How To Use Your Mind To Control Your Heart Rate

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You may be familiar with research showing that highly trained Tibetan monks are able to control their body temperature by using the power of their mind, even to the point they are able to dry wet blankets with their body heat. This was first recorded by Dr. Herbert Benson, one of the world’s leading scientists in mind body medicine who I interviewed for my film The Connection.  In the 1980s Dr. Benson showed that meditating monks could increase the temperature of their fingers and toes by as much as 8.3 °C and other researchers have since found similar results.


The findings are an extraordinary demonstration on the complexity of the mind body connection. It indicates that the systems we think of as automatic in our body such as the heart beating or our lungs breathing may be able to be influenced by conscious thought. I suspect it’s been largely overlooked because the intense mental training the monks have undergone would be difficult to apply to ‘real world’ settings.


Here is a short clip from Dr. Benson talking about his early research into meditation, the physiological changes that occur and his discovery of the Relaxation Response.




But this week, I was stunned to come across research showing that untrained people are also able to consciously influence physical functions thought to be operating in the automatic, unconscious systems of the body. It turns out that it’s not that hard.


Professor Ellen Langer from Harvard wondered if people could consciously control their heart rate after simply measuring it regularly for one week without any instruction, training, or prior experience in mindfulness or heart rate moderation techniques.


Participants were assigned to one of four groups:

(1) High Attention group. These people recorded their heart rate every three hours during waking hours.
(2) Moderate Attention group. These people recorded their heart rate twice per day at a variety of times during the day.
(3) Stability group. These people recorded their heart rate in the morning upon waking and at night before bed when their heart rate was expected to be relatively stable.
(4) No Monitoring group. These people only recorded their activity during the day and did not measure their heart rate.


After a week the participants were brought into a lab and told to not to intentionally change muscle tension or breathing and asked to ‘use your mind to change your heart rate.’  The results were amazing. Both the Stability group and the Moderate Attention group weren’t very good at increasing their heart rate. But the High Attention group did significantly better.


It’s interesting that Langer and her team conducted a mindfulness test on the participants based on a scale Langer has developed to measure the degree in which a person is naturally mindful. Those who scored the highest on the mindfulness scale were better at raising their heart rate and had greater control of their heart rate regulation. Langer points out in her book Counter Clockwise, that her research doesn’t show how they did it but that the findings highlight the potential effects that the act of paying attention can have on our health.  Through this biofeedback experiment, we see that people learn to change their physical function simply by paying regular attention to fluctuation. Langer writes, “The High Attention group, told to notice change, were simply exposed to conditions that would foster learning.”


For me the other significant take home message from this study is the simplicity of the technique used to evoke mindfulness in the participants. By having them regularly measure their heart rate, the participants were learning focused attention, which lead to an intuitive ability to influence their body’s functions. I’ll be turning my own mind towards investigating ways I can actively start using the simple act of regular measurement to create self-awareness.


If you want to learn more simple, evidence based techniques that you can use to affect your body and improve your health then you can watch my feature documentary, The Connection.


  • Flowstate Adventure

    Great article Shannon. I love reading about scientific confirmations of mind-body connection. Keep em coming!

  • Joyce Garforth

    Likewise, I am always interested in how to explore what my dormant braincells can be awakened by.

  • Shannon

    Thanks guys. Lovely to get some feedback.

  • Robb

    Having had arrhythmia for the past ten years and having meditated for over 20 years, I have used mindfulness and breathing exercises to control my heart rate. I can slow my heart to 50 beats a minute or increase it as sometimes my heart rate is too slow. I also suffer with irregular heart beat which I can also normalise with these techniques. Changing my diet and lifestyle has also had a huge impact on my well being. Your film completely verifies my own experience. Firstly, taking responsibility for your own health and welfare and not expecting a doctor to do it for you. Secondly, checking out the stress you put yourself under in everyday, mundane activities. From there, everything else falls into place.
    Thanks for everything you are doing to promote this realisation.

  • Alicia

    Another great article Shannon! How fascinating.

