Biofeedback is a relaxation technique which, like meditation, helps lower your blood pressure using the power of your mind. During biofeedback, a practitioner will attach you to devices that monitor your body for factors such as skin temperature, sweat production, muscle tension and heart rate. Information from these monitors is constantly fed back to you via readings on a laptop or other device, so you can see how they change based on your level of relaxation, breathing techniques or visualisation exercises. Some people become so adept at this they can easily change a body function that is not usually under voluntary control – for example by speeding or slowing their heart rate at will.
If a particular relaxation technique works for you, you’ll immediately witness a reduction on heart rate, muscle tension and blood pressure. This feedback provides a direct and powerful way of learning how to relax, and most people learn how to lower their blood pressure after just four to six biofeedback sessions.
Autogenic training works in a similar way to biofeedback, but without using the monitoring devices.
How effective is biofeedback for lowering blood pressure?
The results from 22 clinical studies involving 905 people with hypertension found that biofeedback resulted in blood pressure reductions that were greater by 7.3/5.8 mmHg than either sham biofeedback or other non-specific placebo interventions. The results suggested that biofeedback was more effective in reducing blood pressure than no intervention when combined with other relaxation techniques.
Some patients respond better than others, and those who are most likely to benefit from biofeedback and achieve a systolic blood pressure reduction of 5 mmHg or more are those who are not taking antihypertensive medication.
Try temperature biofeedback
Research from America suggests that 8 out of 10 people with hypertension can bring down their blood pressure using a simple skin temperature biofeedback method. This involves placing a thermometer (eg a fever strip) between your hands, or under a bare foot, so your skin is in close contact with the strip. You then concentrate on your hands or feet enough to raise their skin temperature by at least 1 degree Centigrade. Try using mental images of your hands or feet resting on a hot water bottle, and imagining them getting warmer and warmer.
This biofeedback technique is believed to lower blood pressure by encouraging dilation of the peripheral circulation, including that in the skin. This opens up your circulation enough to let blood pressure fall. Take your blood pressure before and after a temperature biofeedback session to assess the results.
NB don’t use a mercury or glass thermometer as these could break.
Try finger pulse biofeedback
One of the simplest ways to try biofeedback is with a Finger Pulse Oximeter which simply clips to a finger. This measures your pulse rate and also your blood oxygen levels and feeds back the readings via an LED display. Place the oximeter on the end of a finger, then use the power of relaxation, and deep breathing exercises, to bring down your pulse rate and even increase your blood oxygen concentration.
A simple exercise to try during a biofeedback session is to imagine your arteries and veins dilating so that your blood pressure falls. Take your blood pressure before and after a pulse oximeter biofeedback session to assess the results.
Try guided breathing biofeedback
Another biofeedback technique involves using the RESPeRATE device with guided breathing exercises to lower your blood pressure. The results from 13 clinical trials, involving over 600 people with hypertension, found that using the RESPeRATE device for 8 to 9 weeks reduced blood pressure by an average of 13/7mmHg.
If your blood pressure is raised, self-monitoring is key to maintaining good control.
Click here for advice on choosing a blood pressure monitor to use at home.
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