If you’re interested in spurious ideas and outlandish thinking, then there is a chance you’ve come across a totally “out there” claim made by some people who believe it is possible to live off air alone.
Now we’re not talking about some fad diet or slimming program here. We’re talking about a deeply held ascetic belief that food – and, in extreme cases, water – are not needed to live. According to acolytes of this particularly extreme belief, all you need is energy from the universe, which you imbibe by breathing it in.
Sound appetising? Well as far as dodgy spiritual ideas go, this one is certainly among the more dangerous, as people die from it.
The stuff of life
Modern “Breatharians”, as they call themselves, believe the human body is capable of obtaining all the necessary nutrients and substances to sustain itself through consuming sunlight, air, and “prana”. Not only is this celestial diet meant to be sufficient to keep someone alive, but it is also a prerequisite to obtaining a healthier and more enlightened existence.
As with so many of these things, the ideas underpinning this practice are based on spiritual concepts that have their roots in the ancient past, but have been adapted by contemporary new-age spiritual practitioners.
Prana, derived from the Sanskrit word for “breath”, “life force”, or some version of this, is a vague amorphous concept that features in yoga, Ayurveda (an alternative medicine system) and Indian martial arts. It is a subtle, unmeasurable “energy” that is similar to other mystical vital forces such as Chi (Qi) in Chinese medicine and martial arts. In some cases, prana has been understood as coming directly from the Sun and connecting all things.
“Prana is the sun that imparts life and light to everyone and dwells within the heart as the Self of all creatures,” one yoga website attempts to explain.
Understanding exactly what it is varies depending on who is speaking about it and in what context, but for most yoga and spiritual advocates, prana is something to be contemplated in conjunction with breathing or meditation exercises that help enhance the body.
But in extreme cases, as with Breatharians, it becomes the focus for sustaining life on its own.
Breatharians and their practice
According to one Breatharian group based in the Netherlands, called the Pranic Awakening Program, those who embrace this lifestyle can be divided into five subcategories, each based on the extent to which they allegedly renounce food.
At the top are those true souls who apparently have “no water and no food”, but this is apparently limited to “just a few people on Earth” who live like this. From there, the categories go from consuming no food but drinking water or tea, to mostly living off water/tea and enjoying the odd “light meal”, once or twice a week.
Apparently, these people “never get hungry, so when they do take a light meal it is mostly in a social setting, because in our society eating dinner together is a social activity.”
In a move that will be familiar to anyone interested in how cults are formed, the website then demonstrates a form of self-awareness where it acknowledges that “Living on Prana will be incomprehensible for many, something that is not possible because of learned beliefs that our body can only function when you eat.”
As such, a practitioner should anticipate a hard time from presumably concerned friends and family who apparently “lack understanding” and “fear” that living on prana alone is not possible. Because, they stress, a dedicated Breatharian, has to “really accept and truly believe it is possible to live on Prana”, despite what disbelievers say. Only then “will you be ready to take the next step on the evolutionary ladder” and experience “a higher vibrational level”.
This type of thinking is common to many supernatural and spiritual claims. Faith and sheer belief are the mechanism through which the impossible is achieved. If you do not experience the miracle, then it’s your fault for not believing hard enough.
“If you’re in any doubt”, the website claims, “you might complete the program but you then fall back into eating [solid] foods.” Equally, if you have “an abundance of old limiting beliefs and traumas in your cell memory you will get hungry again.”
In short, if it doesn’t work, don’t blame the system, blame the individual for not believing enough. But what do advocates of this extreme program make of cases where people have died from trying it? Are we to assume these people could not gather enough prana because of some personal doubt (or dodgy cell memory, or whatever bollocks they say)?
The human body needs food and water to survive. It is that simple, and this is not some complex belief system that needs much empirical research to show it. Instead, the burden of proof should be placed on those who claim they only live off sunlight, as many self-proclaimed gurus secretly eat food despite what they say.
If in doubt, look at the case of the famous Breatharian cult leader Wiley Brooks, who advocated this lifestyle in the 1980s and 90s and even advised Breatharian mothers to not feed their babies. The man was responsible for making the movement quite popular back then, but was caught sneaking into McDonald’s restaurants and other fast food stores to scoff on very real and tangible snacks.
Despite being rumbled, Wiley simply explained that McDonald’s restaurants were built on spiritual portals and that their food is good for you.
The Breatharian movement is an extremely dangerous lifestyle with zero evidence to back up its bogus claims. The concept of living solely on air and sunlight is scientifically unfounded and contradicts the fundamental principles of biology and nutrition.
But hey, what do we know. Perhaps living on a diet of sunlight, air, and bullshit really makes for a happy meal.
This article is part of our Inconceivable series debunking unscientific stories on the Internet.
All “explainer” articles are confirmed by fact checkers to be correct at time of publishing. Text, images, and links may be edited, removed, or added to at a later date to keep information current.