Doctors and dieticians dismiss her claims as dangerous gobbledegook and a woman has died trying to convert to her breatharian creed. But Jasmuheen still insists that she 'lives on light'. Barbie Dutter meets her JASMUHEEN dances to the door in a leopard-print sundress that showcases an outstanding figure for a 41-year-old. She is curvaceous, with a slender waist and peachy complexion. Her eyes are bright, her hair glossy, her teeth white and strong. And she claims not to have eaten for five years.
We sit on the veranda of her Brisbane home, overlooking a generous pool, and sip blackcurrant and vanilla tea. This is her one concession to ingestion - two cups of tea a day, and the occasional glass of water. Or so she says.
She remembers quite clearly the last nutritious morsel to pass her lips - a lightly toasted, perfectly spiced felafel from a Lebanese health food shop. Then, she insists, she stopped eating forever.
Jasmuheen is a breatharian, the public face of a strange phenomenon called "living on light". She claims she tuned her body in 1993 to be spiritually receptive to an alternative, intangible form of nourishment called prana, or liquid light. On this basis, she says, she does not need to eat, never feels hungry and has gone without any food - with the exception of the odd chocolate biscuit to satisfy a stubborn taste-craving - for more than five years.
If this seems an outlandish assertion, there are even more fantastic claims to come. That this "pranic nourishment" could be the solution to global famine. That it parallels the discovery that the Earth is round. That Jasmuheen is a messenger of the Ascended Masters, with whom she communicates through cosmic telepathy and who instructed her to attract public attention through the media to the cause of world hunger.
Her home, with its sunshine-yellow walls and pungent scent of incense, overflows with ancient and new-age icons. A gallery of "the Ascended Ones" - Christ, Krishna, Babaji, St Germain, the Dalai Lama and more - adorns the walls. Their presence seems awkward alongside the material trappings of a fully equipped gym, sauna and dance room. But Jasmuheen attributes her glowing health not only to the lack of toxicity in her body, but to a daily routine of meditation and exercise involving hour upon hour of workouts, weight-training and aerobics.
All this on no food? Nonsense, declare the nutritionists. Physically impossible, proclaim the doctors. Morally irresponsible, cry the dieticians, concerned that she is preaching a message that will encourage dangerous weight loss or give anorexics their much-coveted excuse not to eat.
Jasmuheen's answer to such medical scepticism is this: "If a doctor told me it was physically impossible to survive without eating, I would say: 'Yes, according to your research it is. But not according to mine'."
So the research on which the health-care profession relies is flawed? "No, it is 100 per cent correct. However, it does not take into account the fact that there are alternative forms of nourishment."
But, as a physical being, how is it possible to live without physical forms of nutrition?
"I do have nutrition - but from another source. If you put another nourishment source into your body, or release another nourishment source from within your body, then you don't need vitamins, minerals, nutrition from food.
"The point here is what form of nourishment you are taking. When you tune yourself - through meditation, through physical exercise, through dietary choices - then the signals that you are transmitting, as a bio-energetic system, are altered. The ability to live on light comes as a direct result of tuning those signals."
She claims the Christian definition of pranic nourishment would be that a person is "fed by the light of God". What would an atheist say? "That you have boosted the voltage of electro-magnetic energy in the body."
Bamboozled, I ask to examine the contents of her fridge. She flings open the door with a flourish and an array of shiny, healthy food confronts us - brown bread and beansprouts, pawpaw and hummus, half a dozen cartons of soya milk and jar upon jar of cooking sauces. "It's Jeff's food," she announces. Jeff is her fiancé, a vegan, who cooks and eats. A quick glance around the kitchen reveals a well-used chopping board, a shelf jostling with herbs and condiments and - aha! - a dozen bottles of vitamins and supplements. "They're Jeff's. I don't need vitamins. I get all the vitamins I need."
Jasmuheen is a new-age guru who is relatively unknown in her native Australia but hugely successful in Germany. She has written eight books on self-empowerment, mind-mastery and, more recently, living on light, but claims to make little money from her work, re-investing any royalties into spreading the word. Her home in the smart, hillside suburb of Chapel Hill was, however, purchased through the proceeds of her books.
Next month she will bring her message to Britain, and is confident her work will be embraced worldwide. She has even been tipped off - by an angelic source - that she will be invited on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She claims her spiritual mentor, St Germain, told her to use the fact of not needing to eat to harness media attention. "He's my etheric Press officer," she says, giggling at my look of earthly incomprehension.
She is unswerving in her claim that her life is food-free. She is also somewhat smug in the knowledge that these claims are impossible to prove - short of being locked in a laboratory or having a minder with her every second of every day.
