Fox News is reporting that the woman, who was in her early 50's, saw a film about "breatharians" - people who survive on an alleged universal life force energy alone. The film featured an Indian yogi named Prahlad Jani, 83, who claims to have lived without food for seven decades.
After watching the film, the woman decided to try it, and read a how-to book by Australian breatharian, Ellen Greve (who goes by the name Jasmuheen) entitled Living on Light: A Source of Nutrition for the New Millennium. Greve teaches that a person can survive on prana, which she calls "liquid light," and 300 calories a day and claims to have some 5,000 followers worldwide.
As instructed, the woman stopped eating for a week, even spitting out her saliva, then began to take fluids in the second and third weeks.
Her children became concerned about her fast, but she reassured them that she would stop it if it became dangerous.
Unfortunately, they later found her dead in her home.
A coroner determined that she had died of starvation.
The woman's death was the fourth known fatality linked to breatharianism and Jasmuheen's books.
Breatharianism, which is practiced by Tibetan monks for short periods of time, became popular in the early 90's by people who believe that the elements contained in air - nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen and hydrogen - can sustain a body. Also called inedia, it is characterized by a complete absence of food and the ability to maintain the body by achieving a certain level of "raised consciousness." While some breatharians sometimes drink some water or tea, true breatharians take no solid or liquid nourishment at all.
The modern practice of breatharianism was begun by a man named Wiley Brooks, founder of the Breatharian Institute of America, who claims to have not eaten for 30 years. A self-proclaimed spiritual teacher and "interdimensional traveler," he became famous in 1981when he appeared on the TV show, "That's Incredible" when he lifted 10 times his own body weight.
Sadly, the Swiss woman did not live long enough to discover a few facts about the breatharians she was emulating. Newspaper reporters found Greve's home to be loaded with food (which she claimed was for her husband) and although she swears she hasn't eaten since 1993, she admitted to the UK's Sunday Times in 1999 that she sometimes enjoys a mouthful of food from time to time, such as chocolate and cheesecake. When the TV show "Sixty Minutes" subjected her to a test to be sure she was truly living on nothing but prana, she failed and was on the verge of organ failure when the test was halted.
Jani, who claims to sustain himself by meditation alone, believes he was blessed by a goddess as a child. As for his claims to have survived for seven decades without food, independent observers are never permitted near enough to him to prove it. As this blog recounts, Jani and his sidekick, Dr. Sudhir Shah, has been pulling publicity stunts for years. This blog will give you more details.
But this shouldn't surprise anyone. Wiley himself was a fraud. He was involved in a scandal in 1983 when he was caught sneaking out of a 7-Eleven with a hot dog, Slurpee and a box of Twinkies. He later blamed the whole episode on a jilted ex-lover who he said was spreading lies about him - but did admit that he does occasionally "take food" when he's away from nutrient rich air.
The moral of this story is to do your homework before embarking on any kind of extreme diet and to pay closer attention to Church teaching on the kind of respect we owe our body:
"Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them . . . " (No. 2288) and "If morality requires respect for the life of the body, it does not make it an absolute value. It rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for its sake . . ." (No. 2289)
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