Houdini Was Able to Modulate His Normal Case Study

Excerpt from Case Study :

Houdini Was Able to Modulate His Normal Physiology During His Stunts

The objective of this study is to examine how Houdini was able to modulate his normal physiology during his stunts.

Harry Houdini caused the world to marvel at his skill in escaping the bondage of handcuffs and was referred to as the 'handcuff king' and as well Houdini performed many other magic tricks that required more than merely illusion but instead required that he be able to alter his own body's physiology. The modulation of physiology enabled Houdini to accomplish great feats and to capture the imagination and attention of a large base of fans across many years. Houdini is well-known for having spent a great deal of time and effort to invalidate individuals who were so-called mediums communicating with the dead because he detested this type of trickery.

Modulation of Physiology

The modulation of physiology is similar to the technique used by the individual when they are learning to play a wind instrument and involves breathing from the diaphragm. When the individual exhales and a hand is placed on their stomach, the individual's stomach moves towards the individual's spine and as the individual inhales, the abdomen expands. This is referred to as 'reverse breathing' since most individuals breathe precisely in the opposite manner or inhaling causes chest expansion and abdomen contraction. This type of breathing is referred to as thoracic breathing.

The healthiest type of breathing is reverse or diaphragmatic breathing because the air is able to expel from the bottom of the lungs, which is then replaced by fresh air. Breathing is reported as a "present-time, mindful process" because breathing is "always happening right now. You cannot be fondling memories or planning your future when you are contemplating your breath. Observe your breath and you are automatically in the present. You are in the here-and-now." (Seabourne, ) One type of breathing strategy is where one pays attention to the sensation created with the passing of air through the nostrils and to inhale through the nose.

II. Psychological and Physiological Factors that Affect the Heart Rate

There are reported to be various factors both psychologically and physiologically that affects the individual's heart rate. The individuals' heart rate is reported to be unique to that individual's body and is a self-regulating process. The individual does not have to do anything and the heart keeps beating and as well, the heart maintains its own rhythm to keep the individual alive. However, the individual's hormonal responses and central nervous system (CNS) as well as the autonomic nervous system (ANS) has the potential to affect the heart's rhythm and speed. One's hormones sends chemical into the blood to affect the pace of the heart and the heartbeat becomes faster or slower dependent upon how the individual's nerves stimulate their heart. (Seabourne, nd)

When the individual is mindful, they are able to "predict and override a conditioned physiological response" (Seabourne, nd) In other words, the individual is able to regulate their heart rate when they are threatened and allows them to appropriately handle any situation. The control center for the heart rate is the medulla of the human being's brain and may either speed up or slow the number of heart beats per minute. (Seabourne, nd, paraphrased)

III. The ANS, SNS, and PNS

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is stated to have two components include the following:

(1) Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS); and (2) Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). (Seabourne, nd)

The SNS is reported to speed up the rate of the heart through hormonal release of a chemical called norepinephrine, epinephrine and catecholamines. (Seabourne, nd, paraphrased) When the human heart increases "to a frenzy this is termed tachycardia. There are no cardiovascular benefits when your sympathetic nervous system increases your heart rate. It is simply your hormones sending stimulating chemicals to your heart, and nerves directly affecting your heart to respond to an emergency." (Seabourne, nd)

The PNS is located in the individual's brain stem and the PNS is that which slows the rate of the heart. When the individual's heart rate becomes slower they experience bradycardia. (Seabourne,, paraphrased) Seabourne (nd) reports that Yogis are able to slow their heart rates to under 20 beats per minute (BPM) and also reports that Harry Houdini "the famous magician was able to survive in a coffin-sized airtight box for hours."

IV. Nerve and Hormonal Regulation of the Heart Rate

It is reported by Seabourne (nd) that the individual's nerves and hormones are together that which regulates the heart rate of the individual whether that individual is moving or if the individual is still. When one begins training their heart rate experiences a speed up due to PNS inhibition or in other words "…the mechanisms that slow your heart are essentially turned off, and your BPM naturally increases. Other factors besides exercise that affect the pace of your heart include blood sugar levels, different foods, lack of sleep, anxiety, fear, and anger. Chronic nervousness, sometimes referred to as 'trait anxiety' can cause your heart rate to remain elevated for extended periods." (Seabourne, nd)

The better shape one is in the slower that individual's heart rate, or at least that is the assumption however, it is reported that Bjorn Borg had a resting heart rate of 35 BPM and that Frank Shorter, marathon superstar had a resting heart rate of 175 BPM. The truth is that the individual's genetics account for approximately 50% of what the individual's maximum heart rate actually will be. Seabourne reports that the smaller heart will beat faster than will a larger heart and that heart rate is not affected by either body fat percentage of body type. The fact is that the more fit the individual is the stronger the individual's heartbeat or stroke volume and "fitness determines heartbeat strength and duration." (Seabourne, nd)

When an individual is tired or on medication as well as being under stress, at high altitudes or in high humidity the heart rate will experience change. The individual must be mindful of factors of the environment. When the individual is performing activity that is high in intensity the sympathetic nervous system increases the heart rate through direct stimulation of the individual's nerves. Seabourne reports that physical training for many years serves to increase the "parasympathetic nervous slowdown by stimulating the individual's vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is that responsible for bringing about a slowdown in the rate of the heart. Increases in vagal stimulation the heart rate slows to bradycardia when the individual is not working out. (Seabourne, nd, paraphrased)

The most influential factor in the determination of the heart rate during exercise is stated to be CNS. For example, when the individual ties their running shoes the CNS relays a message to the individual's medulla that it should prepare for activity. The result is that the rate of the heart increases before training even begins due to the anticipation of a workout. Findings show that the heart rate may increase by "as much as 100%." (Seabourne, nd)

V. Houdini's Last Performance

The last performance of Harry Houdini is likely the most impressive performance of his entire career. He had agreed to being submerged in an airtight box about the size of a coffin if a new attraction "a self-styled Egyptian fakir, twenty-six-year-old 'Rahman Bey' could remain in an airtight box for an hour. Bey did so and Harry Houdini, nearly twice the age of Bey set out to beat Bey's record.

Houdini had several test runs with this experiment with his doctor in attendance and found that he could remain in the airtight box for over an hour under specific conditions and those being that first, he remained perfectly still and secondly that he breath very shallowly and refrain from becoming agitated or overly excited. The box that Houdini was submerged in held 26,428 cubic inches of air, or 15 cubic feet "less the space displaced by the magician's body and by a telephone and batteries that Houdini had installed." (Randi, 2008)

While there were those who claimed that Houdini must have a hidden supply of oxygen in the coffin-like box, the fact appears to be that as written by Carrington of the event:

"Houdini remained submerged in a metal coffin for about an hour and a half; but when he emerged he was deathly white, running with perspiration and with a pulse of 142. I was present at this experimental burial, as at many others, and know whereof I speak. It is my opinion that Houdini appreciably shortened his life by this endurance burial." (Randi, 2008)

While the scientists overseeing the experiment believed that there was only three to four minutes of air supply in the coffin-like box, Houdini managed to remain submerged in the box well over an hour's time. It is clearly obvious that Houdini used some of the techniques described in the work of Seabourne, reviewed in this study, which slowed his heart rate, slowed his rate of breathing and…

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