The power of mind over matter can lead to some truly remarkable outcomes. Recently we covered epic feats of athletic endurance, but here we’ll look at 3 feats of mental endurance. Each is totally different, and could only be achieved through a bizarre level of dogged determination, self-control and cognitive skill.
Under the supervision of Stanford University researchers, high school student Randy Gardner went a continuous 264 hours without sleep. Since it was set in 1965, this record has stood the test of time. The feat of going 11 straight days wide awake was done without the use of any stimulants, such as caffeine.
Attempts at breaking the sleep deprivation records are now officially unrecognized and deemed unethical, due to the severe risks involve. Among other side-effects, there is actually a real risk of dying from the brain simply packing up. Though Randy maintained some abilities, allowing him to play games like pinball to keep him going, by day 3 there were already signs of his motor-skills and speech deteriorating. By day 5 he started to experience hallucinations and paranoia.
Towards the end this young student really started to paid the price, both mentally and physically. His condition on day 11 was recorded as,
“Expressionless appearance, speech slurred and without intonation; had to be encouraged to talk to get him to respond at all. His attention span was very short and his mental abilities were diminished.’’
In this state, he was unable to perform even simple cognitive tests, basically forgetting what he was supposed to be doing just moments into an assessment. It’s not clear why Randy was so motivated to endure sleeplessness for so long, but what is clear, is that neither he or the researchers understood the severe risks involved.
Maybe you’ve tried to see how long you can hold your breath underwater. If so, you probably realized that most people struggle to reach even 60 seconds before having to burst up for air. As far as standard benchmarks go for typical human survival limits, the estimate is 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, and 3 minutes without oxygen.
In comes Stig Severinsen, the Danish diver with a mission to defy the laws of survival. No ordinary diver, Stig holds a PhD in medicine, is a yoga expert, and has committed to mastering the art of breathing as a lifelong career. After settings numerous free diving records, in 2012 Stig did the seemingly impossible – he went a full 22 full minutes underwater without any assistance.
Relying on a form of underwater meditation, he entered into a purely calm and serene still of being. In this state he performed what he somewhat ironically calls Breatheology – the skill of perfect conscious breathing. This art is a stunning example of how the mind can be trained to control physical systems which are normally regulated unconsciously. Which is why Stig teaches the approach as a way to enhance wellness.
Through his achievement the fearless Dane earned the title of "The Ultimate Superhuman" on the Discovery Channel program Superhuman Showdown, which led to a documentary about his respiratory prowess: ‘‘Stig Severinsen: The Man Who Doesn’t Breathe’’.
Last but certainly not least, we have the unfathomable phenomena of the man called Prahlad Jani. Prahlad is a self-proclaimed breatharian monk who believes that the goddess Amba sustains him. This 82-year-old living embodiment of Indian mysticism, has perhaps the most humanly unnatural belief imaginable – that he hasn’t need to eat or drink since 1940!
Ordinarily this would be dismissed as pure quackery, however his claims were put to a rigorous test, when in 2010 he was kept under strict medical observation at Sterling Hospital in Ahmedabad, India. He was constantly monitored and tested by a team of 35 researchers from the Indian Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences.
Though already thin to begin with, he was certified as not eating or drinking anything, or receiving intravenous fluids, for 15 straight days. Corroborating this, he also didn’t urinate or pass stools at any point during the stay. If this wasn’t simply weird enough, rather than his organs failing from dehydration, as would be expected after several days without water, his vital signs remained perfectly normal throughout. This wasn’t the first time either, in 2003 he underwent to a similar study lasting 10 days.
It was hoped that studying Prahlad’s resilience to extreme fasting, could help to reveal new scientific discoveries to aid human survival during famine or life-threatening emergencies. Unfortunately though, this monk remains a genuine medical enigma, with the secrets to his supreme abstinence likely embedded deep inside a unique and mysterious mind.
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