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Observations placeholder

Yogiraja Vaidyaraja, the burying yogi, and his ability to maintain autonomic equilibrium while enclosed in an airtight box all day



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Beyond Biofeedback – Drs Elmer and Alyce Green

We learned from Rajalakshmi that Yogiraja Vaidyaraja, the "burying yogi," was going to be our subject with Dr. Rao at Waltair. We arrived there to find that Sri Yogiraja had prepared for the demonstration for several days. He felt that the research was important, but he also felt that it was only a superficial way of understanding the power of the mind. It was, however, for that same reason that he himself had chosen long ago to exhibit the hibernation like ability that makes it possible for a person to be buried underground for a period of days without harm.

Yogiraja was a short man with a tall sense of humor and he treated the inconveniences of being wired up good-naturedly, as a test of his yogic ability to "keep his cool." This was fortunate, for between Dr. Rao's equipment and our own he was covered with more wires than a Christmas tree and there were long delays.

When we turned our equipment on, using wall power instead of battery power, Dr. Rao's equipment produced large-size artefacts on several pens. An electrical ground loop existed between our equipment and I was unable to find it, so we decided to run our portable lab on battery power only. Because the test of Yogiraja's ability to maintain autonomic equilibrium while enclosed in an airtight box would take all day, we would have to make use of alternate battery packs, which could be recharged in another building.

The yogic demonstration with physiological recording was the launching of Dr. Rao's psychophysiology laboratory in the Department of Psychology and Parapsychology. As a public-relations event it was certain to be successful, whatever its scientific merits; nevertheless, Dr. Rao (as well as we) wished to obtain as much information as possible and had arranged for blood tests and basal metabolism tests of Vogiraja.

After the blood samples had been taken and the wiring completed, a puja (devotional) ceremony was conducted by the helpers and colleagues of Yogiraja. Then the glass front was clamped to the box in which he sat, a plywood crate measuring about three and a half by three and a half by five feet (about sixty cubic feet of air), heavily waxed inside and out to prevent the wood from being permeable to air. It was reinforced in places with boards half an inch thick, and it was through one of these that we drilled a hole for the wires.

The plug box of the portable lab was placed so that the wires from Yogiraja could come up out of the airtight crate and plug into it. From there a thirty-foot cable led to the lab, so we were able to observe the physiological variables in an out-of-the-way place.

The door of the airtight box was quarter-inch glass plate in a wood frame, forming a side wall. We could see Yogiraja in profile. He sat in lotus posture with his back close to but not touching the wall where the wires came out. The glass door had a strip of quarter-inch polyurethane foam glued around its inside edge. I was satisfied that the box was sealed more tightly than the average refrigerator. We had stuffed polyurethane foam where the wires came through the hole in the box and then sealed over and around the wires, both inside and outside, with electrical tape.

In advance of this kind of demonstration, a yogi fasts for two or three days. Fasting quiets physiological functions and brings the body more easily under control.

 Yogiraia was not attempting the hibernation state -that was a different process-but instead planned to put his body into a state of lowered metabolic functioning and hold it constant for several hours. During this period of time he would attempt to maintain constancy of mind, emotions, and body by entering a bliss-like state of consciousness in which time is said to exist no longer. Mr. Bose, Dr. Rao's research assistant, had attached two of his physiological pick-ups to Yogiraja with spring clamps. One, to measure GSR, was on the hand; the other clamp (similar to a large earring) was attached to a nostril. It held a thermistor for measuring the temperature of air currents, not for determining the flow of air in a quantitative way but for determining the number of breaths per minute.

Yogiraia immediately settled into a state of calm physiological behavior, but after five hours the clamps attracted his attention and we noticed that he shifted the nostril clamp from the right to the left side. In order to study the effects of distraction during Yogiraja's demonstration, Dr. Rao included flashing strobe lights and an audio buzzer. Every thirty minutes, twenty-five intense strobe-light pulses at about ten per second were flashed into the box and a loud buzzer was sounded over the intercom. In addition, dozens of dignitaries, both men and women, visited the lab and there was much peering into the box and much talking close to the box, but Yogiraja did not show any signs of response or loss of autonomic control.

After seven hours and twenty minutes he tried to signal on the intercom that he wanted to be let out of the box. Unfortunately, the intercom did not work, but somebody eventually noticed him striking the button and the glass cover was hurriedly removed. As soon as it was off, Yogiraia complained that he had received three electric shocks. This had made him uncomfortable and a little angry, and he had terminated the experiment.

