Thursday, January 11, 2007

Biofeedback: Meeting People is Easy!

What did His Holiness Pope John Paul II and Marlon Brando have in common with the Canadian Women's Alpine Ski Team? They all used biofeedback in their professions to help them reduce stress and find their "natural" selves in public situations.

Let's face it, hell is other people. You walk into a space full of them, say a party, or a gallery opening, or while walking around the Holy See, and suddenly you're bombarded by all this haywire energy ricocheting around you like a million bouncing rubber balls. At moments like these, communication can seem like an impossibility. The sheer spectacle of humanity overwhelms the senses and can prevent any meaningful participation.

On the other hand, it can be great. We all feed off the energy and attention of others, at times in the extreme, and once in a blue moon, like Takeru Kobayashi locked up in Pinks. Social situations can be so surreal at times they can bring about an OBE. Which can be welcomed or horrifying.

But whether or not you are consciously up to meeting with others, there's another factor at play. There's always going to be a part of our unconscious-caveman-brain that feels threatened in groups. "Who are these people and what are they going to do to me?" murmurs that deep, inner club-wielding voice. In some, this triggers a mild panic response: your hackles go up, your palms sweat, your heartrate increases, and your thinking becomes disorganized. People who deal with these issues often consider themselves shy, and avoid public situations. Which is sad. Many of those people would bring tremendous offerings to group dynamics.

Which brings me to biofeedback. Many shy and stressed-out type-A types swear by this tech-managed behavior modification. Actually, I have very limited information on this practice, I just remember reading about Marlon Brando constantly using an EMG machine. My understanding of it is that you are systematically training yourself to control your nervous system, to regulate your responses to external stimuli, especially things that might make you anxious such as crowds or public performance. By being able to see and monitor your heartbeat, your body temperature, and other functions, you can gradually learn to curtail the involuntary metabolic spikes and muscle tightening that prevent you from behaving "naturally," i.e. the relaxed sense of self you have when you are alone or with a loved one.

In the case of Brando, I believe he was doing the opposite. He was training himself to be able to spike, or "freak out," at will. He was attempting to deconstruct the stronger human emotions, break them down into their physical components. You would assume that this would be for his acting, but I'm not so sure. Brando was a world-class kook. He was one of the great self-experimenters and a serious dabbler in the sciences and pseudo-sciences. He was also years ahead of his times - investing (and ultimately squandering) his millions into organic soy-based foods and hemp-based-manufacturing, wind farms, solar energy, human rights activism, and lobster research. (I'm guessing that the last one included melted butter research as well.) It is a little known fact that Brando attained such a level of control over his body and mental state through biofeedback that when he decided to be circumcised later in life, he went under the knife without anesthesia.

Finally, I wonder what the relationship is between these biofeedback machines and the Scientologist's beloved E-meter? I suppose one could do a little more research before blogging, but I never claimed to be an expert. Only the generalist gets to know and enjoy the full extent of his or her curiosity without being bogged down by all those pesky, time consuming details...


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