Living on Breath Alone: Breakthrough Beliefs or Deadly Doctrines?

Like most organisms on our planet, humans need food and water to survive. We’d die without them within a matter of days, but people calling themselves “Breatharians” insist that they live only on oxygen and an invisible life force. New self-styled gurus continue to surface and promote this ideology. To understand how and why Breatharians invest in such a risky belief system, it’s worth taking a look at their controversial ideas.

A Brief History of Breatharianism

Sometimes referred to as Inedia, Breatharianism’s basic premise is to survive only on air and the universe’s energy. Proponents believe that it is possible, if not ideal, to transition from consuming food and liquids to an existence free of these substances. The life force that’s supposed to sustain them takes on a variety of names, depending on who’s selling the concept. Most call it “prana,” the Sanskrit word for breath, but some use the Chinese term “chi.”

Just as the concept of religious fasting has older roots, anecdotes about spiritual masters subsisting on breath alone aren’t new. The 17th century Rosicrucian text “Comte de Gabalis” mentions Paracelsus, a Swiss occultist who asserts that he survived on “solar quintessence.” Prahlad Jani, an Indian mystic, confounded researchers in 2010 with statements that he didn’t need to eat or drink. GQ’s Breena Kerr lists more recent proponents, including Wiley Brooks, who appeared on the television show “That’s Incredible!” with similar claims. Later, an Australian woman calling herself Jasmuheen published the book “Living on Light” in which she promoted the same lifestyle. Tragically, five of her followers have died while attempting Breatharian practices.

A Resurgence of Popularity

Breatharianism would have remained in relative obscurity were it not for a series of sensationalist news articles in June 2017. As CNN’s Oliver Darcy reported, Californians Akahi Ricardo and Camila Castillo insisted they’d adhered to a mostly food-free regimen since 2008. The story was originally published by News Dog Media, a tabloid content agency based in the United Kingdom. It was eventually picked up by other outlets including Yahoo, The Daily Mail, and The Independent.

After the story gained notoriety, journalists and writers stepped up to debunk Breatharianism. Both Breena Keer and Patheos blogger David G. McAfee shared deep concerns about the health and safety of people attempting to go without food and water. Others pointed to a 1999 Australian television program in which Jasmuheen was housed in a hotel room and monitored 24 hours a day to confirm she didn’t consume food or water. This trial ended after four days because Jasmuheen exhibited slurred speech, dilated pupils, and 15 pounds of weight loss.

Yet despite the dangers, a small group of believers still try to undertake a Breatharian lifestyle. There are a few online communities such as Breatharianism Canada. Meanwhile, Ricardo and Castillo offer a “Breatharian challenge” course, which lasts eight days and is available for a regular price of $397. Wiley Brooks still operates the Breatharian Institute of America, and Jasmuheen continues to sell books and publish short instructional films on YouTube.

Some Skepticism Is Healthy

What accounts for such persistent faith in these deadly ideologies? Writing for Psychology Today Canada, Dr. Joe Pierre suggests an answer to this question. Improbable beliefs frequently possess a small grain of truth, such as limited fasting taken to extremes with Breatharianism. False claims can be dressed up with clever prose and spread widely online. Finally, confirmation bias can inhibit individuals from fact-checking content that supports their worldviews before accepting it as truth.

Forming beliefs and convictions is a natural human tendency. Balancing faith and reason is essential to this process. While ideas can lead to action, it’s important to make sure that we don’t cause harm to others or ourselves.

Choosing the Wedding Officiant for Your Ceremony
A wedding officiant marrying a couple.

Choosing the right wedding officiant can take your wedding from being great to being spectacular.

Once you’ve chosen a date, chosen your wedding colors and booked a venue, you have thousands of other details to manage in regards to your ceremony. A wedding coordinator might be able to handle the catering and decorations, but you and your future spouse are the only ones who can choose the wedding officiant. Whether you’re looking for a professional and skilled officiant or want a friend to do the service, you should still ask questions. Here are some of questions you can ask a potential officiant:

  • Are you available on our wedding date? Consider this carefully if travel is involved. Better to check the calendar first. Don’t forget to check the availability for your rehearsal dinner.
  • Can you personalize the ceremony? Many religious leaders use the ritual from the church, but some wedding officiants will allow you to customize your ceremony. At the ULC, we offer a template for our ministers, but it can be personalized to your own style.
  • How many pre-wedding sessions do you require? Although a friend or family member may not require pre-wedding counseling, some officiants might. It can help you get to know each other better, but the wedding officiant might charge for the sessions too. Find out what to expect before you sign a contract.
  • Do you charge a standard fee or do we make a donation to the church? When talking to a professional officiant, you want to make sure you know how much will be charged. Every minister is different. If you’re talking to a family member or friend, it might be awkward to bring up a fee, but remember that this person will be going above and beyond for your wedding, similar to your attendants.
  • How will you respect our wishes, if our beliefs don’t fall in line with yours? In today’s culture, it might be difficult to find a wedding officiant who believes exactly what the two of you do. Consider how the officiant acts when presented with personal requests and whether he or she respects your beliefs.
  • Do you want to come to the reception? Will you be bringing a guest? When you are having a catered dinner, one or two extras can throw the numbers off. You might be close to the fire code limit or not have enough seating for two extra. Make sure to find out all expectations before the wedding.
  • Do you have any restrictions on whether we can be married? Some officiants might not marry couples outside of their own faith. You may not be allowed to have another officiant take part in the ceremony.
  • Do you plan on giving a sermon during a wedding? We’re not sure why people think that a wedding is an appropriate place to proselytize, but some do.
  • What do you plan to wear? Can you adjust to our wedding style? If you’re having a themed wedding, better find out if the officiant will participate or not.
  • What happens if you get sick? No one wants to think about getting sick, but the reality is always there. Find out what the backup plan is before the wedding.

Other Considerations When Choosing a Wedding Officiant

Does the officiant make you feel comfortable? You want someone who is genuinely interested in your wedding and services. This person will be welcoming your guests and playing best supporting actor to you and your partner. Does the officiant have the presence to handle a noisy guest? What happens if someone stands up and says that you shouldn’t get married?

Before you start talking to wedding officiants, think about what you expect. Do you want someone spiritual or secular? Do you have special readings or music you want included? Will your officiant adapt to your wedding or do you have to adapt to his or her plan? By taking time to consider your options, you will find the right person to lead your ceremony.