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John Selby - The yogis who could stop their heart



Type of Spiritual Experience


John Selby is an American psychologist.  He is the author of over two dozen self-help, spiritual-growth, business-success and psychology books published in fourteen languages with half a million books in print.

What is interesting in this observation is not his experiences, which are actually him learning how to relax, but those of the research he did on yogis.

He is incorrect in his analysis of how it works.

A description of the experience

Beyond Kundalini awakening – John Selby

I approached meditation techniques as a psychologist, it took me only a few years to crack the "quiet your mind" challenge. I began to watch my own thoughts flowing through my mind, and I took note when they temporarily stopped.

I encourage you to do this yourself; it's a basic Buddhist meditation.  What I noticed was that certain perceptual experiences in and of themselves temporarily quieted my mind instantly, naturally, and with no effort at all. You've noticed this as well - viewing a sunset, for example, tends to quiet the mind and boost good feelings; so does gazing at the rippling of the surface of a lake or pond; so does tuning in to the breeze blowing on your face and the scent in the air; so does making love; so does a great meal or an engrossing concert; so, in fact, does any event that turns your  attention toward two or more sensory experiences at the same time!

Wait a minute, I said to myself. I remember being on a team doing perceptual research way back in the early days of my career, when we found out that very same thing and noted it, not realizing what we'd found. For years I'd been walking around with the answer without knowing it.

We'd been studying three Hindu yogic masters who could actually stop their hearts from beating at will, get cut with a razor and stop the bleeding, lower their blood pressure at will, and so on and so forth. 

We wired them to an EEG machine and watched their brain waves during all this.  And we noted that when they did one of their meditations of focusing on two or more sensory events at the same time (moving a toe and turning the head, for instance) their EEG indicated a sudden shift into alpha. We noted it, but were more fascinated by the bigger feats these guys could perform - and missed the insight.

Looking back, I realized the "quiet mind" insight and began purposefully putting together a meditation that applied the insight.

I drew as much as I could from existing Hindu and Buddhist methodologies: they'd known for thousands of years, for instance, that the primary tool of meditation is focused awareness – the mind's ability to consciously choose, in each new moment, where to aim its power of attention. That always the initial step, to remember to use that tool effectively.

And where to aim that attention? Toward the most important constant sensory event of the human experience: the sensation of the air flowing in and out of the nose.  That’s basic Hindu and Buddhist meditation in a nutshell.

But here's where the perceptual research added its insight: not to stop with breath awareness per se, but to expand the awareness another crucial notch to include, at the same time, another sensory event. I had found, for instance, that quite naturally,  consciousness expands from breath awareness in the nose to also include the movements in the chest and belly while inhaling and exhaling.  It’s this second expansion of awareness that generates the inner shift in attention away from chronic thoughts to pure experience.

You can be aware of the air flowing in and out of your nose, and still think. That's why the Buddhist meditation that challenges you to stay aware of the air flowing in and out of your nose, but offers no further guidance, drives most people up the wall - thoughts keep returning to dominate your mind. You can play that game for years, half an hour a day in meditation, and still be plagued by a chattery mind. But as soon as you expand your awareness to include, at the same time, the sensations of your breathing in your chest and belly - kapow! I'll give you a dime if you can keep thinking.

The source of the experience

Hindu and yoga

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps