Updated: Aug 30, 2021
I have been experimenting with the breatharian process the past 6 months, and the benefits have been so immense, that I'm starting to seriously consider it for a longer duration. This goes by many names, including and not limited to "pranic living", "breatharian lifestyle", "living on light" and so on. To put it simply, this is the process of consuming very less food, or none at all, combined with a fair amount of exercise and meditation practices to live on prana. This is a small but growing international community, though it is part of Vedic culture since time immemorial.
For me, it started as a 9-day juice detox, with a facilitator during the lockdown, which I extended to 21-days, and then eventually to 90-days. I broke the detox with solid food for a couple of months, and then I returned to it again in Feb this year, combining it with a dry fast (neither solids, liquids nor water) every now and then. This is more than mere fasting - it is combining it with a holistic lifestyle that includes a fair amount of exercise and meditation.
I have reduced solid food intake by around 75%, exercising 2-3 times a day, and meditating close to an hour a day on average. Weight has fallen from 62-63 kg to 54-55 kg in 6 months, sleep has decreased from 8 to 5-6 hours a night, and hunger has decreased, though not eliminated completely. But. Energy has shot through the roof.
The reason for this blog is to share my experiences on this journey, answer some of the FAQs I keep getting, and link it all back to Vedic Astrology.
The link to Yogic Philosophy
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali has laid out 8 limbs of Yoga - yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. These are referred to as "limbs" of yoga and not "stages" of yoga. That's a big difference, because what it implies is that we don't have to master one, before moving to the next. We need to work on all of them in parallel, and not omit any limb from our lives. Meaning, we should not do asana alone, and ignore the yamas, niyamas, pranayama, and so on. If we have to address all these limbs, then we need to have a fair understanding of what each limb is referring to.
The yamas and niyamas are a series of do's and don'ts to put it simply. The yamas are ahimsa (non violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (not stealing), brahmacharya (sexual restraint) and aparagriha (non possessiveness). The niyamas are shauch (purity), santosh (contentment), tapas (perseverance), svadhyaya (self introspection) and Ishvarapranidhana (surrender to the Supreme).
In it's totality, yoga gives us access to such an incredible amount of energy, that it becomes necessary for the yamas and niyamas to be the foundation of our lives - else, the energy gets directed in unwholesome places. It will take lifetimes to master each of these yamas and niyamas. For me, these are states of being, which require us to be mindful from moment to moment, and not something that we "acquire" and check off, but constantly strive towards.
Asana is a set of physical postures or poses, designed to release blocks in the body, and get the body ready to "sit" in one position for extended periods of time. This is necessary for the practice of pranayama, which is the process of controlling, slowing, restraining and even stopping breath. While the yamas and niyamas address our lifestyles through action and inaction, the asanas address the physical body through poses and movements, and pranayama addresses the subtle and the subtle-physical bodies using breath as a tool.
The next limb is pratyahara, derived from 2 words, prati meaning "to withdraw", and ahara meaning food. So pratyahara implies withdrawal from food, and I believe (though I may be mistaken) that the food being referred to here, is food for the 5 senses, and not just the physical food. Let's keep it simple for now, and speak only of the physical food for the body.
This is when a whole set of questions arise in the mind - how can we withdraw from food? How will the body survive? Where will it get the nutrition it needs? Will it not just wither away and die from starvation? Is this what the scriptures are asking from us - to starve to death? We can't be further away from the truth with these questions. To answer these questions, let's ask ourselves why we eat.
Have you ever wondered why we eat? It may surprise you to learn that "nutrition" will actually be far down the list - the truth is that many of us eat for many other reasons, apart than "nutrition". It can be out of boredom, or to cope with stress, maybe because others are eating, or because food is available, because we are tired or because it is a special occasion. Sometimes, we eat because the clock says so, or because we don't wish to waste what's on our plate, or maybe because we are feeling unloved. The list could go on, and it would be an interesting exercise to just pause, and reflect on this question every time we eat - why do we eat. Having some answers will help with pratyahara.
How do we do this?