  • Bob

    Quantum Physics is suggesting that we exist in a "Participatory Universe". In other words, what we think and feel has consequences for "material" matter. Experiments have suggested that by the mere fact that we observe something we change it. My sense is that our thoughts / observations / feelings have much farther reaching consequences than we are presently willing to entertain. If we can influence out heart rates by simple observation, perhaps our respiratory rate and blood pressures can be influenced as well. Try going to your local pharmacy with a blood pressure / heart rate device and experiment. I have tried this and have found that I can influence all of these bodily functions. we can learn this by simple bio-feedback methods. This is simple thing to do. If we can potentially do this, what else can we do? Can we influence, in a positive way, the course of any disease we ourselves may currently have? Can we influence cancerous tumors? Can we assist others in this manner, helping them to overcome their ailments. Can we consciously change the course of both our health and the health of others? On a grander scale, can we influence the direction that all of humanity is taking? Are we doing this anyway, without knowledge of what we are doing? Something to think about? Maybe we should read about learn from the Yogis of the past and present where this kind of thing is all too familiar to them. Meditation can be a powerful tool. Knowing the potential of our mind/body, maybe we should always be aware of our thoughts and feelings and bring ourselves to an internal state of peace for our well-being and the well-being of others. Just some thoughts on the subject…..

  • karen

    How fascinating, I am a one to measure all sorts of things these days & have noted that it has also led me to some solutions for things, what wonderful insight to be backed with research. Sounds very much like quantam physics

  • Adelante!

    This is basic "biofeedback" technique…and I don't mean to belittle it by calling it basic, only that your mind can be trained to influence your body when given positive feedback about success. As a Migraineur, I've just been trained to use my mind to raise my skin temperature, which is an indicator of vascular constriction, in order to avoid the chronic vasoconstriction which leads to migraines. I can raise the temperature of my hands by 8-10 Celsius in the space of 4-5 minutes.

  • Shannon

    I'm fascinated to know more about how you went about training your mind. Thanks for your comment.

  • Shannon

    Thanks for your thoughts Bob. I completely agree that research like this highlights infinite possibility.

  • Shannon

    Thanks Rob. It seems like the research is just starting to catch up with people like you. It must be a lovely feeling to have the scientific world validate what you have already found to be true.

  • Shannon

    Thanks Alicia. It's feedback from people like you that it's fueling me at the moment. Much appreciated.

  • Nikki

    Amazing. I observed a u tube video of therapists curing cancer with positve intention and chanting. The patient was also required to positively visualise recovery. An ultra sound showed the tumour reducing in size. It was amazing!

  • Adelante!

    Biofeedback training for migraines: Martyn R. Thomas, in Toronto. He has years of clinical data. through the biofeedback training program one learns to go to 'mental neutral' which is a way of saying anything that makes you happy/relaxed, which reduces stress, which reduces vasoconstriction. Different than mindfulness in that 'purposeful' but also much the same. It's not a "cure" its a lifetime practice…with all sorts of other benefits.

  • Robb

    Hi Shannon, wondered if you had come across this work, all the best Robb

    How does our focused attention affect our manifested reality?

    Energy moves with intention

    William Tiller and psychenergetics

    Notes from an interview with Professor Tiller by Lilou Mace: 15 October 2012

    Tiller is a Stanford scientist who became interested in the experiences he had through meditation.

    He has spent over 40 years exploring the effects of conscious intention on the physical world and did rigourous experiments on the significant measurable effects on pH of water and biological organisms like liver enzymes and fruit fly larvae when exposed to focused intentionality of people meditating at deep levels.

    He is a primary proponent of the thesis that expectations and intention of experimenter affect the outcomes of experiments.

    He has developed an ‘intention host device’ for ‘broadcasting’ intention over distance, for example for healing and other positive outcomes.*

    Biography: William Tiller Ph.D

    Fellow to the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, Professor Emeritus William A. Tiller, of Stanford University's Department of Materials Science, spent 34 years in academia after 9 years as an advisory physicist with the Westinghouse Research Laboratories. He has published over 250 conventional scientific papers, 3 books and several patents. In parallel, for over 30 years, he has been avocationally pursuing serious experimental and theoretical study of the field of psychoenergetics which will very likely become an integral part of "tomorrow's" physics. In this new area, he has published an additional 100 scientific papers and four seminal books.

