I had my second neurofeedback brain training Saturday, January 16th. I thought it would be similar to my first one, but it was quite different.
Instead of a cap, there were five small electrodes. four positioned on my scalp under my hair, and this one on my forehead.
During this portion, I matched my breathing to the ascending/descending bar on the screen. Slow inhale as the bar rises, slow exhale as it goes down. The bar isn’t visible on the picture, but you can see the graph tracking how my breathing is synchronizing my heart rate. I maintained this deep breathing for 13 minutes. My choir director would be very proud. Also, there remains no excuse for me not being able to sustain long notes, so maybe let’s not tell him about this…
Here is the full explanation, copied and pated from the follow up email I receive after each visit:
Biofeedback: (Breathing Portion)
- The sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the ANS are continually interacting to maintain cardiovascular activity in its optimal range and to permit appropriate reactions to changing external and internal conditions. The analysis of heart rate variability through biofeedback training serves as a dynamic window into the function and balance of the autonomic nervous system. Your heart rate is translated through the algorithms of the program – assessing the beats per minute as you begin to regulate your breathing. The heart rate is internally measured on the device. The reason we instruct you to slow your breath (preferably inhaling/exhaling through the nose) to approx. 5 sec in and 6-7 seconds out relates to the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).
- The parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest/energy conservation) is one branch of the ANS while the Sympathetic Nervous System (fight or flight/energy expending) opposes it. With every inhalation our heart rate should increase, shifting into the SNS while every exhalation should decrease our heart rate, shifting into the PNS. Through Biofeedback we are striving to create balance between these two branches of the ANS by reconditioning the whole nervous system to easily shift back and forth. The greater the depth or variability of heart rate as we breathe the greater the coherence levels become and the quicker progression through our Neural retraining program.
- Positive feedback through implied reward is seen (visual feedback) and heard (audio feedback). The sounds include different pitched tones red = deep/low/irritating, blue = midrange/slightly less annoying and green = high/pleasant tone/could be associated with an audio high five. The “implied” reward means we mentally encourage our selves to strive for the blue/green and make micro-adjustments if we find ourselves in the red. Micro-adjustments can be shifting our focus to be present in the room, physically relaxing the body or changing up our breath rate (typically slowing down the exhalation helps).
- It is important that our body’s biological processes and nervous system are effectively communicating to function optimally and continue to as we age, this relies on a delicate balance within the nervous system. To ensure our physiology can absorb and integrate what we put in and on our body we must be able to flexibly shift between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. During times of stress (whether it physical or mental) our body automatically transitions into ‘flight or flight’ and in a perfect world should shift into ‘rest and digest’ to recuperate after the high energy expenditure. However, due to stressors unlike our ancestors experienced, many of us become ‘stuck’ in sympathetic or the fight or flight response and drain our body of vital resources. Biofeedback assists us to recondition this nervous system response. And in doing so, the nervous system (brain included) becomes more plastic the more we activate the PNS making it better able to shift and change during the other neural retraining processes we utilize in-session.
And you now understand why I copied and pasted!
The next portion of the visit involved a new star trek-y cap, shown below. This was the actual neurofeedback training portion. You can’t see the colorful flashing lights in the picture, but they were pretty cool.
Here is the complete explanation, courtesy of Emily, my tech, on Saturday:
Neurofeedback: (Brain Cap Portion)
- Using similar “reconditioning” techniques as biofeedback we focus on elements of classical and operant conditioning by providing positive feedback. We are teaching the brain to regulate targeted areas and when it does – the implied reward is given. During training, our equipment reads your brain activity and provides visual and/or auditory feedback regarding your progress. The best analogy we have come up with is picturing “the protocol” as a blueprint and the closer “your brain” mimics that blueprint the more positive feedback you get. When your brain responds correctly, reward sounds/sights will be heard/seen and registered unconsciously as positive reinforcement, encouraging your brain to seek more rewards and thus reconditioning further.
- Neurofeedback can 'train' or 'educate' both the conscious and the unconscious minds. This allows brain behavior and functioning to transfer into everyday life. Typically, we see several causes to any given symptom or condition; biochemical, emotional, or mental and oftentimes pairing neurofeedback with other treatment modalities produces results far better than traditional treatments (such as medication, etc) alone. The more you are aware of your body's internal processes, the easier it will be for you to refocus your brain when outside of the clinic. Addressing the whole body including the brain and nervous system are crucial pieces to finding whole body wellness.
I felt fine during and after the visit. I did have a mild headache later, that was gone entirely after a night’s sleep. I felt some mild fatigue the next day, but nothing a short nap didn’t cure.
I am impressed with the attention to detail during my visits, and especially with the follow up information. After each appointment I receive a visit summary, which I shared with you. I also receive a feedback questionnaire of ten questions about how I felt after the visit, sleep quality, appetite changes, energy changes, etc.
The mild headaches and fatigue definitely correspond to my brain training days. I have been advised to listen to my body and give it what it needs. If I’m hungry, eat. If I’m tired and headachy, rest. Always drink a lot of water. My brain is doing lots of hard work, and it requires a lot of hydration and energy.
I am learning to schedule my week a bit differently to accommodate the extra rest I need on treatment days, which normally fall on Wednesdays and Fridays. I try to get laundry etc. caught up on Saturday — Tuesday. I also try to batch cook on those days so there are enough leftovers in the fridge Wednesday — Friday when I’m too tired to cook. Steve (hubby-extraordinaire)is a huge help! This guy just notices stuff that needs to get done and does it. No questions, no complaints. He regularly pitches in with laundry and dishes and dogs and, well, everything. Yes, I know I’m spoiled. I’m also incredibly grateful.
Until next time, drink your water. Be kind to your brain and your partner. Listen to your body — it will tell you what it needs. And stop apologizing for needing help.
I’m still working on that one, too.