There is a graph that has stayed alive in Jerry’s mind for decades. It was in a study designed to see what happens if a person is given gradual increases in the dosage of isoproterenol, a drug that imitates adrenaline, the familiar “fight or flight” hormone. It is used primarily to deal with abnormally slow and weak heartbeat ( bradycardia), and heart block.
(Heart Block is an abnormal heart rhythm in which the heart beats too slowly. In this condition, the electrical signals that tell the heart to contract are blocked between the heart’s upper and lower chambers.)
The study appears to have been a routine one of the “dose-response curve”, to observe changes in heart rate as the dosage of the drug was gradually increased. Isoproterenol works by making changes in the junctions between the nervous system and the heart muscle.
Not surprisingly, heart rate increased with each increment of the drug dosage, but there was one person whose heart followed the expected pattern as the dose was increased from zero to .1 on to .5 micrograms, but then began slowing down as the dose continued to be increased to 1.0, 2.0, and on to 4.0 micrograms.
The heart rate of the unusual person went from around 68 beats per minute (bpm) before any drug was given, to above 80 bpm at a dosage but then went down steadily to end up at around 53 bpm when the drug was at its top level. At this top dosage the other participants had a heart rate around 90 bpm.
What was going on? When the researchers asked the outlier that question, she said she had become bored and started meditating just before bher heart rate slowed down.
On occasion, there are reports of remarkable bodily control on the part of people who have devoted a great deal of their lives engaged in training that results in unusual control of mind over body. For example a Yogi, the Swami Rama was studied at the Menninger Clinic, and was able to make one part of his hand warm up while cooling a nearby part. He also showed that he could stop his heart from pumping while connected to an electronic device that measured his physiological reactions. This device would make it impossible to do any tricks to give an unreal impression of bodily control.
If you want more detail on Swami Rama, the person who acted as his personal assistant in the United States wrote a book, “Swami”, about him. It appears to be out of print, but inexpensive copies are available at Abebooks.com.
A lesson that we can take from such accomplishments is that regular practice of effective procedures such as meditation can lead to our developing skills that enable us to gain remarkable control over our minds and bodies.
The woman who lowered her heart rate was able to challenge and defeat the biological system that underlies fight or flight. It is a system that also underlies “losing one’s temper” and even violent acts under some circumstances. It also underlies such things as stage fright, and a score of other things that we might want to bring under our control.
It is interesting to know that the woman who controlled her heart was self- trained. It is usually best to have a trainer, but some people can do well even on their own. The take-home message is that self-control is probably within your reach. The key is “practice, practice, practice”.