I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Devotees of an odd philosophy claim people can live off what is called in Sanskrit “prana.” It translates into English as “life air.” So, instead of chowing down on pork chops and two veg, practitioners eat air. Of course, air does have the benefit of being low calorie but nutritionists and medical professionals advise that it’s entirely deficient in the vitamins and nutrients needed to keep people alive.
Prahlad Jani is an Indian monk who claims he hasn’t eaten any food nor drunk any water since 1940. He says he is kept alive by the Hindu goddess Amba and sunshine. Kind of like a solar panel?
Prana is the life force that keeps Prahlad Jani, 88 at the time of writing, ticking along. The concept is found in some ancient traditions of Japan, Polynesia, and China. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity have all advocated fasting as a path to spiritual enlightenment. Mahatma Gandhi fasted frequently and said the practice was “the truest prayer.”
But breatharianism is extreme fasting; neither eating nor drinking - ever. It is not possible to do this without dying within a few days. The human body adapts to starvation by first slowing down metabolism, then burning glucose. When that runs out it turns muscle into glucose before consuming fat. But, you’ll be dead before most of that happens because you can only survive seven to 10 days without water.
There aren't any exceptions to this rule; if you don't give the body the fuel it needs it dies. And, you can't suck vitamin C, potassium, or iron out of the air.
The World According to Ellen Greve
The no-food-or-water gang call themselves breatharians and one major guru of the fad is Ellen Greve. She’s an Australian woman who quickly realized that peddling her dietary advice needed a name with more pizzazz than Ellen Greve, so nowadays she’s Jasmuheen.
She is sustained, she says, by what she calls “Cosmic Micro Fuel.” Apparently, it’s all around us and it’s free even in the grocery stores where we waste our money on food. Silly Billies, aren’t we?
She says she’s been on this absence-of-food regimen since 1993. She does own up to taking an occasional cup of tea or a few drips of water, and, horrors, a nibble of chocolate or cheesecake.
The Guardian reveals that she has admitted her diet includes “tea with honey and soya milk, chocolate, crisps, soup, and the odd piece of fruit. Theoretically, a diet consisting of those foods in small amounts could represent a calorific intake to which the body could adjust without significant weight loss.”
Jasmuheen is happy to share her expertise with everybody even though she doesn’t practice what she preaches. So far, she’s written 38 books, or you can join her on a “Personal Regeneration Retreat.”
She’s a bit coy about the cost of these; if you ask that question on her website you get “Nothing Found.” On one retreat promo there’s a rather discouraging little note that says there are no refunds “unless students replace themselves.”
Presumably, students have to attend a cloning seminar first.
The Australian version of 60 Minutes decided it was time to visit with Jasmuheen. She agreed to a test that would prove that her “pranic energy” systems are the answer to world hunger. It is for moments such as this that the word foolhardy was invented.
Cognizant of legal liability, 60 Minutes enlisted the services of physician Dr. Berris Wenck to monitor Jasmuheen’s condition during a trial in a closed hotel room. Perhaps, she felt that while the good doctor was dozing she could scarf down a bag of potato chips and throw back a can of Fosters beer. No such luck. As The Independent reported “She was watched day and night by a female security guard to ensure she took neither food nor water.”
Of course, you know where this is going. After four days, Dr. Wenck noted her heart rate was double what it should have been and warned that Jasmuheen was in danger of kidney damage. She had lost 14 pounds and was dangerously dehydrated. 60 Minutes pulled the plug on the experiment.
Busted. But not in the mind of Jasmuheen. She claimed the dice were loaded against her because the city air of Brisbane was depleted of nutrients by pollution. No matter, her faithful followers still pay for her advice and a few of them die of starvation.
Lani Morris was an Australian mother of nine children who bought Jasmuheen’s malarkey. In 1997, she died of a stroke after vomiting up a black substance. She had been under the supervision of two breatharians during her initiation fast. They were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison.
Jasmuheen said Ms. Morris died because she had “the wrong motivation.”
In 1999, 49-year-old Verity Linn was found in a tent in a remote part of Scotland. She was stone-cold dead and the autopsy revealed the cause was dehydration and hypothermia. Her diary revealed she had begun a 21-day fasting program as recommended in Jasmuheen’s book Living on Light, a copy of which was found in her possessions.
Others have paid the ultimate price of trying to live on nothing but air and sunlight.
The Independent newspaper ran an article on Jasmuheen and noted that “Visitors to her large villa in the prosperous Chapel Hill area of Brisbane invariably find her refrigerator generously stocked with food, all of it destined, she insists, for the stomach of her second husband, Jeff Ferguson, a convicted fraudster.”
Early in the 20th century a woman called Linda Hazzard ran a clinic in Washington State. Her therapy for practically every ailment under the Sun was to deprive her patients of food. As many as 40 people died under her care, but she only served two years in prison for one manslaughter conviction. Ironically, she died of starvation while trying to cure herself of an undisclosed malaise.
Wiley Brooks founded the Breatharian Institute in the early 1980s and claims not to eat or drink. However, as UPI reported in 1983, “… his group recently has been severely shaken by charges that Brooks ordered chicken pot pie and biscuits in a Vancouver hotel.”
- “Jasmuheen.” Paul Willis, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1997.
- Untitled, Kathy Marks, The Independent, October 26, 1999.
- “Cult That Shuns Food Shaken by Reports Leader Is Eating.” Lidia Wasowicz, UPI, April 5, 1983.
- “Can Humans Survive on Air Alone?” Katie Lambert, How Stuff Works, undated.
- “Yogi Beaten by Bear Necessities of Life Without Food.” Glenda Kwek, Sydney Morning Herald, May 14, 2010.
- “Let Them Eat Air...” Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, September 28, 1999.
© 2018 Rupert Taylor
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 27, 2018:
Hey, Rupert, I have not heard of such a thing before. But I do know for sure that some cult or religious groups deny members of basic essentials. Air is not a food like water.
Cults like the one you describe in the story are self-delusion. Anyway, thanks for sharing.
Ashutosh Joshi from New Delhi, India on September 27, 2018:
I think like most cults, this one too needs scrutiny. I recently came across this concept and have since read about couple of these breathrarians. Not enough convincing data is really available. Some proclaimed ones even have denied sharing their medical records.
About Prahalad Jani, he has been on and off the radar. In 2003 and later in 2010 he was kept under observation for 10 days but nothing substantial came out in the public domain apart from the obvious.