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.

Holiday Carols for the Season
Nothing can get you into the holiday spirit quite like holiday carols.

Holiday Carols are a great way to spread the holiday spirit and really get people in the Christmas mood.

Traditionally, a holiday carol is a religious song of joy linked to a particular season. Most people associate carols with Christmas. Many of the most popular carols sung in churches were written in the Victorian age.




Holiday Carols for Caroling

  • “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is a fairly recent song made popular by Bing Crosby. It was actually written as a plea for peace during the Cuban missile crisis, but the writer, Noël Regney, was inspired to add the Christmas lyrics.
  • “Here We Come A-wassailing” is from the English tradition of orphans and beggars dancing and singing in the streets hoping to get treats and drinks from the homes of the gentry during the Christmas season.
  • “Mary, Did You Know?” debuted in 1991 and has become a very popular Christmas song.
  • “O Holy Night” was added to the list of Christmas carols by French poet Placide Cappeau. Adolphe Adam, a French composer, wrote the music. Opera singer Emily Laurey was the first to sing the tune, but there are many current renditions of this familiar song that reflects on the birth of Jesus.
  • “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was given to us by Charles Wesley, but George Whitefield gave us the adaptation we’re more familiar with today. Felix Mendelssohn’s music was adapted by an English composer to fit the words and phrasing.
  • “The Little Drummer Boy” might have been made popular by the 1968 television special, but it was actually recorded by the Austrian Trapp Family Singers in 1951. “The Little Drummer Boy” is a carol from Czechoslovakia, which has been recorded multiple times by many popular singers.
  • “Joy to the World” is said to be the most-published Christmas carol in North America. Isaac Watts wrote the lyrics, basing them on Psalm 98. The music is thought to be based on the “Messiah” oratorio by George Frideric Handel, but there is no actual evidence to support this.

Other Holiday Staples


  • “What Child Is This?” is more popular in North America than in its birthplace of England. The tune is from a traditional English folk song, “Greensleeves.” William Chatterton Dix wrote the lyrics for the Christmas carol, which has been recorded by many popular artists for special Christmas albums.
  • “Mary, Did You Know?” debuted in 1991 and has become a very popular Christmas song. Michael English was the first to record it, but Clay Aiken, Cee Lo Green and Pentatonix have all created their own version of the song.
  • “O Holy Night” was added to the list of Christmas carols by French poet Placide Cappeau. Adolphe Adam, a French composer, wrote the music. Opera singer Emily Laurey was the first to sing the tune, but there are many current renditions of this familiar song that reflects on the birth of Jesus.
  • “We Three Kings of Orient Are” was written in the mid-19th century by an American clergyman who served in the Episcopal Church. It’s actually about an event that occurred after the birth of Christ, but it remains a popular Christmas song.
  • “Angels from the Realms of Glory” was written by Scottish poet James Montgomery and first published in 1816. The music was added later, with English and American versions to different tunes.
  • “O Little Town of Bethlehem” was penned by Phillips Brooks, a priest in the Episcopal Church. His organist would add the music. Neither believed that the hymn would outlive the first performance during the 1868 Christmas season, but it’s one of the most popular Christmas carols today.

Expand Your Caroling Horizon

This year, as you sing the Christmas music of your faith, think about the message in the words. Remember that the season is about family and friends, Christ’s birth and goodwill toward all. Be kind toward each other and consider that not everyone celebrates Christmas as you know it. “Happy Holidays” is a greeting that encompasses many different faiths. Use it when in doubt.