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I've been interested in neurobiofeedback (also known as neurofeedback) for about 15 years. I ran into the founders and developers of a system called HeartMath when I was on vacation, and they got me started using their software with a simple sensor to do "calming" exercises to control my blood pressure.

To use Heartmath, you simply load a simulation into your computer and plug in a finger sensor. Then you watch the screen. The visual consisted of piloting a balloon over a moving mountain range. As long as the sensors attached to my fingers picked up a regular heartbeat, the balloon would stay up in the sky. When anxiety or aggravation began to cause an irregular heartbeat, the balloon would begin to descend. If I regained my calm in time, it would miss the mountains and the power lines and alpine fields filled with cows. If I didn't, it would crash.

HeartMath was a great system for me, and I have given some HeartMath systems as presents to others. They are easy to use, and they cost about $300 in the US and Canada (probably 50 percent more in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, or Asia). However, HeartMath is not the only relatively affordable option for home-based neurobiofeedback conditioning.

I used HeartMath to "work on" high blood pressure. However, various neurobiofeedback systems are used to treat ADD, ADHD, Tourette's syndrome, addiction, anxiety, autism, depression, insomnia, headaches, stroke, and post-traumatic stress. They are also used in athletic training, especially for skaters and dancers.

Professional psychologists, of course, aren't especially enthusiastic about any kind of home brain training equipments. They want you to "save hundreds of dollars," as a Psychology Today article state, so you can spend thousands of dollars on their services.

The fact is, home neurobiofeedback systems are unwieldly for most children who have autism and for most adults who have had strokes. However, some systems work reasonably well for helping you feel better, even if they can't "cure a disease." Here are some options:

  • The HeartMath system is described in terms of "making heart connections," and its manufacturers are very definitely in the "tree hugging" category. They have used their technology to reduce stress on redwood trees. However, the system is useful for increasing focus, reducing distractibility. and lowering anxiety, if you are calm enough to sit still while you use it.
  • Brainmaster is an EEG-based system. You place electrodes on your scalp that enable the software, loaded to a PC or Mac, to give a moment by moment of your internal emotional state. You learn to master your emotions so you make better decisions, or at least that is the theory behind the device. This system has been very useful to some professional athletes who need to make split-second decisions under extreme stress, notably linebackers in American football. The Brainmaster system costs upwards of $500 in the USA.
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is used with scientifically demonstrated effectiveness in treating headaches, insomnia, Parkinson's disease, depression, and chronic pain, including fibromyalgia. I have personally witness remarkable positive effects in Parkinson's when the patient put on a headband with magnets inside. Trembling that had been constant simply stopped, in just a few minutes, without medication, and without surgical intervention. These are not refrigerator magnets. Only pulsating magnetic fields work, and only at specific strengths. However, the technology is non-invasive and side effect free, and it does not require staring at a computer screen or being well enough to sit calmly and stay on task. Not really neurobiofeedback, it nonetheless trains the brain, and is available for around $600 in the US from Fisher Wallace, a well-established company with a good reputation.

The bottom line for home neurobiofeedback is that if you are well enough to sit still, you probably can find a system that will help you improve your symptoms. I personally prefer HeartMath, because it's relatively inexpensive. For pain relief alone, I would use transcutaneous electromagnetic stimulation (TENS) devices, which are available for under $50. The Fisher Wallace system is best for depression.

A true home neurobiofeedback system may work best for other indications, but the fact is, get rid of depression and pain, or improve focus, and other conditions may be much easier to manage. For mild symptoms, home systems work well.

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