As we talk, there is a rustle of plastic in the kitchen, signalling Jeff's arrival home with some groceries. Jasmuheen seizes the moment delightedly to remind me that her life is free of such mundane chores. "I have no shopping, I have no cooking, I have no cleaning, I have no dishes. I have endless extra time because I don't have to worry about food. When you're not eating you don't need to sleep much, so I have 20 hours a day to play with. It's wonderful."
Jasmuheen was born Ellen Greve in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, the fifth and youngest child of Norwegian migrants who came to Australia after the Second World War. She dropped out of an art degree after less than a year, and became pregnant at 19 while waitressing in Sydney to save money "to do the hippy trail".
She married the father of her baby (the first of two daughters who are now apparently supportive of their mother's mission) but the marriage foundered after seven years and she took a job in the finance industry, earning a salary substantial enough to pay for a nanny, private schooling for her daughters and an Alfa Romeo.
In 1992, she lost her job, and began to focus on her interest in meditation and mind-mastery. She held workshops and seminars, began writing and sold her home and car to make ends meet. It was around this time, during a meditation session, that a message "came through" to stop eating food. Already a vegetarian of two decades, she prepared herself by refining and reducing her intake until all she was eating was a little soup. She then put herself through a punishing 21-day conversion course with no food or fluids for the first seven days and occasional sips of orange juice and water for the remaining 14.
This course, which she co-pioneered and writes about extensively in her latest book Living on Light, attracted controversy in July when an Australian woman, attempting to convert to Breatharianism, collapsed and died in hospital 10 days later. The dead woman's tutor - a 60-year-old Brisbane man whom Jasmuheen claims never to have met but is referred to in her book - is awaiting trial for unlawful killing.
Jasmuheen admits the course is dangerous, and insists it is only for "spiritual warriors" who have prepared themselves through years of meditation and exercise, who have weaned themselves off their emotional dependency on food and have a basic grasp of quantum physics. She rejects accusations of moral irresponsibility, saying she has publicly warned those with weight problems or anorexia against the process. She says that they could not complete the conversion anyway. "If people are not coming from a place of integrity and the right motivation then it doesn't work."
Dr Sandra Capra, a senior lecturer at the School of Public Health at the Queensland University of Technology and President of the Dieticians Association of Australia, describes Jasmuheen's claims as meaningless mumbo-jumbo. "It's like me saying the moon is a rocky substance that orbits the Earth, and somebody else saying the moon is made of cheese.
"It would be impossible for her to still be alive on what she claims her intake to be. You don't have to eat - you can survive on a well-planned liquid diet - but you cannot survive without nutrients. I think this message is appalling because it misleads people and it is dangerous."
Dr Capra says total abstinence from food and fluids is considered highly dangerous after three to four days. The maximum accepted time for a person to survive with no fluids is six days. In a period of weeks, with no nutrients, repercussions could include symptoms of scurvy and beri beri; changes in the blood leading to headaches, dizziness and the increased threat of strokes; disturbance to the cardio-vascular system, increasing the risk of heart attacks; major metabolic problems, brain disorders and coma.
"This individual claims there are about 5,000 breatharians internationally, but cannot name any. She says there have been studies, but cannot name any. I can't tell if she's a true believer or a liar, but this is gobbledegook."
The only way for Jasmuheen to quieten her critics would be to submit to clinical tests, she says. Jasmuheen responds that in August 1999, during a 33-day retreat - yet to be arranged - in Germany or France, she and about 30 other breatharians will submit to the full scrutiny of medical professionals, scientists and the media. But she says she will not have tests beforehand because the results would be dismissed as a "one-off miracle".
As the founder and mouthpiece of a number of Internet-based outfits - the Self Empowerment Academy, the Cosmic Internet Academy, the Movement of an Awakened Positive Society - Jasmuheen is beefing up her international profile with lecture tours, such as the one in London in late November.
She is scholarly in metaphysics and Eastern philosophy and articulate in her arguments. Her analogies are a peculiar mixture of the esoteric and the technical. "The body has cellular memory like computer software. If you change what you want to achieve, you've got to change the program. So if people have a program that says: 'If I don't eat or drink I'll die or waste away to nothing', then they'll die or waste away to nothing. But you can reprogram the body by changing your belief systems."
She says that she has suffered little weight loss - around 9 lb - because of such a reprogramming process. "I decided that when my weight dropped below 47 kilos I looked like a Biafran, so I commanded the body to stabilize at a minimum of 47 kilos and it did."
She says her social life has suffered from the lack of invitations to dinner parties. She regrets her fiancé's frustration in not being able to express his love by cooking. I wonder if she conducts midnight raids on Jeff's goodies, or keeps muesli bars stashed under her mattress. I ask if she has bowel movements. She is unfazed. "It may be rabbit-type droppings every three weeks if I am just drinking, or a little more if I nibble once a week. There is little to eliminate, except for dead cells and pollutants."
On this note I leave - and head for the nearest McDonald's.