Last week, I decided that it was that time in the pandemic where I start a wellness journey, or at the very least, think and talk about starting a wellness journey. Reasons to get healthy abound: I turned 30 recently, there’s nothing to do in New York, I’m vain, the President – who loves McDonalds and is apparently obese – has the coronavirus and despite his best efforts to convince us otherwise, looks like shit, I need motivation to cook and enjoyment of food alone doesn’t do it for me, and so on. Naturally, my first move was to post on IG announcing my turn to wellness and crowdsourcing health hacks. Stand out responses include: “I don’t drink alcohol or coffee and my skin still sucks”; “The only reason I don’t do detoxes is because I hate unpredictable poops”; “I quit coffee but now I have almond hot choccie with marshmallow everyday”; and simply, “Collagen powder...for boss ass bitch skin and hair.”
As I searched for a compelling cleanse around which to base a new identity, I became increasingly disoriented and confused, as if lost in a hall of mirrors. Are juice cleanses so 2011? Is coffee even that bad for you? Is butter a carb? The thing about “wellness” as an industry is that there’s so much smoke and mirrors, and obviously, so much preying on women’s insecurities and self-hatred, that it’s tempting to just lean into the cognitive dissonance that slurping it up on junk is empowering and has no negative impact on your health.
Yet, I feel like there must be some sense to fasting, given it appears in religious doctrine across faiths, bringing followers closer to God, allowing them to atone for their sins, promoting empathy and solidarity, and turning those muddy brown auras into dazzling magentas and emerald greens. I have myself partaken in two “Nyung-Nes”, two and a half day Buddhist retreats that literally translate to “abiding in the fast”, and focus on healing illness, nurturing compassion and purifying negative karma aka bad juju through prayer, mantras, guided meditation, and fasting bar one meal. Allegedly, just two days of a Nyung-Ne are as effective as three months of other purification practices. We stan an efficient queen!
Inevitably, given capitalism and our otherwise diseased society, an ancient and net good practice like fasting is debased and subsumed by the business of wellness and new age spirituality until it reaches its extreme in the form of...Jasmuheen! I was indoctrinated into the dizzying world of Jasmuheen last year, at a live show about women-led cults, where I learned that Australia is a global leader in the field (true equality!). One of our many women-led cults or cult adjacent communities is “Breatharianism”, a movement that promotes abstinence from food as a path to spiritual transcendence. The contemporary manifestation of Breatharianism is led by one Jasmuheen, née Ellen Greve, who claims to have survived on nothing but light or prana energy, tea, and the occasional cheeky nibble of a chocolate biscuit for over a decade. It seems that she has taken French philosopher Simone Weil’s belief that if light was all humans needed, we would be faultless, to its most literal and uninteresting conclusion.
With a background in finance, Jasmuheen rose to micro-fame in the late 90s after amassing a surprisingly solid following hocking seminars, straight to video box-sets, and books promoting the Breatharian way of life. After a smattering of deaths were linked to Jasmuheen’s teachings, the national treasure that is 60 Minutes set out to disprove the flaxen-haired guru’s claims once and for all, challenging her to “live on light” for two weeks while under strict observation by their camera crew. Jasmuheen agreed, and the grainy YouTube video aptly titled “Breatharian Fail” was born.
While I encourage you to do yourself a favor and watch the video, here is a brief synopsis of key developments: Jasmuheen iconically requests that the experiment be conducted somewhere “beachy and yummy”, a suggestion that 60 Minutes disregards, instead putting her up next to Brisbane's Story Bridge where she claims the air quality is too poor to sustain her. The group then moves to a country residence, where the prana is up to Jasmuheen’s standards and the experiment continues. Over four days, Jasmuheen deteriorates rapidly while maintaining that she feels “great!”. Eventually, as a gaunt Jasmuheen slurs her words and enters the risk zone for kidney failure, 60 Minutes calls off the experiment, fearing legal responsibility. Reflecting on the experience a decade or so on, Jasmuheen, ever the sultan of spin, thanks 60 Minutes for giving her the gift of humility: “It destroyed my reputation in the world, which gave me the gift of freedom.” Just like the tower tarot card teaches us, you must destroy a world to create one!
The air in New York is not so pure, so I shall not attempt to live off its prana alone, but I too dream of being whisked away to somewhere beachy and yummy. The hunt for the path to wellness continues: unsolicited opinions welcome!