Elmer E. Green (October 10, 1917 to March 5, 2017) devoted his life to the idea that people can develop voluntary control over internal physiologic functions that are normally involuntary, and to research and teaching about states of consciousness and spiritual development. He was one of the scientists who invented biofeedback and began research of it, working alongside his wife and colleague, Alyce.
Beginning in 1964 in the Research Department of the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, the Greens demonstrated that ordinary people, much like yogis, can learn to voluntarily control physiologic functions that are normally involuntary. These included brainwaves, muscle tension, heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature and blood flow in the skin.
The Greens were the first to apply biofeedback to a range of medical disorders, thus becoming the originators of clinical biofeedback. It was they who discovered that hand warming through skin temperature feedback effectively treats migraine headaches. They also developed a highly effective biofeedback protocol for hypertension. They understood biofeedback from a much wider perspective than that of physiology alone. Long before they undertook biofeedback research, they knew that voluntary control of physiology occurs through regulating the mind, and that quieting the mind opens the door to transpersonal growth.
In the early 1970s, the Greens studied the Indian yogi Swami Rama and the Dutch adept Jack Schwarz in their lab to investigate the skills of voluntary physiologic control that they had. The Greens subsequently led a team to India in 1974 to document the physiologic skills of yogis, using a portable psychophysiology lab that Dr. Green designed. The 1975 film Biofeedback: The Yoga of the West (Hartley Films) documents this work, as well as providing an overview of biofeedback.
The Greens authored numerous journal articles on biofeedback, and the book Beyond Biofeedback (1978) which provides an overview of biofeedback and discusses transpersonal issues related to self-regulation practice.
Cultivation of the Profession
The Greens were leaders in promoting research, clinical practice, and education about biofeedback and related fields through creating professional societies with associated annual conferences and scientific journals. In 1969 they cofounded the annual Council Grove Conference on consciousness, which is on-going. In the same year, Dr. Green proposed and cofounded the Biofeedback Research Society, now known as the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. He cofounded the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine (ISSSEEM) in 1990.
For 20 years Dr. and Mrs. Green lectured and conducted workshops on “The Theory and Practice of Biofeedback Training for Psychophysiologic Self-Regulation” in the United States, Australia, Canada, India, Great Britain, Holland, the Philippines, and the Soviet Union.
Education and Early Work
Dr. Green earned a B.Physics degree at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 1942, did graduate study in the Department of Physics at UCLA in 1947, and earned a Ph.D. in biopsychology at the University of Chicago in 1962.
From 1947 to 1958 he worked as a physicist at the Naval Ordnance Test Station in China Lake, California where, as Director of the Assessments Division, he oversaw the optical assessment of self-guidance systems for rockets. During that time he conceived of a “mental relay,” an on-off switch that could be controlled mentally. After his initial efforts to develop it were unsuccessful, he was shown in a vision dream that the time was not yet appropriate for that technology to emerge, though it would be appropriate later.
Receiving guidance in the 1980s that it was time to take a further step toward the mental relay, Dr. Green developed at the Menninger Foundation a research program of psychophysics and psychophysiology known as the Copper Wall Project. This research showed that recognized healers could induce, from a distance of several feet, large voltage changes in a wall-sized electrode made of copper. Subjects without healing abilities were unable to induce significant voltage changes.
Origins of the Research
A variety of influences led Dr. Green to do research to validate that voluntary control is possible of physiologic processes including electrical activity in and around the body. Among these influences were his ability to voluntarily control his own physiology, his awareness of yoga and Autogenic Training, and guidance from vision dreams since childhood.
In a waking visionary experience at age three, the young Elmer was visited by a spiritual teacher who conveyed that the boy had a strong life purpose and was under spiritual guidance. Elmer re-encountered this teacher during college through a channel and former spiritualist minister, Will J. Erwood. Dr. Erwood enabled his young student to have direct conversations with “the Teacher” for four years until Mr. Green left Minneapolis after completing college. During those years, Mr. Green received a spiritual education from the Teacher as well as life guidance which, for example, affirmed the choice of Alyce Boyd as a partner in life and work, and provided indications of the future directions that his work and life would take. In a vision dream around 1952, he saw images of a clock tower building where he would later work. Much later, he recognized this structure upon sight of the Tower Building at the Menninger Foundation when he interviewed there in 1964 to work with Gardner Murphy, Ph.D. in the Research Department.
Alyce Green’s Alzheimer’s disease
From the early days of their acquaintance, Elmer Green had recognized his future wife as a highly spiritually developed individual. He had the experience to recognize, after his wife began developing Alzheimer’s disease in the mid-1980s, that she was attaining further spiritual development in the midst of dementia. She verbalized experiences which would have been seen as delusions by ordinary observers, but which Dr. Green recognized as struggling with and resolving previously unresolved aspects of her own personality in the service of spiritual development. He also recognized that some of her seeming delusions about meetings with people were actually encounters with spiritual teachers who were guiding her or providing feedback about spiritual progress she was making.
On rare occasions after she became almost completely non-verbal due to advanced dementia, she emerged from the non-verbal state for short periods, speaking about herself in the third person clearly and in full, well-organized paragraphs. Referring to “her,” she told Dr. Green that she was caught between this world and the next, and was working through fears. She provided specific guidance as to how best to manage “her,” as well as guidance to her husband about ways in which he should take care of himself amidst the stress of being her full-time caretaker. Dr. Green ascertained that it was her High Self that was speaking at these times. This was based on his recognition that although the brain may have dementia, the High Self does not, as its functioning is not dependent upon the brain.
Mrs. Green verbalized that she was on both sides at once. Her husband recognized that she was alternating between awareness in the living world and awareness in the realm of dream consciousness, which is also the realm of the personal and collective unconscious, and the realm of the after-death bardo described in Tibetan Buddhism. Over the several years in which she had dementia, Dr. Green was able to support and facilitate her process as she negotiated this realm and her own unresolved fears. Dr. Green wrote about this in The Ozawkie Book of the Dead (2001), describing dementia as a partial entry, while still living, into the bardo realm. The book also presents his synthesis, distilled over a lifetime, of spiritual teachings, Eastern and Western, ancient and modern. He focuses in particular on the nature of the self, the soul, and the spirit, and the process of human spiritual development.