The Wikipedia article about Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, the "father of modern yoga", claims

During the 1920s, Krishnamacharya held many demonstrations to stimulate popular interest in yoga. These included suspending his pulse, stopping cars with his bare hands, performing difficult asanas, and lifting heavy objects with his teeth.

I had always assumed that the heart muscle was not subject to voluntary control, and thus stopping one's own heart would be an impossible feat, but there might be other ways to (seemingly) suspend the pulse as well, such as tightening blood vessels.

Is it physiologically possible for a person to "suspend their pulse"?

  • 4
    What kind of timeframes are we talking about?
    – Christian
    Sep 4, 2014 at 9:48
  • Isn't this what people who do record breaking breath holding claim to be doing?
    – Jonathon
    Sep 8, 2014 at 16:37
  • 1
    @JonathonWisnoski: They claim to slow their heart rate, but it's along the lines of bringing it down to a resting heart rate despite the stress of holding one's breath. The claim of these yogis is that they can actually stop their heart from beating for a time. Sep 8, 2014 at 19:27

2 Answers 2


As noted by user21997, there is a simple magic trick involving a rubber ball under the arm. I've found a few references to being able to do the same thing with muscle control, such as here, but that's still suspending the pulse, not the heart itself.

Probably of more interest to you would be this 1961 paper exploring the ability to temporarily stop pulse and/or heart activity by four yogis. The closest the yogis managed was a cessation of pulse in the wrist, a quieting of cardiac sounds below detectable levels, and a measurable slowing of the heart in one case. In every case, further testing has proven that the heart was still beating. Furthermore, every method essentially used other muscles to change the heart rhythm.

  • 8
    The data from the yogi who was able to slow his heart rate is incredible: Three seconds for one cycle!
    – user21992
    Sep 7, 2014 at 15:48

Although it cannot be disproven that he indeed stopped his heart, there are instances in which members of the public (and even nurses) were fooled to believe that someone would be able to.

James Randi, together with Jose Luis Alvarez, created a persona called Carlos whose heart would purportedly stop during a possession. The hoax had been set up by James Randi and he explained in subsequent interviews that he had faked stopping his pulse by squeezing a rubber ball underneath his arms at the right moment.

A description of the hoax and the media reaction to it can be found on page 26 of this document:


Edit: As the commenters point out, this is not a direct answer to the question but it shows that there are ways to achieve the effect of getting someone to believe that your heart has stopped that could be easier to achieve than actually stopping the heart.

  • This does not answer the question, which is about physiology.
    – Sklivvz
    Sep 4, 2014 at 11:48
  • 1
    @Sklivvz: I would disagree. The rubber ball method stops the pulse via physiology, specifically compression of the arteries going down into the arm. Sep 4, 2014 at 17:54
  • Agreed, but the evidence presented is an anecdote about Randi. It doesn't address the claim directly.
    – Sklivvz
    Sep 4, 2014 at 17:58

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