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When to Choose Biofeedback Therapy or Yoga Instead of Medication

Table of Contents 1.0 Intro 2.0 Why choose biofeedback therapy over traditional treatment and medication? 3.0 What is biofeedback? 4.0 What are the differences between biofeedback and medication? 5.0 Advantages of Medications over biofeedback 6.0 Disadvantages of Medications over biofeedback 7.0 How is Yoga similar to biofeedback? 8.0 Yoga and biofeedback for reducing stress 9.0 […]

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Table of Contents

1.0 Intro

2.0 Why choose biofeedback therapy over traditional treatment and medication?

3.0 What is biofeedback?

4.0 What are the differences between biofeedback and medication?

5.0 Advantages of Medications over biofeedback

6.0 Disadvantages of Medications over biofeedback

7.0 How is Yoga similar to biofeedback?

8.0 Yoga and biofeedback for reducing stress

9.0 Yoga and Biofeedback for Managing Pain

10.0 Conclusion

Just like we train our muscles in a gym, many are choosing to optimize and “train” their involuntary bodily processes too, such as their breathing and heart rate through biofeedback therapy. 

In addition to improving and maximizing performance through better control of these involuntary functions, biofeedback therapy is also used for many who suffer from chronic physical conditions such as migraines or tension headaches as well as emotional conditions such as anxiety and depression. 

In this post, we discuss the role of biofeedback therapy and yoga as non-invasive treatments for chronic physical and emotional conditions, and compare them with traditional treatment and medications.  

Why choose biofeedback therapy over traditional treatment and medication?

Unlike pharmaceutical drugs or other medical procedures, biofeedback therapy has very few reported side effects, is noninvasive, and helps patients feel more in control of their health. 

Additionally, biofeedback therapies are also used to complement other existing medical treatments and may reduce or eliminate the need for existing medication. They may also be used as a substitute for women pregnant or nursing who are unable to take certain medications.

For many of these reasons, the use of biofeedback therapies and devices are growing across the world. This is especially due to new wearable devices that are relatively inexpensive and allows the user to monitor and train themselves directly on their smartphone using an app. 

In addition to biofeedback therapy, there are also other techniques such as meditation and yoga that can also help with many of the same underlying physical or emotional problems without the use of medication.  Similarly, they can also complement existing medical treatments.  However, it is important we first explain biofeedback since it is still relatively unknown. From there, we can compare and contrast its effectiveness to other non-invasive treatments like yoga and meditation.

What is Biofeedback?

The goal of biofeedback is to train an individual to control bodily processes that are normally automatic and involuntary. This includes breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, perspiration, and even brain wave states. This is often done in a clinical setting such as a hospital or medical center by connecting the patient to sensors and other devices in a non-invasive way via electrodes to the skin.   

Although biofeedback therapy is used to treat chronic illnesses, such as migraines. In many ways, biofeedback is more about “training” and “learning” about your own bodily processes and functions than it is about purely treating an underlying condition. For example, biofeedback therapy often consists of sensors and devices connected to a patient’s body via electrodes to the skin. From there, a professional can then monitor one or more involuntary bodily processes through a computer. 

In one example of biofeedback therapy, a patient will receive visual and auditory “cues” such as flashing lights that change color, computer graphics, or beeping sounds. These cues help a patient monitor, change, and improve responses to stress and pain by techniques such as slowing down breathing and muscle relaxation.  Over time, the goal is to create the skill for the body and mind to change thoughts, behavior, and bodily functions without the use of the device.  

What are the Differences Between Biofeedback and Medication?

Since the brain is an electrical-chemical organ, we must change either existing electrical or chemical processes (or both) in order to help treat underlying conditions. The primary differences between medication and biofeedback are that medication primarily works through chemical processes while biofeedback changes electrical activity in the brain. This creates pros and cons to each, and that is why we mentioned that in many cases they complement each other.

Advantages of Medications Over Biofeedback

One of the biggest advantages of medication when compared to biofeedback is that the effects can be very powerful, felt very quickly, and are very easy to use.  Popping a pill takes seconds unlike biofeedback therapy which can require hours of time and many weeks to see effects.

Traditionally, biofeedback also requires you to visit a clinic or doctors office for each session vs. only one visit to a doctor’s office and then a prescription you can take at home with traditional medication.   While there now recently new biofeedback devices you can use at home, they can still be expensive compared to many medications that are covered by insurance. 

Disadvantages of Medications Over Biofeedback

Some of the biggest disadvantages of medications to biofeedback is that, unlike biofeedback, it does not “teach” the brain anything.  Usually that means that if you stop taking the medication, especially for chronic physical or emotional conditions, the condition may revert back to the state it was before. 

This often means that medications may be permanent for many conditions, and create strong levels of dependency, or even addiction.  Additionally, medications work differently for everyone which can make prescribing the proper dosage very difficult. Over time, the doses may also have to be adjusted regularly if the body builds up a tolerance to it.