    Fundamental hypothesis:

    We are spiritual beings having a physical experience. He refers the body as our ‘biobody suit’, and believes we need to work on something more advanced in this time where we are ‘wrapping up’ the current epoch. In the frequencies we are moving toward everything goes faster than light. We are on a ladder of understanding and we are now ascending the second rung. This will radically change our reality.

    We need to grow in coherence and intentionality to become co- creators. We are babes on the floor of the universe and we have a long way to grow. People are beginning to work on it and this will facilitate major change. Tiller gives the example of a light bulb: destructive interference restricts light output of ordinary lightbulbs. If we can make the light rays more coherent, vastly more light is given out. This is what happens with focused consciousness and intention. John Wheeler calculated the vacuum has to contain 10 to power 94 energy per cu cm – this means that the average density of electromagnetic matter in the cosmos is a very big number. Wheeler also calculates the energy in a single hydrogen atom is a trillion times bigger – so there is more latent energy in that than in everything in the cosmos by orthodox calculation of energy. Tiller maintains that Chi kung and meditation are key to our development in this subtle realm.

    The placebo effect in medicine was previously almost zero, max 5 per cent.. Now it is 95 per cent. Connectivity of subtle energies allows slower than light matter to connect with faster than light matter. The placebo effect is multiplied by the doctor’s intention, the treatment, and the patient’s mindset. So the placebo result is getting closer to the treatment result. Everything is getting more connected in us and the cosmos. This coupling effect is growing in magnitude. This is a great adventure. His research shows the distance/time relativity theory is incomplete. Fine and coarse physical reality co-exist: as we approach velocity of light there is a shift into the faster than light domain. Relativity fits with the faster than light domain also. Einstein said you can’t go faster than light, but this only relates to one of these two realities. This can explain dark matter, dark energy and acceleration at the edge of the universe.

    Complementary medicine practitioners have been more open to these ideas because their work overlaps and operates in these areas of intentionality. Tiller is currently developing a medical programme. He has also studied the Buddha relics in relation to their claimed ability to affect human beings living today. He concludes that the Buddha relics act like an intentionality device and have consciousness. Is there consciousness continuing after death? His results indicate the answer is yes.

    More information from website:

    Resources include:

    understanding negative energies

    DVDs including a 7 hour presentation

    4 books

    28 free white papers

  • Shannon Harvey

    Thanks Robb. I'll check this out. Looks fascinating.

  • poopygoop

    Interesting article. I have been able to control my heart-rate since I was at least 9 years old (much older now). Its second nature at this point and can raise and lower it w/o much of an effort. Pretty sure it came about by my fear of test taking (still do but that’s my thing). Now it’s just a part of me. Used to purposely freak my wife then girlfriend out whenever she would rest her head on my chest. Eventually told her… Then there are the number of times I have regulated my heart-rate while a Dr. had a stethoscope against my chest. Have issues yes… Took years for me to be able to get to the point where it's as easy as pecking on a keyboard however what helped was consciously telling myself to slow down while feeling my heart beat. Now if only I can bend spoons or move objects! Kidding about that move objects and spoons…

  • Jake Daniels

    I just spent a few hours in hospital and my heart rate was tested. For fun I raised it and lowered it at request thinking this was normal. I was told this has never happened before and freaked her out. I jokingly said I would raise as high as possible but she stopped me as I could be close to a heart attack. I did this all while breathing regularly and talking. I can raise or lower within 5 seconds.
    Is this not at all common?

  • Shannon Harvey

    Hi Jake, I've never heard of someone without training being able to do this. Amazing.

  • Alex

    There a some people like me who can 'surge' its basically an intense feeling throughout the body which can be triggered immediatley just by….. doing it, its like moving your hands or legs, you just do. In the space of 5 seconds some can go from 80bpm to 180bpm just like that, im not sure why Anyone has done testing on this, it annoys me. It also make your pupils dilate, please someone do some testing on this ability.

  • Catherine Polumbus

    It appears from the study, that if you want to achieve a lower heart rate, quit worrying and DON'T take your pulse often. Better for high Blood Pressure?