If a switch were defective, it was possible that he had received a nine-volt shock, but we could not later determine the cause. In any event, I was happy that we had used battery power so that no ground-loop currents could be generated through our subject's body between Dr. Rao's equipment and ours.

Shortly after Yogiraja entered the box we observed that his heart rate averaged about eighty beats per minute and his respiration was shallow at about four breaths per minute. One of the physicians who attended the demonstration predicted to us that within three hours the pulse rate would be about one hundred and twenty beats per minute and after four hours Yogiraia would have to leave the box to prevent unconsciousness. We ourselves gave him two hours, then three, then simply waited with growing admiration of his abilities as the afternoon wore on.

The day before the test, Dr. Rao had burned a lighted candle in the closed box as a publicity demonstration. Alter an hour and a half it had gone out for lack of oxygen. The human body may not use as much oxygen as a candle under normal conditions, but if you can imagine being in a small closet in which a candle could burn for only an hour and a half , it is possible to get a feeling for the conditions of the experiment and the skill of Yogiraja.

Alter seven and a half hours Yogiraja's pulse rate was averaging about ninety bpm, and his breathing, still shallow, averaged about six breaths per minute. The only sign of autonomic disturbance we noticed occurred toward the end of the session.

A very short, rapid, out-and-in respiratory jerk began appearing in each breathing cycle. Air can be rebreathed many times without consuming all the oxygen-only a fraction of the oxygen available in each breath is used-and Elmer hypothesized that Yogiraja's diaphragm was jerking to produce a turbulence in the lungs that would facilitate the gas-exchange process and make respiration more efficient.

At the end of his hours in the box, Yogiraia's knees were almost locked in position, and we had to help him stand up and walk to the adjoining room, where an effort was made to get another basal metabolism reading and blood samples. Word came later from Dr. Rao that it had been impossible to get a blood sample or a satisfactory metabolic reading. Blood flow to the peripheral parts of the body had been reduced to such a level that normal techniques for drawing blood from a vessel in the arm were inadequate.

One of the first things we did on reaching Topeka after the India trip was to make polygraph records of sample sections of Yogiraja's EEG record. We observed that he produced alpha almost continuously.

It appears that he remained in a state of constant inward-turned attention, neither coming "out" (into beta) nor going "deeper" (into theta). To us that seems to be an impressive demonstration of self-regulation in the central nervous system, of control of thoughts and emotions. The exact behavior of his occipital cortex, including a minute-by-minute computer analysis, will eventually be at our disposal, but in the meantime we can recognize Yogiraja's demonstration as a significant example of self-mastery. The physiological records cannot show it, but we can attest to the fact that Yogiraja did not lose his sense of humor, "blow his cool." Throughout what was to many of us a grueling ordeal, he looked upon all the events (in which he seemed at least as serious a participant as ourselves) with benign amusement.

Before leaving Waltair, Elmer and I had a special meeting with Yogiraja and the manager of his ashram, Dr. V. S. Rao of Rajanyoga Ashram, Alamuru, East Godavary, Andhra Pradesh. They wanted us to help obtain all possible publicity for their organization, of which Rajalakshmi was also a member. They asked for a resume of the sealed-box experiment that they could use in promoting yoga both in their organization and if any of their members came to the West. Elmer wrote the resume and also used the opportunity to warn against the deterioration of discipline that yogis often experience when they come to the West.

Under the conditions of their own culture, it may be possible for them to maintain the austerities and emotional tranquilities necessary to demonstrate physiological self-regulation. But, even as we are ourselves activated and energized by strange sights, sounds, foods, and the like, yogis are too. If they come to the west, it is difficult in the extreme for them to maintain the conditions necessary for demonstrating unusual powers of self-regulation.

One of the major research problems in bringing a yogi from India to the West is that if the cultural problem is not satisfactorily handled and the performer is unable to demonstrate his skill, it is likely to be concluded that yogic self-regulation powers are fictitious.

Behavioural scientists have not been quick to recognize that a yogi's ability to perform is a function of the milieu in which the experiment is conducted. This same factor has demolished a good deal of otherwise well-designed parapsychological research. The attitude of the researchers and the environment in which the psychic must perform are part of the chemistry, so to speak. Since this fact is usually ignored, the conclusion if a demonstrator fails is often that there is no such thing as the power he claims to be able to demonstrate.

The source of the experience

Hindu and yoga

Concepts, symbols and science items




Activities and commonsteps