If all roads are said to lead to Rome, then we might also claim that there are very many paths that can carry us along the way to the relaxation response. Perhaps the most scientific and modern of all the relaxation techniques is by means of biofeedback.
It has been known for some years that the relaxation response is associated with several physiological changes in the body. The breath rate is decreased, as is the heart rate, and the blood pressure falls. The whole of the sympathetic nervous system is dampened down, and this means that muscles relax and use less oxygen. The amount of sweat produced by our skin is significantly reduced, although this is not obvious in normal circumstances.
The phenomenon of sweat reduction is taken advantage of in most biofeedback techniques. Although it is not possible to measure small changes in sweat production itself, such changes bring about secondary changes in the skin’s resistance to the passage of an electric current. In other words, the skin’s resistance changes radically with the very small changes in sweating brought about by altering the level of the relaxation response. These electrical changes can be easily turned into an audio signal by means of an electrical device built into a biofeedback monitoring unit.
A typical setting for biofeedback in action is as follows. The subject lies on a firm couch in the relaxation response position detailed on page 9. He has two finger electrodes fitted which are connected with a relaxometer biofeedback monitoring unit. The audio unit is tuned so that a steady sound signal is broadcast.
The subject is then asked to start the pendulum-type breathing, and once this is accomplished he goes into his previously-taught muscle relaxation routine. Autogenic components may be introduced or a mantra evoked. As the relaxation response proceeds the note of the transmitter either changes or ceases altogether. A weekly half-hour routine with biofeedback over a period of three months is the usual treatment.