What Is Biofeedback?

2001 Health Care Supplement

Volume CI, No. 5May, 2001

Biofeedback is a technique that can be effective in reducing stress and performance anxiety, improving interpersonal skills and overcoming phobias. Awareness of its potential in helping artists achieve peak performance is growing, and there are now a number of practitioners in the New York City area who work with musicians. Allegro contacted two of them – Philip Brotman and Susan Antelis – for assistance with this article. Excerpts from the material they provided appear below. Mr. Brotman’s article “A Brief Introduction to Biofeedback” defines biofeedback, and provides a brief overview of the field. Ms. Antelis’ article “Using Biofeedback to Relieve Performance Anxiety” outlines a combination of relatively simple techniques that artists can utilize to achieve a successful performance.


by Philip Brotman, Ph.D

Biofeedback is a method for learned control of physiological responses of the body. These responses include the skeletal musculature, temperature/blood flow, heart rate, respiration, skin response/GSR and brain waves.

Biofeedback training includes electronic monitoring devices to feedback changes in your body functions, so that you can become aware of these often imperceptible changes and learn to control them. The feedback modes include the use of a computer display, meter, light bar or tone.

Initially, the clinician makes the task easy and, as the client achieves skill, the clinician makes the task more difficult. The goal is to enable the client to control body functions more competently, even under life stresses, without the biofeedback equipment. Many people who learn biofeedback report a renewed sense of physical and mental well-being and an improved self-image.

Studies conducted over a period of years have indicated that biofeedback may be of benefit when used for health problems including stress reduction, headaches, anxiety, chronically taut muscles from accidents or sports injuries, high blood pressure, and chronic pain. EEG brainwave biofeedback appears to have demonstrated benefit for ADD/ADHD, increased focus and concentration, performance anxiety, interpersonal skills enhancement, social phobias, substance abuse, mild brain injury, depression/mood states, peak performance and cognition enhancement. Biofeedback often is successful in conjunction with traditional medical treatment.

Biofeedback/brain wave training protocols have also been introduced that show potential for enhancing performance, productivity and focus in a wide range of environments, including the performing arts.

Biofeedback encompasses a wide range of techniques and approaches. Among them are “mind machines” – devices and techniques capable of producing changes in the electrical activity of the user’s brain. When these occur, we may experience deep, stress-relieving relaxation, increased receptivity to information (with the ability to process and recall it), and changes in dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We may even enter a creative reverie with fertile ideas and solutions to problems.

Other mind machines that have potential health and mental benefits are Lucid Dreaming devices, that detect when you are dreaming by sensing the movement of your eyes during REM sleep with photoelectric sensors. These devices are used to increase ability to recall your dreams and possible applications to creative problem solving, rehearsal for living, overcoming nightmares and achieving “psychological integration.”

Biofeedback and other mind machines are high technology devices that can affect the body/mind and potentially improve both psychological and mental health. Consultation with a biofeedback clinician prior to use of these technologies is recommended, to determine if you have a condition that merits caution in using this equipment, or to provide suggestions that can maximize the resulting benefits.

You can contact Philip Brotman, Ph.D., at Biofeedback Training Associates/Biofeedback Instrument Corp., 255 West 98th Street, NYC 10025; (212) 222-5665. His web site is and his email address is


by Susan Antelis, MPS

Successful performance can be accomplished by utilizing a combination of relatively simple techniques. Some individuals will be able to do this practice on their own, while others will need support, instruction and guidance. One must learn the techniques and practice in solitude until a confidence level is gained. Then the skills can be used in a performance situation with good results over time. The individual must, of course, be patient with the process – and that’s the tricky part.

First, one must be able to effectively self-calm or relax for a sustained period of time, perhaps 10 minutes. Then one must be able to shift gears into a more focused state of calm alertness, for 20-30 minutes or more, at a time. Then one must return once again to the relaxed or recovery phase. This sequence can be utilized for practicing as well as for performing.

Research shows that, in order to be truly relaxed, one must be producing alpha-theta brain waves. This state can be achieved by utilizing any of a multitude of relaxation techniques: meditation, T’ai Chi, yoga, diaphragmatic breathing, autogenic training (hand warming), passive or active progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, imagery, etc.

Research also shows that, to be truly focused on a task, one must be producing beta brain waves. Overproduction of theta brain waves results in an attention problem or deficit, commonly known these days as ADD. While some adrenaline is needed for good performance under pressure, too much adrenaline production can lead to performance problems, particularly before a live audience.

Neurofeedback, a form of biofeedback that measures brain waves, can not only demonstrate the effectiveness of your relaxation technique, but is a technique or modality in itself. Computerized displays will reinforce the alpha-theta relaxed brain state or the beta state of focused concentration for you, over a selected period of time, thus teaching you how to create and sustain either state at will. This phenomenon has been helping some individuals to avoid taking anti-anxiety medications in order to relax, and improving their ability to handle performance anxiety or difficulties in the practice or studio setting.

I have worked with many musicians and artists, with excellent results. Sessions are held weekly and take one hour or less, with the number of sessions necessary determined on an individual basis. Please feel free to call for additional information or referrals in your geographical location.

Susan Antelis, who received her Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in art therapy and creativity development, is a senior fellow of the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America, a founding member and officer of the Biofeedback and Behavioral Practitioners Guild, and Executive Director of the Northeastern Regional Biofeedback Society. She can be contacted at (516) 431-8210. For more information on this topic, you may also visit, which offers links to the different state biofeedback societies, and, the National Biofeedback Association.

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