  • Shannon

    Good point Catherine. It likely depends on your thoughts around that blood pressure reading. For some it's a cause for concern, for others, reassuring.

  • Marci Frazier

    OMG I thought I was the only one. I've been looking for research to explain how this is even possible. I can just sit and do this at any time. I can only do the "surge" for a brief period of time, however, because I find that if I hold onto it, my bpm goes too high too quickly. When I'm coming down from the surge, I feel a little drained. I always wanted to know what the "surge" was for.

  • Dr. Retardo

    Yes Jake, you're special.

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  • will

    I am right there with you, the last time i told somebody about this they told me i was on my way to paronoid skets.everything u said i have been able to do (131 being my highest bpm). Question? I kept switching the surge on and off whike concentrating on my thigh the other not and a shocking pinching pain occured right in that spot and prosisted for like 3 hour .Im use to focusing on one of my limbs and having the surge slowly and disjointly travel there, but never ever actually feeling pain. Has this happend to anyone else?

  • Joe

    I am fine with what you said. Just DON'T try to tie it to quantum mechanics.

  • Kaleb Clements

    Everyone knows how to do this, but quickly want to forget as you can cause yourself to have a heart attack through panic. We all do this when we are first conceived, we can all control our heartrate if you remember how to do it. You will be able to play with life and death. it's the real 'secret of life', and all it takes is some concentration. Be wary!! if this happens to you or has happened contact me please at

  • Jerry

    That "surge" is, my guess, a heart palpitation. Used to be able to somehow intentionally get them once.

  • Guest

    How do we raise our body heat temperature? should we concentrate on one part of our body? currently I can dilate my eyes, control my pulse rate and minimum blocking of my hearing with another sound(rumbling sound but it does not completely block every sound to my environment). I am not sure as well with the way I control it because it can go inside or outside or both ways but the both ways is really hard. I know that it has something to do with the pulse but im not sure if it has other effects.

  • terry weaver

    I know that this is true as I can willfully lower my pulse rate within a few minutes and by at least 10 bpm. I have a 3 minute video using a pulse ox meter showing my pulse lowering from 71 to 58. I didn't think this was unique at all until I told my dentist who was skeptical….until I took a video and then replicated this in his office. The only "trick" I employed was staring at the pulse number and getting "lost" in the number, or not thinking about anything. Was really fascinating to watch and then grab a video. I still do not think that this is unique, it's simply mind over matter.

  • Worldfalls

    I, too, can control my heartbeat. I've had many medical procedures and I usually get nervous. My heartbeat goes up to 100 or more. All I have to do to lower it is a simple 6-step deep breathing exercise. 1. Slowly breath in through the nose. 2. Hold it for ten seconds. 3. Slowly breath out through the mouth. 4. Don't inhale for 5-10 seconds. 5. Repeat steps 1-4. 6.Then breath normally twice. Then repeat the whole thing until you're relaxed. I've dropped my heart-rate more 20 bpm using that method. I used to do this before exams when I was in college. It really does relax you and lower both your heart rate and your blood pressure. It's amazing how much control we actually have over our bodies.

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  • Shehroze Iftikhar Qureshi

    Thanks sir very thank you

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    I, also doing exercise of high blood pressure & high heart beat rate to normalize without pills , More Diabetic Exercise also controls the pencrias function , which are performed twice a day but you cant left if a single day its continuous process.
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  • Dillon

    Using a portable EKG I bought from China, I can now increase my heart rate without any changes to breathing or muscle tension all the way up to 190bpm. It's difficult, and potentially dangerous, but very very interesting to me.

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About the author: Shannon Harvey

Shannon Harvey is a journalist and producer who was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when she was 24 years old. Although doctors meant well, none could offer her a cause or a cure. Since then Shannon has been researching the latest scientific research linking her mind and body to health outcomes. Nearly 10 years have passed since her diagnosis and today Shannon is well and not taking medication. Shannon has worked as a television, radio and online journalist and producer and has a Master’s degree in Communications. She worked for the ABC and Fairfax before starting her own production company, Elemental Media. Shannon is the director of the feature film The Connection.



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The Connection is a feature documentary and blog about integrating the latest science in mind body medicine into our everyday lives.


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