Breatharianism is a spiritual practice in which practitioners claim to be able to subsist without any food or water. The premise of breatharianism is that something besides food or water can sustain a human, usually either the prana life force or sunlight and air itself.
Breatharianism has existed for some time, and comes up in a number of cultures. It is usually connected to an esoteric spiritual practice, and often is part of a larger spiritual tradition. Many people who practice breatharianism, for example, believe that by doing so they are moving closer to an ideal state of existence, where the body becomes one with its “energetic” form of light, rather than its material form.
Breatharianism is most often connected to Eastern spiritual practitioners, who often link breatharianism to yogic teachings. Certain Jain beliefs also seem to be connected to breatharianism, with some people who have reached perfect enlightenment being said to exist without any food or drink. In this context, breatharianism can be seen as the natural result of extreme asceticism taken to its furthest conclusion.
In recent years there have been a number of high profile cases of people claiming to practice breatharianism, as well as a number of deaths resulting from people trying to join the lifestyle. The most well-known advocate is most likely the woman Ellen Greve, who adopted the name Jasmuheen. Throughout the 1990s she made many public claims about her abilities to go for months without any sort of food or drink.
In 1999 she was tested on those claims by the television show 60 Minutes, but the results seemed to indicate that she could not sustain herself without food or drink. Jasmuheen cited problems in the environment and the experiment itself, and although a doctor reported that she was already beginning to show signs of physical trauma after four days, she continued to advocate breatharianism as a healthy practice for those ready for it.
Also at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century, a number of people died trying to practice breatharianism. This caused a rather pronounced public outcry, labeling those who advocated breatharianism as dangerous frauds contributing to the death of innocents.
Breatharianism does not exist only as a concept in yogic and Jain spiritual teachings. Some practitioners of Chinese esoteric disciplines have claimed to sustain themselves for many months without food or water. Some Egyptian sources also appear to have advocated living with no food or water as a way of transcending the mortal body. And the concept of breatharianism is not uncommon in Catholicism, where reports of saints who lived for many years without eating or drinking anything — or in many cases only Communion — are quite common.
Breatharianism is often considered one of the more absurd esoteric claims made in the modern age. Many popular skeptics refuse to even give it the credence of publicly questioning it at any length. Nonetheless, it remains a fairly widespread belief in certain spiritual and religious circles, and seems unlikely to disappear anytime soon.