KCKCC Offers Biofeedback Class to Teach Stress Management
by Bob Evans
Most everyone alive in the 1970’s remembers the crazy gift craze, the Pet Rock, and those same people probably possessed at least one mood ring that changed colors depending on the wearer’s temperament.
The rings, which contained a liquid crystal element that changed from blue to red, to black depending on the body’s external temperature. This was thought to reflect the “mood” of the person; hence the name. A bright sapphire blue meant cool and collected, but black and red spelled trouble.
Well, like pet rocks, and mood rings, biofeedback debuted and gained popularity during that bell-bottomed decade, and then slowly faded into near obscurity. Now, however, everything old is new again. Mood rings can be found on shopping sites; pet rock can be purchased on ebay; and biofeedback gains popularity again as a technique of alternative medicine to help people lower stress, blood pressure, heart rates, and control subliminal brain messages.
With the newfound popularity of alternative medicines and biofeedback, Kansas City Kansas Community College offers a short, 8-week mini course for one hour elective credit beginning in Oct. 13. The class runs 4-6p.m., Tuesdays for 8 weeks. It’s a pass/fail class that transfers as an elective. Green expects several KCKCC faculty to enroll in this first session taught since his retirement in 2001.
Gary Green, the campus expert on biofeedback and other alternative medicine practices teaches the course that reflects his years of study and teaching of the alternative practice.
According the Wikipedia, “Biofeedback is a non-medical process that involves measuring a subject's specific and quantifiable bodily functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, skin temperature, sweat gland activity, and muscle tension, conveying the information to the patient in real-time. This raises the patient's awareness and therefore the possibility of conscious control of those functions.”
Green agrees. He said he teaches people to unlearn past practices that lead to stress He explained that breathing correctly helps people overcome trained unconscious responses to daily situations. He explained that when given a new, simple task, people actually respond to it in the absolute wrong way. They traditionally stop breathing when they should instead breathe deeply to help complete the task given. Other examples included tensing when a phone rings when anticipating bad news. People tense up and stop breathing or breathe shallowly instead of giving the brain blood, and lungs the deep breath needed to overcome a possibly stressful situation.
Green compares the technique known as biofeedback to other techniques that concentrate on breathing—yoga, Lamaze, TaiChi Piranha, Jazzercise, and others. He explained that all concentrate on breathing. By teaching different breathing one learns how to control physiological conditions.
Again, Wikipedia affirms Green’s premise: “By providing the user access to physiological information about which he or she may be unaware, biofeedback may allow users to gain control of physical processes previously considered an automatic response of the autonomous nervous system.”
“Biofeedback is an educational awareness process of learning to unlearn,” Green said. “I call it a course in disobedience. You are actually trying to unlearn the conscious and unconscious adaptations that you make to stress. Many times we are not aware that we hold our breath during certain times. For example: we tighten the shoulders when we are at a computer trying something new. We start churning the stomach at times. These are all biofeedback issues, and we are not aware we are doing it. Then when we get through it, we exhale and start breathing deeper. We realize we have been breathing short and shallow.”
Under stress, blood vessels constrict and flow affects the exterior temperature of the body, he explained. Eyes dilate; people clench their teeth; the hands get cold; and then blood pressure rises, Green explained. By learning biofeedback techniques, people can learn to control all this and can eventually stop blood pressure medicines, but only after specialized biofeedback training. As people study and learn what triggers their stress, they learn to manage and cope by using new methods to avoid the problem.
Green said in his classes, he teaches some breathing exercises. The more people practice proper breathing, the more likely they are to help themselves through biofeedback. In the 8-week course, Green said he teaches basic breathing and why it is important. Then he explores the various ways to learn breathing techniques. He mentioned, yoga, Lamaze and others that he covers in the class. For his background, Green traveled to China to work with and teach some of the younger generation how to walk and breathe using biofeedback to combat stress and cancer. Some of the participants, he said had outlived their prognosis for life as cancer victims by several year.
Learning to control one’s body is a key element in stress reduction and the immune system. Green asserts that correct breathing keys the unlocking of many problems stemming from stress. He wants everyone to become his or her own body guru. Green quotes Albert Einstein by saying, “When you listen to your own body, you learn all you need to know.” Another platitude comes from Calvin Coolidge, “When you sit quietly, half of your problems disappear.” That leads to his class philosophy: “Color outside your lines. Go beyond you comfort zone. You can go back after class. Test new water. Consider new options.
“I am a retired physician, a surgeon,” said Dr. Michael Ballentine, a microbiology teacher at the college who already enrolled in Green’s class. “It’s important to know how to relax better. Some think alternative medicine is like witchcraft. Actually, pharmaceutical medicine developed from herbal medicine. We are finding out that things outside conventional, traditional medicine have merit. Some tools work, some tools don’t work,” He encourages people to try and explore.