Freedom from bondage: Do we really need to eat, sleep and lose vital bodily fluids?

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‘A person who has perfect control of body and mind is a yogi in every situation.’ – Hatha Yoga Pradipika

A couple of days ago, I visited a local ashram for a Vedic fire ceremony. Later, I shared a table with an acquaintance who works at the same yoga studio as I. As we were waiting for dinner to be served, she told me that she was waiting for her young daughter to have food before going home. ‘Oh’, I said, ‘you’re not eating?’ ‘No’, she replied, ‘I am a breatharian.’ Breatharians, or Pranier in German, are people who don’t need to eat or drink as they can exist on prana, the life force. ‘Really?’, I asked her. ‘Tell me more.’ The woman told me that the inspiration to become a breatharian came to her during a spiritual practice her Guru had given her. ‘It wasn’t so much a conscious choice to stop eating’, she told me, ‘I just suddenly knew in my meditation that this was the way for me.’

So she began with a ‘conversion process’ during which she didn’t eat or drink for seven days, and only practiced the pranayama techniques her Guru had shown her. In total, the process to become a breatharian  took her three weeks. Since then, she rarely eats – only when she feels like it, which is about once a week. ‘I eat for enjoyment now’, she said, ‘or when I visit my parents, who don’t know that I am doing this. And I also noticed that the urge to eat comes to me when I am stressed. But the main thing is that I don’t have to eat, which is a liberation.’ Surely it is. When you think about it, most of our time is dedicated to food. We work to acquire food, then we purchase or grow it, prepare it, eat it, and clean up the dishes afterwards. When we travel, we spend a good amount of time looking for food. It’s a time-consuming affair. I’ve often thought that it would be great to eat only through choice, for the experience, and not because I have to.

My acquaintance also told me that since she stopped eating, all of her health problems disappeared. ‘I used to have a lot of pain in my body, terrible back pains, as well as psychological pain’, she said, ‘and it’s all gone now.’ And she looks great: glowing, radiant, and not skinny at all. Her story fascinated me. I’ve heard about breatharians before, but I’ve never actually met one. If you believe the Internet, then more and more people are learning to live on light and air, and long-term breatharian Jasmuheen is giving advice on  how to on her website http://www.jasmuheen.com. Apparently, it’s a mental choice – breatharians say that we erroneously believe that we have to eat to survive, but we can equally choose to live on prana.

From a yogic viewpoint, this is not really anything new. Yogis in India have lived on little or no food since ancient times, because their spiritual practices support them with everything they need. The bodily needs and even functions are considered to be bondage, because they keep us from being truly free and also distract us from our spiritual progress. Likewise, the conservation of vital fluids, i.e. semen and menstrual blood, is recommended in some of the yogic texts, as these fluids contain our life force.

As a woman, I find the idea that our life force is contained in the menstrual blood very interesting. It certainly makes sense, as women tend to feel tired during menstruation, and it is suggested that we rest as much as possible during this time. As Hatha Yoga was traditionally a masculine path, much has been written about the conservation of semen for men, especially during the sexual act, and practices have been developed that help men to do so and thus contain the prana in their bodies. One of these yogic practices is called vajroli mudra, which has to be practiced under the guidance of a Guru and consists, among other things, of learning to slowly draw in air through a tube that is inserted into the urethra of the penis. Perfection of vajroli mudra is said to give a man greater vision, as well as increased vital and mental power. Loss of semen equals degeneration and death.

What is less known is that there is a related practice for women called sahajoli mudra, which instructs women on how to control their rajas, the menstrual blood, as well as suppress ovulation. This practice involves the same muscle contraction by the urethra as vajroli mudra. Note that this practice only makes sense for yoginis who have chosen not to have children, and should only be done under the guidance of an experienced teacher. If a woman wants to reproduce, a rich menstrual loss, just like a high sperm count in men, is of immense value. Likewise, in many traditions, menstruation is seen as sacred, as this is the time when a woman is at the height of her power, in particular spiritually. She is more intuitive and it is a time that is conducive for introspection, seclusion and sadhana.

However, ultimately, for a yogini this is also bondage as a woman’s vital energy is draining from her every month – vital force that she could conserve and circulate within her body to nourish her internal organs. The mental and physical fluctuations that accompany a woman’s cycle bind her to physical consciousness. By withdrawing the bindu (ovum), a woman experiences the awakening of a higher energy force within her body and her consciousness effortlessly expands into transpersonal awareness.

The ‘third pillar of bondage’ in yoga is said to be sleep. Highly advanced yogis are said to sleep just two to three hours daily, or not at all, if their meditation practice has been perfected. As the spiritual aspirant advances, s/he will need to sleep less and less, parallel with prana being increased through practices given by the Guru. This development is also aided by the practice of Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep.

It’s interesting to see how limited our earth-bound consciousness is, and how much we are capable of given the right practices. Of course, if we live in the world, have demanding jobs and families to support, these spiritual attainments may be difficult to master. But we can nevertheless take inspiration from the yogis – and in sadhana, every hour of practice helps. Perhaps the middle path is a path in which we have better and deeper sleep aided through Yoga Nidra; practice brahmacharya and eat healthy pure foods to lessen the flow of menses; and eat moderately but choose foods that have a high content of prana, such as fresh organic greens, vegetables and fruit. In this way, we increase our prana, expand our consciousness and heighten our sensitivity at the same time.

Find out more:

‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’ by Swami Muktibodhananda (Yoga Publications Trust)

‘Conscious Eating’ by Gabriel Cousens (North Atlantic Books)

‘Yoga Nidra’ by Swami Satyananda Saraswati (Yoga Publications Trust)

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