The short answer is neurofeedback trains your brain much like going to the gym trains your body and conditions it to be stronger and healthier. Only with neurofeedback, you are conditioning your brain. But let me back up a bit.
In neurofeedback, we are focused on the electrical activity in the brain. This electrical activity is how neurons communicate with each other. The sensors that we place on the scalp “listen” to the electrical activity generated by your cortex. But we don’t just listen, the electrical activity is “absorbed” by the sensors. The sensors connect the electrical activity to our amplifiers that make it larger so we can better see it, understand it, record it, and feed some portion of it in graphic form back to the client to begin conditioning the brain.
In traditional neurofeedback, we set thresholds of electrical activity that must reach a specified level for the client to receive auditory, visual, or tactile feedback. Traditional neurofeedback tries to make small electrical activity larger and larger electrical activity smaller. So for instance, if a client’s chief complaint is anxiety, a traditional neurofeedback practitioner might try to teach your brain to increase the alpha waves in the cortex. This frequency band is associated with relaxation in the behavioral literature. We set our threshold at a specified level and a tone sounds whenever the alpha band activity rises above the threshold. This kind of treatment is called operant conditioning. With repeated sessions, the alpha band increases along with the associated relaxation behavior.
Infraslow Bipolar Neurofeedback, one form of infraslow neurofeedback we use at Neurofeedback Therapy Services, is a bit different. We don’t want more or less of the infraslow band. We want to “feedback” the morphology of the wave form. This is a big word morphology, but It has a simple meaning: shape. We feedback information on the shape of the infraslow waveform. The behavioral literature tells us that faster frequencies are embedded in the infraslow band. What that means functionally is that the infraslow band determines the excitability of faster frequencies. When we feed back the shape of the wave form, it helps to normalize the relationship between this low activity and faster electrical frequencies, which in turn, makes the brain better regulated. Imagine the infraslow band as an ocean wave and the faster frequencies as surfers on that wave. When the ocean wave forms in an organized fashion and there is very little choppiness or cross current, surfers have a much easier time catching that wave and riding it for long distances. The same is true for the infraslow band and faster frequencies. If the Infraslow band is regulated, faster frequencies embed within it grow larger and smaller as is needed in a smooth regular fashion. This ease in the relationship between the slow and fast frequencies allows the brain to respond and become more active or grow quieter with efficiency when presented with internal or external stimuli. This efficiency has a powerful impact on physical and emotional regulation. The research tells us that clients sleep better, feel less pain, and have better emotional and physiological regulation. With the regulation of the infraslow frequency, we can also increase resiliency to stressful situations, and increase a sense of overall well-being in our clients.