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Monday, October 25, 2021

Column: Euphoria

What is the hardest game I have ever played? Hint: it does not involve controllers, a “halo” or guns. And there is only one place you can play this game on campus. It’s the bio-feedback machine at the new Mind Spa in the Student Health and Wellness Center.

The games on the bio-feedback machine prompt you to enter a state of extreme relaxation in order to win or “unlock the gates.”

Basically, your index finger is linked to a system that monitors your heart rate, sweat glands and other physiological indicators. When the computer shows that you are continuously relaxed, you get closer to mastering the game.

At the Mind Spa, I spoke with Emily Wang, a senior psychology and human development major who works as a stress and wellness ambassador.

Wang introduced me to the bio-feedback machine and described a few of the games in order of difficulty. She said she had a tough time mastering one of the more difficult games. I thought, what the heck, I have low blood pressure, am generally a calm person and have been practicing this whole breathing thing. Let’s try the hardest game.

Looking back, I cannot remember how long I was sitting there. (Luckily there was no one waiting to use the machine). Mastering the games requires your heart rate and other indicators to drop below a certain level.

It’s like trying to hold onto sand – the tighter you grasp, the quicker it falls.

The bio-feedback machine pushes you to solely focus on the fluctuations of your breathing pattern. It’s just breathing … something we do 24/7! Then why is it so hard?

Throughout the day we are constantly alternating among states of thinking, moving, reacting, planning and rehearsing. That’s why the bio-feedback machine is so amazing, because it’s like a pause from all of the above. A state of euphoria, where there is no looming midterm or sleep deprived night, just here and now.

Games on the bio-feedback machine are not hypnotic, if that’s what it sounds like. But try mastering one of the games – it’s not easy. And I will bet it’s certainly not possible without some heavy-duty mind and breath control.

Euphoria is defined as, “a feeling of well-being or elation.” Finding this state can be challenging, frustrating even. If our body and mind do not know what it feels like to be relaxed, how can it be enjoyable? Practicing relaxation is important because recent studies have shown that stress levels are increasing in the student population.

John Pryor, director of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, conducts annual first-year student surveys asking students to rank their emotional health. In 2010, the percentage of those who ranked their emotional health as “below average” increased. Pryor says this may be due to stress resulting from economic conditions; high school students feel that even by going to a four-year college they are not guaranteed more than minimum wage.

Furthermore, women generally have a less negative view of their emotional health than men, and this gap widened in 2010.

Stresses of loans, education, family and personal issues are always going to be there. Maybe more or less depending on the time, but they still exist.

Learning how to be balanced and cope with stress can produce a variety of benefits.

Consistent practice of deep relaxation can result in a stronger immune system, increased attention span, reduced need for insulin for diabetics, lower blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels and make you less susceptible to viruses.

It’s like all the benefits of exercise thrown into one convenient package!

Sorry, but lounging on the couch or watching TV do not count as deep relaxation. Deep relaxation is like hitting the pause button – allowing our bodies to enter a physiological state that decreases sympathetic nervous system activity. Activities like the bio-feedback machine, yoga, meditation, breath control and tai chi can create deep relaxation.

Take advantage of the CAPS Clinic Mind Spa. They have the wonderful bio-feedback machine, a human-touch massage chair (it’s amazing!), blood pressure monitor, wellness library, a place to nap as well as free yoga and meditation classes and other workshops like “Therapy Fluffies” throughout the year.

The CAPS clinic is in the new, suave Student Health Center building (across from the ARC). It’s the last door on the second floor, all the way down the right aisle.

MEGHA BHATT’s favorite way to relax is goddess pose. To learn more, reach her at mybhatt@ucdavis.edu.

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