Jani Prahlad born in 1929 is an Indian sadhu (ascetic) who claims that for the last 70 years he has had nothing to eat and not one drop of liquid to drink.
At the age of seven, Jani left his home in Rajasthan and went to live in the jungle. At the age of 11, Jani became a devotee of the Hindu goddess Amba who he claims provides him with a divine food that drops down through a hole in his palate, allowing him to live without food or water. The yogis call this divine food Amrit, a nectar produced by the pituitary gland that is referred to as the “drink of the gods”.
Since the 1970’s, Jani has lived as a hermit in a cave in a rainforest and to this day is said to wake at 4am everyday and spends his days in yoga exercises and meditation.
Two observational studies have been conducted (2003 and 2010) on Jani’s claim of being a breatharian. The 2010 study occurred over 15 days, where around the clock surveillance was used with cameras and personal observation. According to the researchers, Jani’s only contact with any form of fluid was during gargling and occasional bathing starting from the 5th day of observation. The toilet in Jani’s room was sealed to test his claim that he did not need to urinate or defecate.
After fifteen days of observation, during which he reportedly did not eat, drink or go to the toilet, all medical tests on Jani were reported as normal. “We still do not know how he survived,” the neurologist Sudhir Shah said after the end of the two-week round-the-clock monitoring of the 83 year-old.
I started this week’s post with Jani Prahlad’s story not to overtly suggest asceticism as some sort of ideal but rather to raise the point that sometimes it takes looking at the miraculous to begin seeing the possibilities of our potential.
Examples of extreme fasting or breatharianism abound. In 1973 the Guinness Book of World Records credited a 27 year old man for the longest water fast for 382 days under medical supervision. They soon however stopped recording this record out of fear that it would lead to deaths. Nonetheless there have been plenty of people engage in public fasts as feats of endurance since.
Such acts of extreme food deprivation invoke strong polarising emotions from many. A case in point occurred in September 2003 when illusionist and endurance artist David Blaine undertook a 44-day public water only fast. He was suspended 9 meters in the air in a 3m x 7m plexiglass box. The box had an internal webcam so the event could be broadcast. During the 44 days, Blaine consumed only water (about 4 liters of water per day) but as amazing as the feat was, its remembered perhaps as much for the level of animosity that was directed at Blaine by the viewing crowd. Spectators taunted Blaine with food, threw eggs at the box he was in, tormented him with laser pens, and one person was even arrested for disabling the water feed into his box.
The strong negative emotional effect that these acts of extreme calorie restriction have on some people indicates I think the level of security many of us attach to food and says something of the oral fixation we have to controlling it.
Whether these cases of fasts as feats of endurance or breatharianism have medical validity or not, the fact remains that on some level at least, they demonstrate that we are capable of much more than we generally think possible.
Personally I like to frame these examples into a broader context, which in the case of fasting I see it as a living example of yoga philosophy’s 1st Niyama, saucha (purification practice). (For those interested I wrote previously here in more detail on fasting in the context of yoga).
Set in this context, purification is a starting point on the 8 limb path and involves far more than physical practice. Indeed its only when we begin to see our minds as organs of action, and our thoughts as acts that we know we’ve made true progress.
In order to purify ourselves we begin by letting go, both on the physical and mental level. Only by doing this can we then create the space that health and grace can flow into. From here anything is possible.
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Aaron Travers is author of “The Boda Fast – a three step plan to lower inflammation, maximise fat burning and restore vitality”. Aaron writes at www.thebodacleanse.com.au and shares his ideas and experiences on health and wellbeing from his personal life and through working with clients clinically and those doing his “supported fasting” programs. Every Friday he sends out his newsletter, click below to subscribe.
Research on Jani Prahlad – wikipedia (**for those of you interested to investigate further, here is a you-tube documentary on Jani Prahlad**)
Fredricks, Randi. Fasting: An Exceptional Human Experience