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Observing internal changes is not new to the twentieth century. Practitioners of Eastern and Christian meditation techniques have been using it for centuries. They observed changes in respiration, heartbeat, and states of consciousness, and therefore had an immediate personal feedback concerning what influence their meditation or breath-control was having. They could thereby reinforce or modify it.

Using electronic equipment to give feedback allowed external observers to be sure of what changes were being produced in the body and mind of the subject. It also enables people who have not spent years in meditation practices and the development of self observational techniques to make changes in their mood and body much more quickly because of the feedback given. In essence this allows the subject to gradually gain a greater degree of voluntary control over their usually involuntary internal processes such as temperature, heartbeat and mental states. In recent years instruments and techniques have been developed that allow epileptics to reduce attacks. That means you are no longer a victim of your own unconscious responses. See Victim.

The equipment allows the subject to focus on a particular internal response, such as heartbeat or brain patterns. Using various techniques such as imagery or relaxation, the subject can be aware, through a tone, or a signal on a screen, how well they are reducing tension, slowing heartbeat, or whatever they are aiming to do. When the signal shows they are succeeding this results in a positive feedback that enhances their performance by pointing out what approach is working. Therefore bio-feedback devices are training devices that can help people learn skills connected with mental and physical control.

This modern approach to bio-feedback has its roots in the 1940’s, but it did not gain recognition until nearly twenty years later. Neal E. Miller and Leo DiCara discovered that by using a means of electrical stimulation to the pleasure centre in the brain of laboratory rats, the rats could be trained to do extraordinary feats like decrease their heart rate at will – dilate the blood vessels of one ear more than the opposite ear, or control the rate of urine formed in their kidneys. Miller was regarded at the time as one of the world’s leading authorities on animal learning abilities from his 40 years of work in the field.

Miller and DiCara concluded that because people are smarter than rats, and already have developed voluntary control over some functions, they should be able to learn such skills more easily. His reasoning was that through such techniques humans might be able to control blood pressure, even out irregular heartbeat, release spastic colon, deal with tension, without the use of drugs.

Miller and DiCara’s work was not replicated by others. But unfortunately tests with humans started before this had a negative effect on further research. At the National Institute on Ageing in Baltimore USA, Bernard Engel and Theodore Weiss had found in the late 60’s that people who suffered from epilepsy, when linked to a machine which provided visual and auditory signals were able to control the symptoms which usually led to an epileptic fit. In this way they managed to reduce the number of epileptic attacks they suffered.

Joe Kamiya of the University of Chicago worked to provide another landmark. Using subjects who had no background of mental training, Kamiya monitored their brain activity with an EEG machine, and had the subjects guess whether they were producing the alpha waves indicating relaxation. If the subject guessed correctly, Kamiya would tell them. This led to a rapid increase in the ability of the subject to produce alpha waves at will. Instead of his verbal feedback, Kamiya later built the machine to produce a tone when alpha rhythm occurred. Subjects then quickly learned that a relaxed and empty mind would produce the tone, and attempting to think about a problem would shut the tone off.

Kamiya’s experiments were the first to show how humans can learn to control internal physical and mental states. It was therefore hoped that the altered state of mind and body which produces alpha rhythms could be clearly defined. However, further experiments showed that alpha could arise in other situations than those of quiescent rest. So there has been no clear definition.

The main use of bio-feedback is in helping subjects change behaviour patterns which have a physiological basis. Of course this influences the mind and emotions through the body-mind unity. See: the slow breath; example in Buddhism and dreams; dream yoga; yoga and dreams.

In connection with dreams, the act of dreaming can itself be seen as a form of bio-feedback. Even the most modern of dream theories suggest that although dreams arise from a chaotic aspect of brain functioning during sleep, the content of dreams is still directed by factors of body, memories and personal idiosyncrasies. Other investigators such as Vasily Kasatkin have found evidence for dreams directly depicting physiological processes. Dreams can therefore be thought of as having the possibility of giving direct feedback on what is occurring in ones body and deeper levels of consciousness. When they do this they are a means of bio-feedback. But I see dreams originate from our core self – see See: the two powers; body dreams; Kasatkin, Vasily.

The vast majority of dreams however, when investigated are seen to be giving very full feedback on the structure and processes of ones identity, along with ones mental and emotional processes. Particularly they display the functioning of the self-regulatory processes active in the psyche. By working with a dream and its imagery, one gains some degree of ability to enter into the self-regulatory process and aid its functioning. For instance if one gains from a dream the insight that ones drive for love is constantly thwarted by fear of being abandoned, there is the possibility of working with that fear and altering ones relationship with it. It is from this type of action that we can be sure dreams offer a useful form of bio-feedback. (See the examples in such features as active imagination and compensation theory. See the features on what we need to remember about dreamingself-regulation and fantasy, compensation theory, and biological dream theory.)

Considering the state of modern electronics in giving feedback on what the body and brain are doing, and what state ones ‘identity’ or sense of self might be in, dreams are by far the most subtle of feedback methods if one learns how to use them. The range of areas dreams comment on is extraordinary. But, perhaps because of the confused and injured state dreams portray as being the condition of most people’s psyche, the vast majority of dreams are about the history of hurt and fears we carry from childhood and undealt with trauma in adult life. See: processing dreams.

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