Physiology explains it all

That Indian yogi who claims to never eat has a page on EsoWatch, the wiki of irrational belief systems, and it has some interesting content. Some of the actual medical data from observations of crazy yogi have been published — nothing as blatant as catching him in the act of eating, but the signs are all there. Sonograms showed urine in the bladder and feces in the colon that later disappeared, somehow. And the blood work taken by the credulous MD, Sudhir Shah, show changes symptomatic of starvation.

Some (if not all ?) blood parameter of the november 2003 examination are shown on the webpages of Sudhir Shah. The values presented show an increase in serum urea, and a drop three days after the examination. The same is true for serum sodium, serum chloride and serum potassium. The hematocrit is also increasing. This is a clear sign of dehydratation and hemoconcentration, compatible with a period of starvation and thirst. Blood sugar is decreasing, and serum acetone is increasing. This is also a sign of starvation. At the beginning and three days after the test, values are normal.

But, instead discussing such a starvation period (and not a long lasting esoteric inedia) as a very plausible source for the blood values shown, these are explained by neurologist Sudhir Shah to be amazing and to show a sort of medicine wonder. But in fact they show a normal behaviour of a subject, compatible with actual knowledge in physiology and bioenergetics. Examinator Shahs words sound different: "We have reached a hypothesis which confirms that Jani's body has certainly undergone a biological transformation due to yogic kriyas. And he can control his inner organs' functions, which itself is intriguing."

No, it's not. It's obvious. I can change my "inner organs' functions", too, just by fasting for a day or strolling down to Dairy Queen and pigging out on fats and sugars. It isn't magic, it's physiology.

It is rather appalling that this doctor can't tell the difference, though.

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A yogi on dip cones, blizzards, and DQ sandwiches. Nice.

I read another article on this story that mentioned that his only contact with water was in bathing and gargling. So there you go, he dank the gargle, maybe the bath water, and peed and pooped in the bath. Now we just have to identify the testing protocol error that allowed him to eat. Or did he gargle with sugar water?

By Gus Snarp (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

Found the article mentioning gargling and bathing:

"(Jani's) only contact with any kind of fluid was during gargling and bathing periodically during the period," G. Ilavazahagan, director of India's Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences (DIPAS), said in a statement.
By Gus Snarp (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

This is what happens when you start with a conclusion BEFORE you start testing.

Sudhir Shah: Unicorn-hunting personified.

What is a neurologist doing studying metabolism?

By Sili, The Unkn… (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

The truly alarming thing is to see the various blogs whose comment sections are filled with "wow, isn't the mind amazing" statements and accounts of the spirituality of fasting or whatever. People are truly idiotic sometime.

This same doctor has released the same type of thing back in 2006 and 2003, and (naturally) refuses to allow outside verification.

Here's the money quote:

I asked to be allowed to send an independent team to survey the room where this test is taking place, but I was repeatedly turned down. It is ridiculous to ask people to believe that any man can go 15 days, let alone 70 years, without food or water.

Dr Shah has been in charge of three similar investigations over the past ten years, and he has never allowed independent verification. In 2000, he was asking for funds to investigate a man he claimed got his energy from the sun, just like plants do. In 2003, he even approached NASA for funds to investigate Mr Jani, claiming astronauts might benefit from the research. This particular hospital, led by this particular doctor, keeps on making these claims without ever producing evidence or publishing research.

In other words, this doctor and likely hospital have been promoting this yogi every couple of years, likely in the hopes of earning some money on the side from a gullible government and gullible new-agers.

By Wise Bass (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

I suppose it's possible he didn't eat during the observation period since it falls within the realm of human endurance without food, so maybe drinking his gargle and bathwater was enough to keep him going for two weeks.

By Gus Snarp (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

If it looks like shit, and it smells like shit, then it must be a yogi that defies the laws of physics.

