What Do You Think About That?

A number of years ago, my older sister's friend — let's call her Veronica — came to our family seeking help.

I remember Veronica talked nonstop and disjointedly. Our family decided she needed medical attention so we took her to a hospital.

The admitting process included taking Veronica's temperature. The nurse stuck a digital thermometer under her tongue and then left the room for a few minutes.

Being a crazy teenager at the time, I encouraged Veronica to get a higher number on the readout. It was 98-point something. Sure enough, Veronica got the readout to go up another tenth of a degree.

Egged on by this “success,” I challenged her to do it again. Sure enough, she did it again. Both she and I were delighted. (Amazing what a teenager finds amusing to pass the time, isn't it?) Although I didn't know it at the time, I was witnessing biofeedback.

The word “biofeedback” was coined in the late 1960s to describe laboratory procedures, developed in the 1940s, that can be used to train an individual to consciously control some aspect of their physiology that the body normally regulates automatically.

Examples of “biofeedback-ready” elements would be skin temperature, brainwave activity, muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure. The three common types of devices used are:

Electromyography (EMG). This type of feedback uses a device that measures muscle tension. During monitoring, the person practices a relaxation technique such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation or visualization.

Electroencephalograph (EEG) or neurofeedback. This type of feedback device measures brainwave activity that can be observed on a computer monitor. It is connected to the individual with sensors on the scalp and ears. Computerized games are used to help the individual change his or her brainwave activity.

Peripheral temperature or hand temperature feedback. This type of feedback uses a device that measures the skin temperature of the hands. During monitoring, the person tries to increase this temperature through the use of visualization or guided imagery. Increasing blood flow to the hands, for instance, makes the hands warmer.

What is biofeedback used for? It is used most often to control problems related to stress or blood flow. Some examples would be headaches, high blood pressure and sleep disorders.

Funny. Those are all things that can also be helped by a good prayer life!

Anyway, the Applied Psychophysiology & Biofeedback website (www.aapb.org) lists 34 disorders that are amenable to intervention by biofeedback and neurofeedback. It has been used to help control long-term (chronic) pain as well.

Brother Mark here at the monastery gets a newsletter on fibromyalgia, which produces muscle pains throughout the body. There is no cure. The newsletter talks about people who have totally gotten off pain medications for this disease using biofeedback techniques.

According to WebMD.com, learning biofeedback, unlike in Veronica's case, usually takes several sessions. By the time 12 sessions are completed, most people experience success with their conditions. Eventually, people learn to influence their muscle tension or blood flow without the need of the monitoring equipment.

People can go to a biofeedback lab for all of this. According to Dr. Dale Patterson, 10 sessions could cost you more than $1,000. Biofeedback for attention-deficit disorder and hyperactivity costs between $60 to $150 per session and can take between 30 and 100 sessions before significant improvements to symptoms are observed.

Fortunately, there is a cheaper alternative — home feedback units using your computer.

Are you reacting to daily stress in an unhealthy manner? BiofeedbackZone.com offers an inexpensive Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) monitoring device for home biofeedback for less than $200. It comes with Calmlink software that has full-feature graphics displays, multiple-tone and musical-sounds feedback, changing shapes and pictures tied to relaxation, recording and viewing of past sessions, the ability to export data to Excel, even a Pacman-style game that speeds up and slows down as you relax. You can purchase just the software for under $120.

NeuroSky at neurosky.com, a Silicon Valley company, has developed a different use for biofeedback — a non-invasive neural sensor and signal processing technology that converts brainwaves and eye movements into useful electronic signals. This will allow you to communicate with a wide range of electronic devices, consoles and computers.

NeuroSky is already working with headset manufacturers and game makers. One application is an automatic generator of “emoticons” (those little yellow smiley faces and such). While having a phone conversation, the analyzer will measure your brainwave frequency and send the information to software in the phone to generate a corresponding “smiley.”

Gamers may soon get more serious as biofeedback is used to reward or punish their choices. A more practical application is a sleep detector for truckers that detects when the driver is falling asleep and sounds a loud buzzer to wake him up.

I can see other companies using this device to monitor their workers. Hopefully I won't need to wear one in order to write for the Register.

Speaking of which, this installment wraps up my run on the Arts & Culture page. The Register will be using the space to cover the Catholic reaches of the “blogosphere.”

But I won't be going far — I'm moving over to Spirit & Life. I hope to see you there!

Brother John Raymond is co-founder of the Community of the Monks of Adoration,

based in Englewood, Florida.

Monthly Web Picks

Since October ends the Year of the Eucharist, I thought it would be good to find some Eucharistic prayers online.

The Two Hearts Network has a Chaplet to the Mother of the Most Holy Eucharist and a Novena in her honor at 2heartsnetwork.org/OLEucharist.htm.

The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis has a good selection of “Prayers in Honor of the Blessed Sacrament” at theheartofjesus.org/prayers.html.

“The Chaplet of the Adorable Sacrament,” found on my community's website at monksofadoration.org/45.html, can be prayed using regular rosary beads.

“The Eucharistic Prayer: Praise, Thanksgiving and Petition” put up by St. Malachi Church in Cleveland gives food for thought at stmalachi.org/parish/special/euchpr01.htm.

Adoremus has put up prayers for the Year of the Eucharist at adoremus.org/PrayersYearEucharist.html.

The Work of God website has Eucharistic prayers by various saints and holy people at theworkofgod.org/Prayers/eucharistic_prayers.htm.