Lets slow everything down...
May 6, 2006 6:49 PM   Subscribe

Legend has it Navy SEALs (among others, certainly) can slow their heart rate and breathing down to almost nil. So could Michael Valentine Smith, for what its worth. Practically, to what degree is this possible, and how does one go about beginning to control ones breathing/heart/body in general more precisely?
posted by devilsbrigade to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Some people learn how to do this in order to combat insomnia - I did. It's just sort of extreme relaxation. I don't know if what I do is "the way," but it works. Basically, I relax and stay as still as possible without being stiff, and then concentrate on mimicing the very regular breathing pattern of sleep. In for x so many counts, out for x so many counts. I can do the same thing when I give blood -- friend of mine and I used to see who had the lowest blood pressure when we went to donate. I think it helps to have just naturally low bloodpressure though - not clinically ohmygod low, but just very very healthy low - because my mom can do the same thing, and she and I both have naturally, healthily low bloodpressure.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:56 PM on May 6, 2006

I suggest biofeedback devices. You're talking about tapping in to the Autonomic nervous system. It's hard but probably doable.
posted by Ken McE at 7:13 PM on May 6, 2006

I'm not sure about conciously controlling the circulatory system (certain buddhist monks and Indian fakirs are said to be able to do it, too) but being in insanely good shape will naturally lower the (resting) heart rate and blood pressure.

Incredibly well conditioned athletes have borderline "omg, this person is going to code!" low resting heart rate and blood pressures.
posted by porpoise at 7:30 PM on May 6, 2006

Seconding what Ken McE says: it's possible to exert some purposeful control over autonomic functions (like breathing, heart rate, and vasoconstriction) using biofeedback.

(Practically, the body wouldn't tolerate Stranger-in-a-Strange-Land shenanigans for very long. Decreasing the respiratory rate that much would, among other things, increase the concentration of hydrogen ions throughout the body, resulting in respiratory acidosis. Similarly, decreasing the heart rate that much would decrease the amount of oxygen delivered to the tissues, causing metabolic acidosis. The combination of those two things left untreated is universally fatal.)
posted by jesourie at 7:35 PM on May 6, 2006

There are a few video games that teach you how to control your skin conductance and heart rate and whatnot. Expensive, but supposedly a pretty easy way to start.
posted by hindmost at 7:55 PM on May 6, 2006

Very deep meditation of some kinds will make your breathing very slow and shallow. A friend of mine got in a very bad bike accident that damaged his lungs, and his doctor told him that he likely wouldn't have survived if his body wasn't used to slowing down that way (he does TM).
posted by abcde at 10:12 PM on May 6, 2006

I can do that and always could with no special training. I had surgery last year and they hooked me up to all the doo-dads and left me to wait so I entertained myself by seeing how low I could get my heart rate. Keeping it at 30 while lying still was pretty easy but it turns out that dropping your heart rate below 25bpm when you're hooked up to a monitor sets off a whole lot of alarms.

Basically I just concentrate on my heartbeat, and focus on how holding my breath for a few seconds causes it to slow down, then I breathe slowly and wait the maximum time between breaths that allows my heart to slow down but not to rapidly speed up when I do breathe. It takes a few minutes to really slow it down. If I'm working out and get my heartrate up really high I can recover quite fast by doing a similar exercise but it makes me a bit light headed.
posted by fshgrl at 10:25 PM on May 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Not as extreme as you're after, but I find this a useful way to easily game heartrate monitors, and once asked my doctor about it:
Heartrate is connected by breathing, for (hopefully) obvious reasons. My heartrate slows down noticably while exhaling, and speeds up while inhaling. My doctor said this was normal (though perhaps not normally as pronounced as in my case).

So anyway, this isn't very noticable when breathing normally, because inhale heartrate cancels out exhale heartrate. But breathing is under easy conscious control - breath in quickly, filling your lungs in a couple of seconds, then breath out slowly, so that it takes 10 seconds. Continue this pattern.

Now you're spending five times longer at exhale heartrate than inhale, and inhale is over too quickly to raise the heartrate back up to normal. Plus, exhale heartrate drops a little more the longer it has been since inhale.

The result is a resting heartrate that is significantly lower than your real resting heartrate.

(And if your health may depend on a doctor getting an accurate reading, let the machine have your real resting heartrate :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:23 AM on May 7, 2006

Why, particularly, would a Navy SEAL want to do that?

One thing I remember seeing on TV a while back on a science show is that sharpshooters can achieve a very low heart rate, which helps them not throw off their shot minutely from the tiny disturbance of a heartbeat. They get the shot off between heartbeats as it were. As far as I can recall, they did this instinctively.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:33 AM on May 7, 2006

You just answered your own question!
posted by dmd at 6:19 AM on May 7, 2006

I knew a guy on a State-champion rifle team in high school. He could slow his heartrate down to the 20's for the reason you noted - squeezing the trigger between beats. I think his team used biofeedback equipment to learn how.
posted by techgnollogic at 6:37 AM on May 7, 2006

I can vouch for the Wild Divine game. A lot of the game itself is ridiculously cheesy, but the actual exercises are fun and interesting and work well. I vastly prefer the sequel to the original game, but i think you have to buy the first game in order to get the console...
posted by hermitosis at 12:12 PM on May 7, 2006

You just answered your own question!

Well that's pne possibility. I guess I forgot the bit where I said "is that why?".
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:31 PM on May 7, 2006

I read an article years ago in Esquire about the Seals. They use a method of altering their physical and mental states called "Silva Mind Control". A Navy Seal is called upon to do some pretty demanding missions and this mind control disipline helps them get the job done.
posted by sgobbare at 1:45 PM on May 7, 2006

AmbroseChapel: Navy SEALS dive. Slowing your heart rate should reduce your oxygen consumption. There may be occasions where SEALS need to stay underwater and use as little Oxygen as possible.
posted by sien at 4:09 PM on May 7, 2006

I'm gonna second Transcendental Mediation. This link explains the method

When I was in high school I used to do this during all my physicals. It may have helped that I was a track/cross country runner, but I could get my heart rate down to the high 30s, and my blood pressure pretty low too. Freaked the nurses out, big time. Sadly, giggling brings the numbers back up. :-)
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:13 PM on May 7, 2006

There may be occasions where SEALS need to stay underwater and use as little Oxygen as possible.

Good point and thank you.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:18 PM on May 8, 2006

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