Dr. Allen offers the following protocol for helping individuals function optimally in sports and performance.
Skills Learned with Biofeedback: List several conceptual paradigms that have been utilized by biofeedback professionals in optimal performance psychophysiology
Skills for an enhanced body-mind connection, comfortable life experience, poise and agility)
- The relaxation paradigm: The main concept is to help clients become aware of their stress patterns in sports and performance in real time, such as muscle tension, tension in breathing, vigilance and tension in posture, cold hands and feet, sweaty palms, and racing mind, among other bodily and mental stress symptoms. These symptoms reflect in the mind-body connection resulting from mental stress. The goal is to use relaxation strategies to elicit a relaxation response in the mind and body to reduce tension and anxiety and create homeostasis and relaxed mental functioning, but retain focus on the goal. Ultimately, the clients should practice these skills frequently in daily life so that they may work effectively prior to or during sports and / or performance events. All modalities of biofeedback may be effective, but the particular one selectively chosen depends on how a client exhibits stress.
- Alleviating dysponesis: The main concept is to help clients become aware of faulty ergonomic posture, misplaced efforts, or unnecessary tensing of muscles. Then, through awareness, the client can correct posture, relax muscles, and move toward better agility and coordination for the task at hand. Dysponesis can lead to overuse syndrome, injuries, and reduced quality of performance. Correction ideally would include awareness and relaxing into the perfect flowing movements leading to optimal functioning and success in the task. Muscle and breathing biofeedback would be the most effective modalities.
- Moderating anxious cognitive processes: Both the catastrophe theory, and the Yerkes Dodson Law concepts support the idea that too much cognitive stress or mental anxiety at a sports and / or performance event can hinder a client’s optimal functioning. The racing mind can lead to a non-productive thought process, and inhibit performance. The goal is to teach strategies like heart rate variability biofeedback and diaphragmatic breathing to quiet the mind, mindfulness to detach from abstracting or reflecting on negative automatic thought patterns, or to distract the mind into focusing on more positive or neutral thoughts to replace negative thoughts.
- Resolving psychological distress that undermines optimal performance: When psychological stress arises from underlying conflicts or past traumatic experiences, simply trying to utilize relaxations strategies may not be effective, especially in situations where there are triggers that generalize into deeper and distressing emotional issues and cause patterns of related distress. Biofeedback can be used along with psychotherapy (based on a therapist’s training and therapeutic orientation). Ideally, the self-awareness through biofeedback of stress patterns and ability to gain insight into deeper emotional issues and how they trigger stress can provide opportunity to resolve issues and old patterns. Working with a facilitator can help a client reason through such issues, reframe and create new learning, and to apply new learning and behaviors to problems arising in sports and performance (e.g., fear, anger, self-doubt, conflicts with team members, etc.).
- Enhancing optimal physiological responsiveness: The goal in sports and performance is not always to be completely relaxed, but to relax enough to reduce maladaptive tensions, while maintaining an optimal level of energy and focus, and produce intensity when needed. This is the optimal balanced state. The demands during the activity are constantly changing, and sometimes require relaxed focus, and then intensity with agility in movement. A tense mind inhibits flow, so clients can learn how to self-regulate these differences when needed at any moment.
- Reducing reaction time: The goal is to help a client through biofeedback to relax and focus to prepare and react in such a way that optimizes the speed and smoothness of the starting action (e.g. in a running race, in a sparring match, in shooting at a moving target, in facing off in hockey, etc.).
Learned Self-Regulation LSR Model: – Mind body control in sport: learned self-regulation) is to teach clients (sport, performance, professional, personal growth) Learned Self-Regulation” strategies (“LSR”) that are: Deep: 20-30 minutes of techniques to really lower accumulated stress and tensions, recover from stress and fatigue, restore from end-of-the-day stress, renew energy, aid in enhancement of sleep and wellness. Brief: seconds or 3-5 (5-7BPM) breaths & relaxation of muscles for use in immediate stressful situations, when negative emotional-behavioral patterns arise, to lower body responses, refocus the mind. I call these spot checks.
The objectives are:
- Gain wisdom of the body / mind
- Become aware of bad habits affecting performance and life
- Change those bad habits to corrective activities
- Restore balance and natural body / mind healing – optimal performance
- Be aware of your state of mind and body
- Intention: choose to reduce or increase mental and emotional intensity, use attention and focus as needed. Relax and create calmness of energy and focus, manage stress, work on fine-tuning performance in chosen activity, seek ways to enhance deep recovery or return to homeostasis and wellness after periods of activity.
Benefits of Protocol: Self-awareness as described above can lead to greater feelings of self-control (especially with lots of practice and mental imagery) – which can enhance self-confidence and trust in self – which can enhance health and performance.
Helping psychological and emotional issues: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and many of the mental wellness techniques can help with mental stress in the life an athlete, performer, professional, and in personal growth. Psychodynamic therapy can help with deeper emotional issues affecting performance.
Goals for Training in Stress Management and Learned Self-Regulation Skills:
- Take frequent mini-assessments of stress in the mind and body. Practice 3-5 breath spot checks.
- Set an intention daily and begin each training session focused on an objective to use LSRs, spot checks, correctives.
- Begin and end each training session with most important LSR skills (brain remembers 1st and last)
- Begin with very simple skills, then progress to more difficult ones in the process of learning.
- Practice LSRs in the environment of chosen activity to gain confidence and mastery
- Vary in the activities to enhance variety of SLR skills
- Non-judgmental attitude – humility – don’t try too hard, empty the mind, let your body-mind do the work
- Practice biofeedback, and other forms of feedback from the environment. Learn to master your own inner biofeedback
- Practice diaphragmatic breathing, correct breathing, seek to perfect HRV – use HRV & BVP biofeedback. Adapt breathing patterns to the demands of the chosen activity
- EMG Biofeedback & relax muscles, adapt the muscle awareness to fit the objectives of the chosen activity
- Temperature biofeedback and hand and feet warming – autogenics
- Practice SRL frequently, so you internalize it, your body-mind knows it.
- Prepare plan for the chosen activity and performance – prepare how to handle stress, self-regulate the body / mind to achieve your specific goals and objectives