Biofeedback is Not New Age

AR asks: “Could you briefly describe what biofeedback is and why it is considered New Age?”

Contrary to our former position on biofeedback, the kind advice of Dr. Monica Breaux, a dear friend of this ministry, provided evidence that biofeedback is not New Age.  However, it is still listed as a complementary and alternative treatment by The Mayo Clinic and is one of those fields in which many New Agers practice. For this reason, consumers need to be sure they are receiving these treatments from legitimate medical professionals.

For those of you who do not know what biofeedback is, the University of Maryland Medical Center describes it as “a technique that trains people to improve their health by controlling certain bodily processes that normally happen involuntarily, such as heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and skin temperature. Electrodes attached to your skin measure these processes and display them on a monitor. With help from a biofeedback therapist, you can learn to change your heart rate or blood pressure, for example. At first you use the monitor to see your progress, but eventually you will be able to achieve success without the monitor or electrodes.”

Biofeedback has been proven effective for many conditions, but it is primarily used to treat high blood pressure, tension headache, migraine headache, chronic pain, and urinary incontinence.

Researchers don’t know how or why it works, but agree that the people most likely to benefit from it are those suffering from conditions brought on by stress. This is why many scientists believe relaxation is the key to successful biofeedback therapy. A biofeedback therapist can help the patient learn how to relax and lower their blood pressure through relaxation techniques and other mental exercises.

Obviously, a therapist who believes in New Age relaxation techniques, many of which are based on eastern meditation and consciousness altering exercises,  could take this opportunity to introduce them to a patient.

But that’s not the only connection the New Age has with biofeedback. Probably it’s most problematic link is with one of the early pioneers of the concept, Dr. Elmer Green.

Green and his wife, Alyce, of the Menninger Foundation, are the authors of the book, Beyond Biofeedback, in which they refer to the treatment as “the yoga of the West” and claim it can be used to develop psychic abilities.

In the same book, the Greens are quoted as saying: “There are other similarities between biofeedback training and yoga … I guided myself through the development of these ideas [in the book] by the intentional use of hypnogogic imagery. Whenever I was ’stuck’ I made my mind a blank and asked the unconscious to get the information I needed from wherever it was, from …the collective mind, or from the ‘future’ …”

Their book also contains a lengthy explanation of initial experiments with a Hindu Swami who demonstrated his ability to control his body temperature, heart rate, etc. through yogic concentration techniques (commonly referred to as “meditation”).

Green, who was a frequent presenter at the New Age hub known as Esalen in Big Sur, California, also publicly professed his belief that the efficacy of biofeedback was attributable to “subtle energies” –  considered a putative and scientifically unsubstantiated form of energy.

While these off-beat beliefs were interwoven in Green’s work with biofeedback, at the same time, serious scientists were also at work with the concept where it was kept within the realm of legitimate science.

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