion or acid reflux symptoms
  • Increase in or loss of appetite
  • Muscle tension in neck, face or shoulders
  • Problems sleeping
  • Racing heart
  • Cold and sweaty palms
  • Tiredness, exhaustion
  • Trembling/shaking
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Upset stomach, diarrhea
  • Sexual difficulties

Tips for Reducing Stress
People can learn to manage stress and lead happier, healthier lives. Here are some tips to help you keep stress at bay.

  • Keep a positive attitude.
  • Accept that there are events that you cannot control.
  • Be assertive instead of aggressive. Assert your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive, or passive.
  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques; try meditation, yoga, or tai-chi.
  • Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when it is fit.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Learn to manage your time more effectively.
  • Set limits appropriately and say no to requests that would create excessive stress in your life.
  • Make time for hobbies and interests.
  • Get enough rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
  • Don't rely on alcohol, drugs, or compulsive behaviors to reduce stress.
  • Seek out social support. Spend enough time with those you love.
  • Seek treatment with a psychologist or other mental health professional trained in stress management or biofeedback techniques to learn more healthy ways of dealing with the stress in your life.
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10 habits that will help keep even the busiest people healthy and sane

Habit #1

Take 40 deep, slow breaths, from your diaphragm, one or two at a time, spread throughout your day. Don't try to make up for ones you didn't do earlier; if you do too many at one time, you can hyperventilate. Rather, associate it with a regular occurrence, such as the telephone ringing, traffic noise, or a glance at the clock. See for yourself how effective this practice can be.

Habit #2

Set aside fifteen- or twenty-minute relaxation periods away from your phone and from any other kind of interruption. You can use breaks at work for this. A tape or CD can assist in developing relaxation skills. Rather than trying to maximize your efficiency by using every available minute to get things accomplished, you'll find that you actually get more (and better) work done by taking time out to release internalized stress. You'll see results in about four to six weeks.

Habit #3

Regular aerobic exercise — walking, jogging, swimming, biking, etc. — for just twenty minutes three times a week improves your ability to handle stress. Even more than that is better still, but be careful against injuries!

Habit #4

Remember: all things in moderation. Consider what you eat and drink, and choose sensibly. Don't use caffeine, alcohol or other drugs to cope with stress. They undermine your body's ability to defend against (and recover from) the effects of stress.

Habit #5

Set goals for growth in all aspects of your life. Plan to give yourself positive options. People assume that more money will solve all of their problems, but you should plan for growth in all aspects of your life, not just income. This includes family and relationships, spiritual interests, creative pursuits, even vacations and hobbies - all of the things that nourish your sense of well-being!

Habit #6

Use humor to keep a positive, lower-stress outlook. Positive attitudes really do help you see opportunities instead of difficulties. Don't use it to mask anger, fear, or sadness though.

Habit #7

Stay positive and centered by avoiding people who try to drain your positive energy. Negative relationships with 'friends' or co-workers can quickly erode your peace of mind.

Habit #8

Understand what you can control and what you cannot, and don't try to direct events you cannot control. Try to be prepared. Know that in any situation, you can always control how you respond.

Habit #9

Give compliments sincerely and generously. Smile. Be positive and let it influence others. Your positive attitude will come back many times more.

Habit #10

Listening is the most important communication skill you can develop. True listening both empowers and relaxes.

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More biofeedback in the news

Interesting piece at PsychCentral about biofeedback being used to treat panic and anxiety disorders. Highlights:

An new online treatment system will provide real-time care by combining patient-provider communication with physiological biofeedback to assist patients suffering with panic disorder and anxiety problems.

The Taiwan-based team has coupled a wireless-enabled finger-ring device that measures skin temperature with a web-enabled system. The system provides a convenient channel for communication between patients and health care workers as well as allowing hospital staff to allow patients to ask questions and download pertinent information.

The increasing pace of life, the industrialization of society, and the advent of digital technology are all thought to underlie the growing prevalence of mental illness. Disorders, such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression are now diagnosed more frequently than ever before.

Panic disorders are not easily diagnosed but do represent chronic illness for countless patients and lead to hospitalization with increasing frequency.

Patients are taught muscle and mental relaxation exercises and how to observe the effects of these on their skin temperature, thus providing a biofeedback mechanism.

Once the patients learned the cues for relaxation and the method to obtain rapid relaxation, they were able to apply the methods and cues to relieve the symptoms of panic disorder.

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Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons From the Biology of Consciousness

Alva Noe

The title of this post is the title of a new book by Alva Noë, an exciting and controversial exploration of the difference between our brains and our minds. From the SF Gate review:

"Consciousness is not something the brain achieves on its own," Noë writes. "Consciousness requires the joint operation of the brain, body and world. ... It is an achievement of the whole animal in its environmental context."

Noë sells this audacious idea with a series of effective metaphors. For instance, he begins the book by comparing consciousness to a dollar bill. He notes that it would be silly to search for the physical correlates of "monetary value." After all, the meaning of money isn't in the paper, or the green ink, or the picture of George Washington. Instead, it exists in the institutions and practices that give the paper meaning. Similarly, our awareness of reality doesn't depend entirely on what's happening inside the brain, but is a side effect of how we, as individuals, interact with the wider world.

Although Noë is a philosopher, his argument is carefully built on scientific evidence, as he considers everything from studies of cells in the visual cortex to examples of neural plasticity. In each instance, he interprets the data in a startlingly original fashion, such as when he uses experiments showing that ferrets can learn to "see" with cells in their auditory cortex as proof that "there isn't anything special about the cells in the so-called visual cortex that makes them visual. Cells in the auditory cortex can be visual just as well. There is no necessary connection between the character of experience and the behavior of certain cells."

Certainly, many of the scientists cited by Noë would disagree with his interpretations, but that's part of what makes this book so important: It's an audacious retelling of the standard story, an exploration of the mind that questions some of our most cherished assumptions about what the mind is.

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