Swallowing air

The breatharians eat light — real light

Maybe crystals do strengthen your aura. Maybe magnets do cure lower back pain. Giving up food and water forever, though, is just silly. And deadly. Other than that, breatharianism, the practice of living off air and light alone, has some unbelievable benefits. After a week without food or water, Steve Torrence claims he broke through to the extraordinary energy and strength described by the breatharians. The 37-year-old Florida musician says he and his wife are into their fourth food-free year (they drink a glass or two of fruit juice each week for fun) and reaping the benefits — no illness, little need for sleep, and a connection to a powerful, life-sustaining force. There’s also more time for his music: “Just think how many hours you waste on buying, preparing, and consuming food,” he says.

Followers find validation where they can, citing biblical references to fasting or Far Eastern traditions like China’s qigong, which counts among its millions of practitioners a handful who claim to go without solid food for weeks or even years. The rest they make up as they go along. Some believe, for example, that extraterrestrials who helped settle the Earth lived on air and light. Other breatharians commune with beings in subterranean civilizations like Telos, home to refugees from the lost continent of Lemuria.

Waste not. The closest the teachings come to a mainstream practice is fasting, which some believe rids the body of food-borne toxins accumulating in the bowels. Even that’s not widely accepted by Western medicine. Folks who fast for health “have an obsession with body waste,” says Frances Berg, a North Dakota nutritionist who helps debunk diet frauds. “The colon is a real interesting organ to them.”

Breatharians claim we could all tap into their nourishing life force if only we attained their level of discipline and enlightenment. Which, they acknowledge with a hint of condescension, may not be possible for everyone. “People just weren’t getting it, so I quit talking about it,” says Wiley Brooks, who credits himself with bringing breatharianism to the West. In the 1970s, he drew streams of paying customers to his classes in California. Then associates discovered him secretly scarfing junk food. They didn’t understand, Brooks says, that air pollution diminished his ability to absorb light and air energy. Now 66, he maintains a breatharian Web site from his home in Utah. He’s found that hamburgers can counteract the sickening effects of electrical power lines. “I don’t enjoy it,” he says of his beef. “It’s like medicine for me.”

Now the alpha breatharian is Jasmuheen, an Australian woman who says she quit eating in 1993 and has since altered her DNA to make food all the more unnecessary. She has reportedly gotten rich from the books, seminars, and weeklong retreats she markets on her hard-to-read-much-less-believe Web site, and she claims to have trained more than 10,000 in breatharianism. Her popularity even survived a debunking. Australia’s 60 Minutes TV show challenged her to live under surveillance three years ago but ended the test a few days later when a doctor warned that Jasmuheen’s health was collapsing. She blamed pollution from a nearby highway.

The exposé came after an Australian woman died in 1999 from dehydration on a remote Scottish moor with a copy of a Jasmuheen book called Living on Light. Two Australian breatharians went to jail for letting another initiate starve to death in 1998, and a German death the year before is tied to the teachings. Signing a recent E-mail with “love, light, and laughter,” Jasmuheen declined to be interviewed for this story. She’s on record, however, as blaming the victims for rushing, ill-prepared, into a powerful experience. If her methods were adopted carefully, she says, we would know no starvation and live in harmony. But even a guru needs a break. Jasmuheen admits that she succumbs to an occasional bite of cake or chocolate, purely for “emotional pleasure.”

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U.S. News & World Report, USA
Aug. 26, 2002

Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday August 25, 2002.
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