Dr. Erik Peper is an internationally known expert on biofeedback (applied psychophysiology), holistic health and stress management. Since 1976 he has taught at San Francisco State University where he was instrumental in establishing the Institute for Holistic Health Studies, the first holistic health program at a public university in the United States. Dr. Peper is President of the Biofeedback Foundation of Europe and past President of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB). He holds Senior Fellow (Biofeedback) certification from the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (BCIA) and was the behavioral scientist (sport psychologist) for the United States Rhythmic Gymnastic team in the early 1980’s. Dr. Peper lectures and teaches frequently through-out the world and has a biofeedback practice at BiofeedbackHealth in Berkeley, CA.
This is part 3 of a 3 part interview with Dr. Peper discussing how the tools of bio and neurofeedback are utilized to enhance sport performance, age appropriateness, technological advancements and simple products available for consumers.
Examiner: What are some simple products an athlete can purchase to practice self-regulation techniques at home?
EP: Before I list the products let me say that biofeedback is helpful for concentration training, muscle training to minimize misdirected efforts and users can also benefit from this for injury recovery. Inexpensive devices I recommend are portable devices and those that can be used with a laptop or desk top computer. These devices show heart rate variability. When attached to a finger or ear sensor the athlete can see their heart rate going up or down. They can learn to breathe at about six breaths a minute which helps them with sympathetic/parasympathetic balance. In addition, the equipment helps the athlete learn mindfulness training, staying present without trying. Devices include, Stress Eraser, HeartMath/EmWave for Desktop, Thought Technology/GSR2, MyCalmBeat (app for I-pads/pods, droids).
Examiner: You mentioned the uses for these products are helpful for centering oneself, concentration, muscle training to minimize misdirected efforts and injury recovery.
EP: Heart rate variability is useful for recovery, quickly letting go, and being centered while temperature feedback devices show that control is possible. The athlete holds an inexpensive temperature device and quickly learns that he or she can increase finger temperature by passively or actively visualizing. If the athlete breathes slowly or can imagine his hands are heavy and warm often the temperature will rise. If the athlete breathes quickly and hyperventilates the temperature will drop. Women tend to have cooler hand temperatures then men and it’s often said they have poor circulation. In fact the cooler temperature is because they are more thoracic breathers. When women tend to breathe diaphragmatically their hands warm up. The concept of warming is used to treat injury. Warming can also be used by athletes or musicians who need tactile dexterity in their performance. When fingers are warm, the performer has better control. Although it takes awhile to learn, with extensive practice athletes learn this as a routine. First it’s learned in a safe environment, once it’s over learned they practice it in environments that resemble playing conditions, then progressively apply it in more challenging playing conditions.
Examiner: You co-author a chapter in the recently published book, “Biofeedback and Neurofeedback Applications in Sport Psychology.” There is a sentence that says, “Each sport may require a different set of physiological and psychological states to be triggered in order for the individual to perform in that sport.” Can you give an example?
EP: There is a significant difference between a 100 meter race and a marathon. In the 100 meter competition the runners must have great explosiveness at the beginning of the race -how quickly they can explode out of the blocks the more successful they will be. In a marathon it makes no difference how the runners begin since there is a significant amount of time within the race to catch up. It’s a different type of race. In a marathon the runner has to focus on resource management. The runner must hold their focus for a great length of time.
There is a big difference between individual sports versus team sports. In skiing or skating, although snow conditions may vary more than the ice conditions the athletes are performing independently of others and this is also true for running. Compare running, skiing, skating, golf to team sports such as baseball, soccer, football, hockey, basketball where it’s an interactive dynamic between team-mates and opponents. Some sports require continued output while some sports like golf are performed for a moment then there is a long recovery period, while in soccer there is a short window of time to recover between movements.
Examiner: How will 3d virtual reality simulation coupled with bio or neurofeedback impact sports training in the near future?
EP: It will be superb. Let’s use the example of baseball, 3d will allow the player to simulate seeing a type of pitch coming and practice hitting or catching the ball. It can especially be useful to increase the environmental factors so that there is no novelty. 3d can make the training situation quicker and more real.
Examiner: And introduce more variables?
EP: Yes. Years ago Pavlov said, “novelty interferes with performance.” You will be able to train the athlete to hold their attention. If the athlete is celebrating he’s not attentive. If he’s depressed or anxious he’s not attentive. If he’s distracted by something in the playing environment he’s not attentive. The challenge for the athlete is to stay on task. 3-d can simulate all those situations which could distract the athlete.
Examiner: You’ve worked in this field for a long time. Do you have any favorite quotes, stories or tips that have guided you on your professional path of expertise?
EP: I am totally persuaded that we have more potential than we often know. The limits of our mental abilities are limits of our experience. I have become more impressed with with the power of our own language. Our own language is the unconscious self-suggestions and forms the template of future performance.
Examiner: Dr. Peper thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share you knowledge and experience.