Part 1: Defining BioFeedback
I don’t know if it’s the subject matter or if it’s me, but the start of this article series is a bit on the dry side. But I think the punchline will be well worth the joke. I’ll do my best to make this series a sound investment of your (precious) time.
“The clarity with which a term is defined determines its usefulness.”
–Tony Blauer (adapted)
Whether we are talking about math or communication, good results start with defining one’s terms. In our foundational course, BioMechanics Level 1, we revisit definitions and at times, we redefine terms (but only because it has been necessitated by new information). One of the terms that we don’t really spend much time on in the course is the term, “BioFeedback.” With such a simple name, one might think its meaning is self evident. Common applications, though, have obscured its meaning.
If you’re like me, the first image that comes to mind when thinking of BioFeedback entails a person with wires attached to their body. The wires are attached to a computer and the the person is staring intently at its display. A clinician is nearby directing the person’s attention to a simple interface.
That image fits with this definition that Wikipedia provides:
“BioFeedback is the process of gaining greater awareness of many physiological functions primarily using instruments that provide information on the activity of those same systems…with a goal of being able to manipulate them at will. Some of the processes that can be controlled include brainwaves, muscle tone, skin conductance, heart rate and pain perception.”
What is described above functions as a description of BioFeedback…
at least in its most common practice (and most common aim).
Is this description a good reflection of what defines BioFeedback?
What is BioFeedback?
Let’s look at the word:
and divide it into its parts:
OK, let’s define those parts:
Referring to life.
Simple enough, right?
Now onto feedback.
Again from Wikipedia:
“is a process in which information about the past or the present influences the same phenomenon in the present or future. As part of a chain of cause-and-effect that forms a circuit or loop, the event is said to “feed back” into itself.”
OK…so not as easy to understand. Maybe how it applies to you will offer some clarification. Feedback is fundamental to the nervous system…including your nervous system. The human body possesses the most complex nervous system on planet Earth. For all its complexity, the nervous system performs a very simple process. It supplies the organism with both conscious and unconscious sensation and motion.
The relationship between sensation and motion is unique. It is coupled – both anatomically and physiologically. This coupling allows one to affect the other. To use the term du jour, they “feedback” into each other (and in some instances, back into themselves thorough recursion). To put it more simply:
Feeling affects Doing
Doing affects Feeling
To truly understand BioFeedback, I think it’s necessary to understand where it came from. Let’s take a slight historical detour. Enter Evolution.
Those organisms without Nervous Systems evolved before those with Nervous Systems. It’s not an oversimplification to say: Sensation evolved from motion. And sensation’s presence has offered an evolutionary advantage.
Why is that so? Because sensation changes motion. It helps to select for better actions, more adaptive actions, more evolved actions. But sensation couldn’t do that if it weren’t connected to action, if it weren’t coupled to action, if it didn’t feed back into action.
Motion begat Sensation
and they fed back into each other
developing more and more complex nervous systems.
And so it came to pass, humans emerged.
And with it emerged more BioFeedback than ever before.
The very thing that makes you human was built on the back of BioFeedback.
No Biofeedback, no you.
It is your past and it is your future.
That’s how important BioFeedback is.
BioFeedback evolved long before any technology did.
Biofeedback is biological and deserves biologically inclusive definition.
A process in living organisms
in which information obtained about the past, present, or future
collected by “sensorimotion”
affects the past, present, and/or future sensations
as well as present and/or future motions.
(Notice I made some additions to the definition. The brain functions of consciousness, memory, and prediction merit the inclusion.)
In Part 2, we are going to explore the practices of BioFeedback and how THE MOVEMENT’s practice of BioFeedback is so different than (and natural) compared to the more common, the more narrow practice of BioFeedback.