 This can all be very difficult to for a doctor or medical professional to get right! This is especially true if you are using the medication for an emotional illness, like depression, stress or anxiety.   It is very common for these drugs and medications to stop working over time. 

For example, according to John Hopkins Medicine:

“It’s common for a medication that once worked wonders to become ineffective, especially if you’ve been taking it for a long time. Symptoms return for up to 33% of people using antidepressants — it’s called breakthrough depression.”

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/why-arent-my-antidepressants-working

Similarly, many emotional illnesses are very difficult to treat and are often changing. The therapeutic range is also narrow for many drugs, making the dosage very subjective, and there is often not enough consultation time between doctors and patients to determine proper dosage. In many cases, some medications may not work at all for many individuals. 

This is especially true for less severe cases of depression. For example, one report from The Journal of American Medical Association from WebMd states

“A report recently published in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that the drugs work best for very severe cases of depression and have little or no benefit over placebo (inactive pills) in less serious cases.”

https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/are-antidepressants-effective#1

It is important to note that everyone is different and responds differently to medication, and this is one of the primary reasons biofeedback therapy has grown in popularity recently as either an alternative or complementary treatment.  There is less variability in treatment outcomes, no risk of dependence or addiction, and minimal side effects. 

However, if you are looking for a non-invasive and dependence/addiction free option with virtually zero reported side effects, yoga is also another alternative treatment that has many similarities to biofeedback. 

How is Yoga Similar to Biofeedback?

One of the reasons we are discussing biofeedback therapy is that there is a high correlation between its use as a “training and learning technique” and the practice and traditions of yoga and the chakra system. 

As discussed in previous posts, from a medical and scientific perspective, the practice of yoga and the chakra system helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system via the vagus nerve which is responsible for many of the same involuntary processes in the body as biofeedback therapy such as breathing, heart, rate, and blood pressure.

Many of the proven breathing exercises and poses in yoga also “train” the body and main to change and slow down breathing patterns and heart rate. 

Additionally, yoga poses and meditations, as well as related mantras, chants, mudras, and affirmations have been linked to positive emotional and mental health effects. This includes reduced stress and anxiety, and yoga also been used to treat depression. 

Yoga and Biofeedback for Reducing Stress

Yoga is similar to biofeedback as an effective form of stress management. 

For example, according to Harvard Medical School

“By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems.

This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal — for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration.

There is also evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s ability to respond to stress more flexibly.”

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression

Yoga and Biofeedback for Managing Pain

Similar to stress management, another strong relationship between biofeedback therapy and yoga is for reducing and managing pain.  There is a high correlation and strong overlap between the stress response and physical pain because chronic stress can lead to the overproduction of the hormone cortisol, which can cause inflammation, fatigue, and pain throughout the body. 

A study in The University of Utah published by Harvard Medical School shows how Yoga practitioners had both the lowest pain related brain activity scanned during an MRI as well as the highest pain tolerance.    

“A small but intriguing study done at the University of Utah provided some insight into the effect of yoga on the stress response by looking at the participants’ responses to pain.

Functional MRIs showed they also had the greatest activity in areas of the brain associated with the pain response.

In contrast, the yoga practitioners had the highest pain tolerance and lowest pain-related brain activity during the MRI. The study underscores the value of techniques, such as yoga, that can help a person regulate their stress and, therefore, pain responses.”

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression

Conclusion

If you are suffering from a chronic physical condition such as migraines or tension headaches, or emotional conditions such as depression, anxiety, or stress – biofeedback therapy, yoga, and traditional treatments and medications can all be helpful and are all backed by scientific data and testimonials. 

Biofeedback therapy and yoga are non-invasive and have minimal side effects. However, they generally take longer to take effect, require a significant time commitment, and may also be more expensive than traditional treatment and medication. 

On the other hand, medication are generally quicker and easier to administer. Yet they may have considerable side effects, create dependency, and may not work for everyone and results often vary considerably. 

While it depends on the individual, medication may be necessary for very serious and severe chronic physical and emotional conditions. One example of this is severe depression that has lasted for months or longer. However, it may be useful to start with biofeedback and yoga for lesser conditions as they have minimal side effects and less risk. 

In many cases, yoga and biofeedback therapy can help complement traditional treatments and medications. Ultimately, it is up to each individual to conduct their own research and consult with their doctor to determine the best customized treatment plan for themselves.

Sources

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/why-arent-my-antidepressants-working
https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/are-antidepressants-effective#1
https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/biofeedback/about/pac-20384664
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265802#How-it-works
https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/biofeedback-therapy-uses-benefits#1
https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-biofeedback-2794875
https://www.health.harvard.edu/medical-tests-and-procedures/biofeedback-a-to-z
https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression
https://www.verywellmind.com/biofeedback-and-stress-relief-3144924

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