We have been conditioned to eat and drink since millennia, and if we are to switch from food-as-we-know-it to prana, it would take a different duration for each of us, depending on our association and relation with food. But it is possible. All the energy and nutrition that the body needs is given by the Sun, the sole creator, nourisher and protector in our Solar System. This energy is stored in different amounts in plants and animals, which the body extracts in the process of digestion.
But digestion itself is an energy intensive process - the body uses energy in order to extract energy! So if can we give the body what it actually needs, directly and in its purest form, straight from the Source (a.k.a. the Sun), that would be more energy efficient, as it will save the body the time and energy to chew, digest, extract energy and discard the food. The energy it saves in the process becomes available for use elsewhere, to make nutrients for instance, or to fight disease.
So is it possible to get energy directly from the Sun? It was initially difficult for me to accept this, but slowly I have been sensing this other form of food that supports, nurtures and nourishes the body. This is a journey on its own, and may take months, if not years to de-condition the body and mind, and re-learn a new way of living. We cannot ask/expect this to be the same for all of us, and we will have own experiences. But some commonalities in our journeys will be
a reduction in the intake of food
an increase in the daily duration and frequency of exercise
an increase in the daily duration and frequency of meditation
This is easier said than done, so let's take it one by one.
In order to reduce the intake of food, I went on a liquids-only diet for an extended period of time, and am now integrating dry fasts. By taking liquids, I am giving the body the nutrition it needs (in the conventional sense of the term), but making it easier on the digestive system. "Liquids" can be any liquids, such as waters, juices, soups, smoothies, etc. Slowly we can make the liquids more and more thin, by diluting them with water. This is the pratyahara part of the process.
For exercise, any and all exercises are good for the body, and we should exercise at least twice a day. There are days when I have been exercising thrice a day, and I have found that the meditative and reflective exercises such as walking, swimming, asana, tai chi and qigong are better suited for the breatharian lifestyle. A special mention for exercises done outdoors, barefoot and in nature, as we need to be absorbing all the prana possible. But let's not ignore the other exercises such as cardio and weights, as they are super for building muscle! This is where asana plays a role in the process.
With regards to meditation, I have found that what is actually needed is the ability to move the energy freely around the body, removing anything that blocks its flow. Hence, meditations that involve movement within the body system seem better suited for this lifestyle. So I have been resorting to pranayama and vipassana a lot more these days. I have also shared a micro-vipassana meditation inspired by legendary breatharian, Elitom El-Amin on the Meditations page of my website. It is known as the Microcosmic Orbit, and is an important energy cultivation technique in the Taoist tradition.
Other meditation techniques such as focusing on an object such as one's breath, or on a candle flame, etc. can help increase our focus and resolve on this path. These are collectively called as dharana in Patanjali's system of yoga. If all thought and distractions cease, and you are able to hold the object of meditation alone, then dharana becomes the 7th limb, dhyana. There will be times when you will oscillate between dharana and dhayana before being able to rest in dhyana at will. If you lose your self-awareness, and the object of meditation appears as the subject itself, then this is the state of samadhi.
Think of these three - reducing food, exercising daily and meditating more often - as the three legs of a tripod, and if any of them are missing from your practice, the tripod will not be stable. If you stick with this, then over a period of time, you will almost certainly experience a physical, mental and emotional detox, a decrease in weight and lightness of being, an increase in the amount of energy and a reduction in the amount of sleep, as well as an increase in health and overall wellbeing.
This is turning out to be a longer article than I thought. So I'll stop here for now, and make the "Link to Vedic Astrology" as a separate blog (available here), and in the meantime, here's a conclusion.
For a lifestyle to be truly holistic, we need to address all the limbs of yoga. If we do just the yamas and niyamas, then we're being simpletons. With asana alone, we become fitness freaks. With pranayama alone, the mind runs the risk of psychological imbalances. With dharana and dhyana alone, our bodies will stagnate and we get a pot belly! And with samadhi alone, we don't transform material nature.
Our lives are set up, and revolve around food - we come together with friends and family over a meal, and there are countless food stores and restaurants around us. So if you choose this path, it will demand courage, perseverance and dedication to break from the general flow, and make a new path for yourself. A poem by Robert Frost (1874-1963) seems to capture my thoughts rather well
"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."
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