This sort of mysticism is old hat. Why, over the course of years of thoughtful, contemplative practice, I've magically transformed my midsection into a repository of mystical energy that my body can draw upon in times of need. I call this source of energy "beer qi", while my doctor calls it "something I should be working on through changes to diet and regular exercise." Call the Indian government! I'll revolutionise their military!

In more related news, Jasmuheen underwent similar mystical transformations when 60 Minutes examined her claims of being a breatharian. Apparently, living in tune with the cosmos and not much else is bad for your kidneys.

By Brownian, OM (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

So, the charalatan yogi and his accompli... err, 'unfortunate dupe' Sudhir Shah were less than entirely honest and forthcoming about their supposed 'miracle'? Colour me surprised. ;-)

Mattir @ 8;

The truly alarming thing is to see the various blogs whose comment sections are filled with "wow, isn't the mind amazing" statements and accounts of the spirituality of fasting or whatever. People are truly idiotic sometime.

I am with you there. Few things are as depressing, and in some cases outright terrifying, as common human stupidity.

By Gregory Greenwood (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

Ergh, human stupidity is a renewable resource.

Brownian @12, I will see your beer qi and raise you my chocolate chi!

@Wise Bass (#9) The Daily Mail article your quote originates from ended with this line:

After all, wouldn’t life be boring if everything was rational?

The answer, of course, is no. Life is full of things with rational explanations that are anything but boring.

By Gus Snarp (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

The yogi does present an interesting situation re: metabolism. Stick him in a calorimeter with measurements of VO2 and VCO2 and heat emitted. I, for one would like to see how low his energy expenditure is. The same thing should be done with those yogis that dry wet sheets with their metabolism at freezing temperatures. The control over autonomic functions appears to be rather amazing, but breaking the SLoT???!!

By natural cynic (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

I can't tell if he's blinded by his belief in mystical stuff and forgets how normal physiology works or if he's purposely lying to the general public. I suppose its the same for any woo-pusher, Are they really stupid?, or Are they trying to take advantage of stupid people?

After all, wouldn’t life be boring if everything was rational?

Sounds like the kind of post-hoc rationalisations kids who do shitty at school make. "Yeah, I don't get good marks because I can't help but think outside the box, and the teachers don't know how to test that." "At least I have a social life. I bet that nerdy kid who aces all the exams never gets a girlfriend."

It's a wonder these sorts of people have such a hate on for the sciences. After all they claim to just love mystery, and near as I can tell algebra would be about mysterious as anything else to them.

I guess not knowing the answers is only cool if you fantasize to yourself that nobody else does either; otherwise you're back in Grade 3 again, the only kid in the class who just doesn't get fractions.

By Brownian, OM (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

After all, wouldn’t life be boring if everything was rational?

It's what people say when they can't comprehend or are too lazy to comprehend the wonders they see around them.

"After all, wouldn’t life be boring if everything was rational?"
Well... A bit. The quacks sorta entertain me for a few minutes a day. They're like circus clowns.

But I doubt you meant it like that.

By Michelle R (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

I call this source of energy "beer qi", while my doctor calls it "something I should be working on through changes to diet and regular exercise..."

I have done research in this fascinating area of esoterica, at some length. And can report thus far that beer qi goes rilly well with hot wings qi.

(/Heads off to add page to EsoWiki...)

By AJ Milne OM (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

I'm not sure it's totally like that, Brownian; I think the kinds of people who love mysteries but never make any attempt to find out if they really are mysteries are the sort of people who are so convinced they're stupid (at one level or another) that they don't even bother to try.

Most of the time they're ignorant and not stupid, but a lot of them do seem to like it that way. I can't count the number of times I've said something to one of this type of person, something which seems perfectly obvious or straightforward to me, and gotten the absolutely hostile response, "Well, I'm not smart like you!" If you've never encountered that, I think I envy you.

By realinterrobang (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

Sometimes I still wonder(although I've gotten better over the years) :

No, the earth is not 6000 years old.No, you can't live on love and air and dirty underwear alone.Why does this have to be pointed out ?

By Rorschach (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

And can report thus far that beer qi goes rilly well with hot wings qi.

