No basis for yogi meditator’s claims of breathless and deathless states
First, let’s try to define what samadhi is, as that is often claimed to be the goal of breathlessness.
Samadhi is a Hindu and Buddhist yogic ideal of total meditative absorption. The concept of samadhi is imprecisely defined in the yoga texts and traditions. There’s many interpretations of samadhi. We can’t cover them all here.
In this post, we’re focusing primarily on Classical yoga’s definitions of four types of samadhi:
Four types of Samadhi
Savikalpa—Kalpa means time or aeon, savi means subject to. Savikalpa samadhi means attainment of altered states that are subject to time. In other words, the meditator is not beyond change nor is she beyond mortal existence in the phenomenal world.
Nirvikalpa—Nir means without kalpa (time). So Nirvikalpa samadhi means timeless, changeless superconsciousness. In this state the meditator is supposedly beyond time, is immortal, and beyond the realms of the material world.
Watch two famous yogic masters demonstrate what they claim are superconscious “samadhi” states:
What do you think after watching these master yogis “demonstrate” samadhi? Impressed?
Mahasamadhi—Maha means great. Mahasamadhi, the great samadhi, supposedly is when a master yogi practitioner forcefully abandons his body at a time of his own choosing, never to return. Some scholars have called this yogic suicide.1
The fourth samadhi in Hinduism is a funerary monument, a tomb that houses the cremated ashes or shriveled corpse of a royal person or a yogi. In other words, this type of samadhi is actually a crypt to honor a dead person.
Breathlessness is Deathlessness?
Famous yogi-guru, Paramahansa Yogananda said: “The mystery of life and death, whose solution is the only purpose of man’s sojourn on earth, is intimately interwoven with breath. Breathlessness is deathlessness. Realizing this truth, the ancient rishis of India seized on the sole clue of the breath and developed a precise and rational science of breathlessness”.2
What was Yogananda’s method for attaining breathlessness and deathlessness? Kriya Yoga, was a ‘special’ dispensation that he taught his disciples to practice: pranayama, yogic breathing exercises. Pranayama is breath control practiced for the purpose of transforming breath into superconscious awareness, ultimately for the meditator to experience samadhi.
Through the practice of yoga meditation the practitioner purportedly may experience breathlessness and attain samadhi. Pranayama, the yogic mental and physical methods for regulating or observing the breath, is supposed to lead the practitioner, step-wise, to slowing and ultimately to stopping her breath. To stop breath is supposed to bring an altered state of consciousness: superconsciousness, samadhi, immortality, and unity or gnosis with Brahma or God.
What science actually says about breathlessness
The claims that yogis can stop their breath ought to be verifiable in a controlled laboratory.
- What is the scientific evidence that yogis can stop breath? None. In fact, it would be dangerous if they did.
- I was not able to find any scientifically verified examples of meditators who can stop their breath or heartbeat. Read my post Can Yogis Stop Their Heart?
- Yogis or anyone who could demonstrate breathlessness could earn millions of dollars and promote their “worthy” causes if they would only demonstrate the truth of their supernatural claims.
Abraham Kovoor’s challenge: Anyone who can demonstrate supernatural or miraculous powers under fool-proof and fraud-proof conditions can get Rs 100,000 (Sri Lankan rupees).
JREF Million Dollar Challenge: $1,000,000 is available from the James Randi Education Foundation for anyone who can demonstrate breathlessness or other supernatural feats
There is no scientific evidence for so-called yogic breathlessness. But there is plenty of evidence that proves beyond doubt that lack of oxygen to the brain causes hallucinations and brain damage.
So-called Yogic Breathlessness leads to brain damage, hallucinations, and death
Medical science clearly indicates that lack of oxygen to the brain, which occurs within minutes of oxygen deprivation, leads to brain damage, hallucinations, and even death.
Hypoxia: the medical condition in which the body or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply.
Symptoms of oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) includes:
- Numbness, tingling of extremities
- Severe cases of oxygen deprivation, include:
- Behavioral change
- Severe headaches
- Reduced level of consciousness
Evidence against Breathlessness and Samadhi
Breathlessness, as touted by yogis, is highly improbable, if not dangerous. There is complete lack of any scientific evidence to substantiate yogic claims that one can live without breath for more than a few minutes without brain damage or death.
What we do know about breathlessness, from actual medical and scientific cases, is that oxygen deprivation to the brain causes lightheadedness, tingling sensations, and, in severe cases: lack of oxygen leads to hallucinations, brain damage, and death. Could the samadhi of yogi meditators be hallucinations from lack of oxygen to the brain?
Or, could samadhi be God in a Seizure: Epilepsy & Mysticism?
Readers are always welcome to send me any scientific evidence that might substantiate or challenge my findings here. Until there’s more convincing evidence, the claims that yogis go into samadhi and breathlessness may just be wishful, magical thinking. Like seeking a pot of gold at the end of rainbow, striving for samadhi and breathlessness seem to me at present to be only air-castles of human speculation. Our brains and universe is wonderful and beautiful enough without having to deprive them of oxygen.
Do you have any substantial evidence or arguments for or against breathlessness or samadhi?
1 David Gordon White, Sinister Yogis, University of Chicago Press. 2009. Paperback. p114
2 Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi, Philosophical Library: New York. 1946. Chapter 49