Saturday, January 18, 2003
Steamboat Springs Snowblowers come with an owner's manual. Microwaves and MP3 players ship with an instruction pamphlet. So why not the human body? Kristine Johnson can't sell you the manual for the human machine, but she can point out some of the features on the control panel.
Johnson, a longtime local health care professional, has begun a new practice called "Biofeedback Connections." She specializes in helping patients recognize the physical symptoms of stress and providing them with tools to dial it down. Her ultimate goal for her biofeedback patients is to help them to incorporate those techniques into their daily lives.
"I feel really good about some of the successes I've had with people suffering from insomnia and anxiety," Johnson said.
Her experience in the medical field began with the Colorado Department of Health's family planning program in Aspen. Later she trained to become a women's health care specialist at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. The training prepared her to work as a nurse practitioner in obstetrics and gynecology. She also worked at Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood in Steamboat Springs.
Johnson's clinical consultant in Steamboat Springs is psychologist Linda Nolte.
When the modern wellness movement emerged in the 1970s, Johnson produced a radio show called "Wellness Workshop" that aired in southern Colorado. She worked with a variety of physicians, psychologists and nurses.
In the process, she developed a passion for education in the health care field, and became particularly fascinated by the ways in which the mind, working in tandem with the body, affects a person's overall well-being.
"It was my personal habit of seeking out mind-body disciplines that made biofeedback training a natural and exciting career move," Johnson said. "Biofeedback is an internal process that achieves a healthier physiology and emotional well-being through mind-body awareness, breath work, the relaxation response and stress pattern re-education."
Biofeedback has become an accepted area of medical science over the last two decades, Johnson said. She has concentrated her efforts on areas of biofeedback that are known for having the best results. She accepts patients referred by other health care providers for the most common stress-related disorders: hypertension, anxiety, panic attack, headaches, insomnia, chronic pain, repetitive strain injuries and temporal mandibular disorders.
Visitors to Johnson's office are ushered into what may be the world's most comfortable reclining chair. She refers to it as a zero gravity chair -- it supports the back so well that patients may enjoy a sensation of weightlessness.
By monitoring patients' muscle tension, skin temperature, heart rate variability and respiration rates, Johnson can help them tune into their bodies.
The goal of biofeedback is to help patients achieve balance among three points on a triangle defined by a healthy diet, an alert mind and body movement. Movement can take the form of stretching exercises, yoga or massage. Johnson uses a combination of walking and weight lifting in her own regimen.
"The key with the triangle is that it works best when working in union. And folks are allowed to fake it till they make it," Johnson said.
Her goal is to provide patients with all of the skills they need to create the optimum physiology for their own mind and body. Sometimes that can be acquired within eight visits. Ultimately, Johnson guides patients toward integrating their newfound awareness and skills into everyday life. Achieving that goal requires some homework and self-regulation. But Johnson has built a small lending library of tapes and books to help her patients stay on course.
"Some people need tune-ups, but once it's learned, you don't have to continue returning," Johnson said. "They should come out on the other side with a new sense of control and empowerment."
One of the challenges Johnson faces in building her practice is that she's not yet working with insurers. She charges $50 for a one-hour session. Johnson is willing to provide an introductory two-hour session for people who want to give biofeedback a try for $75.