Biofeedback: The Tranquilizer
Characters: Marilyn, houseboat owner and blogger; Laverne, co-owner of cruiser (Vertigo), Marie and Isabelle, her daughters
“Are you ready to learn biofeedback now?” I challenge Laverne.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she quips, sounding doubtful and frustrated.
“In my office, I have a recliner. But here on the boat, the couch will have to do. Is that okay with you?”
“Sure, I need a nap,” she jokes halfheartedly, giving the impression she is beyond hope.
I give her a pillow and blanket. “Are you comfortable?”
“Yes. With the waves slowly rocking the houseboat, I imagine I’m in a cradle,” she declares, closing her eyes.
“I won’t let you sleep, only relax.”
“Isn’t sleep relaxation?”
“No. Sleep produces delta brainwaves; relaxation puts a person into the theta brainwave state. Theta is the slowest brainwave while you’re still awake. It’s necessary for creativity as well as relaxation. Biofeedback training teaches you to put yourself into theta automatically, when you feel stress is threatening your well-being. But it takes practice. This is only the first step. Then, you need to rehearse the process on your own. If you want help, I’m available. But it’s up to you to follow-through.”
“Show me how it’s done.”
“The first step is taping on a finger thermometer,” I explain, as I tape the thermometer onto her right index finger. “The average finger temperature is 85 degrees; yours is 72, indicating that your body is in a state of flight-or-fight.”
“What do I do about that?”
“The trauma of the capsize has not left you. Your body is ready to defend itself against another serious mishap. Biofeedback is the process of reassuring your system, that you are safe—that you can let down your vigilance.”
“I didn’t know I was carrying that nightmare with me.”
“It’s your neurological system. It learns quickly and is very effective in ramping up its response to danger. Now is the time to quiet the impulse to defend against a threat that’s not there.”
A knock on the door interrupts my explanation. Marie and Isabelle walk in and ask, “What’s going on? Mom, what’s wrong? Why are you lying on the couch?”
“I’m teaching biofeedback,” I console them. “Would you two like to learn? It’s a valuable tool for staying calm, especially when faced with a problem or a difficult situation.”
“Sure,” they answer in unison.
I bring out two yoga mats, unfold them onto the floor of the salon, and supply them with pillows. I tape a finger thermometer on the right index finger of each of them.
“As I was telling your Mom, the average finger temperature is 85 degrees. Both of you are already very relaxed with finger temperatures in the low 90’s. You can have a contest with your mother. Her finger temperature is 72. She needs to catch up with you two.”
“Why is that?” Marie asks.
“What do you remember about your ski boat capsizing?” I inquire.
“I was skiing behind the boat. Waves crashed into me and I fell into the water, losing my skis. I swam to the upside-down boat and the Coast Guard picked us up,” Marie summarized.
“Do you have anything to add?” I ask Isabelle.
“When the boat overturned, I remember my parents telling me that there’s air space for breathing above the waterline in an over-turned boat. I grabbed a life jacket, treaded water, and stayed in that, waiting for one of my parents to find me. And Mom did. We went under water, surfaced, and held onto the bottom of the boat.”
“How are those memories different from yours, Laverne?” I probe.
“Completely different. I felt responsible for the mishap and worried that my girls would be injured, if not physically, then emotionally scarred. I was scared out of my wits.”
“That’s the difference between being a parent and a child. Your girls expected you and Raymond to solve the emergency and you did. They depended on you and you came through for them. No problem. Is that how you saw it?” I ask the girls.
“Of course. It was chilling, but we survived, thanks to Mom and Dad. Everything turned out fine. What’s to worry about?” Marie questions.
“Laverne, you finger temperature is rising as you listen to your daughters. Now 85 degrees and climbing. You needed to hear that they don’t blame you for what happened. But we’re off the subject. I want to teach you a visualization that you can use to transform your nervous system from worry into peace.
“Girls, biofeedback is a process that you can use throughout your life. You can begin everyday seeking peace and preparing for the ability to handle any problem that faces you.
“Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Two deep cleansing breaths are a sign to your body that it’s time to relax; time to let go; time to stop all thoughts, worries, problems, and concerns. It is time to turn off the body and the mind, just briefly, to go on a journey inward for knowledge and understanding.
“Get in tune with your breathing as you breathe in peace, comfort and relaxation, and you breathe out all negativity. Collect discomfort and breathe it out. Collect anger and breathe it out. Collect fear and breathe it out. Collect all negativity and breathe it out.
“With each breath, you can feel, sense, and see yourself go deeper and deeper into relaxation as you become lighter and lighter. One breath at a time, one breath after another, with each breath you become twice as relaxed as you were the breath before.
“Picture yourself standing underneath a waterfall of golden healing energy. The energy cascades over your head, swirls around your face and neck, goes down your chest and back, and forms a cocoon that covers your body from head to toe. The energy sinks into your body through the pores of your skin and fills your body, from head to toe, with lightness, brightness, and warmth.
“Picture yourself floating up, up into the sky, on a cloud toward the sun.
“I want you to focus on a symbol that represents peace. Perhaps a star or a sun or the ocean or your pet. Perhaps it’s an aroma or a color or engaging in your favorite hobby. Choose a picture in your mind that suggests harmony and relaxation whenever it enters your consciousness.
“I will check your finger temperatures. Congratulations! Each of you has reached the goal of 96 degrees. By practicing this exercise every day, you will balance body, mind, and spirit, freeing the nervous system from an accumulation of stress.”
“Wow, I entered another world,” Laverne states.
“I’m still floating,” Marie agrees.
“Wait till I tell my friends about this,” Isabelle exclaims.
“What symbol did you imagine that generates relaxation?” I ask.
“I’m on my balance beam,” Marie shares.
“I’m holding our Calico cat, Ginger. She’s purring,” Isabelle imagines.
“I’m floating on a pink cloud. It’s quiet. I’m warm. I’m above everyday concerns. It’s magical,” Laverne describes.
“You’re not alone,” I assure each of them.