I myself am a devotee of that school of thought. Would you consider yourself a practitioner in the ranchāyāna tradition, or bleucheesavada? And I wonder how Bodach's chocolatha yoga practices would illuminate the Noble Halfdozen Path?

I can't believe I'm on the verge of creating a religious tradition that's practiced in pubs and fondueries. I'm gonna be so rich spiritual!

By Brownian, OM (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

@realinterrobang (#23)

"Well, I'm not smart like you!"

That's every conversation with my mother in law.

By Gus Snarp (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

I can change my "inner organs' functions", too, just by fasting for a day or strolling down to Dairy Queen and pigging out on fats and sugars. It isn't magic, it's physiology.

People don't get this. There was a news report last night breathlessly telling me that if your favorite hockey team gets kicked out of the playoffs it can produce changes in your brain. Oh noes!

By The Other Ian (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

If he is so in control of his body that he doesn't need to eat or drink, why doesn't he go without breathing?
It would take much less time to establish, and be far easier to monitor.

I will see your beer qi and raise you my chocolate chi!

And if you transport it about 1/3 of a mile (one li (an ancient chinese measurement (how I remember this stuff, I have no idea (but I can't for the life of me remember my anniversary)))), you would have chocolate chi li. Which is mole. So how many moles of chocolate chi li would it take to change this moron's blood chemistry?

Would you consider yourself a practitioner in the ranchāyāna tradition, or bleucheesavada?

Myself, I have followed the narrow path of plainsourcreamamayanānānānā, thus far. But as this is a new age religion, and the only possible heresy would be to suggest anyone's just pulling all this out of their ass or that it might even matter in any way even if they were, I embrace many disciplines beyond my own practice, and regularly and at random gush rhapsodically about how beeeyoootiful it is to be among the likewise enlightened who do the same.

(/All is love, brother. Love and wind chimes. 'Cos those are, like, awesome. Can't have too many of those, nosir...)

By AJ Milne OM (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

I regularly have student nurses assigned to me (I'm a community nurse) - and have had so for years (even going back 20-odd years to the pre-degree UK student nurse training, when I was still on the wards).

I'd expect a first year student to recognise immediately what these results show: a textbook example of starvation.

Of course Dr. Shah can tell the difference between magic and physiology. He just chooses not to do so, presumably for the gain to be associated with the dinner-free old fraud.

By Thunderbird 5 (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

I was of the understanding that he performed "gargling and bathing rituals" during this "study", an obvious source of water. A few candiru in the bath tub will show if he is wizzing in the bath

I will see your beer qi and raise you my chocolate chi!

And if you transport it about 1/3 of a mile (one li (an ancient chinese measurement (how I remember this stuff, I have no idea (but I can't for the life of me remember my anniversary)))), you would have chocolate chi li. Which is mole. So how many moles of chocolate chi li would it take to change this moron's blood chemistry?

I recall that an uphill li is longer than a downhill li. So are you using uphill or downhill measurements for this concoction?

Would you consider yourself a practitioner in the ranchāyāna tradition, or bleucheesavada?

Bleucheesavada for life! ranchāyānaians are separatists and ignorant untouchables.

By Rev. BigDumbChimp (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

mxh @18:

I can't tell if he's blinded by his belief in mystical stuff and forgets how normal physiology works or if he's purposely lying to the general public.

You've hit upon a very pertinent question. I seriously think it is the former - that goes for Thunderbird5's comment @31 also.

Unfortunately, in the Indian system of education - primary, secondary, or tertiary; basic science or medical - there is a LOT of rote learning, and very little scope of introducing the student to independent thought, rationality and scepticism. Therefore, many of them (and I used to be one of them) go through the motions of learning about science, medicine, systems and so forth - without ever questioning their religious beliefs that hang like a haze over their lives (more like a smog that results in poor visibility).

The product of that system is a whole lot of medical doctors, as well as scientists and engineers - many with great academic careers - who are blinded by their faith. While this doesn't for the most part hinder their daily activities, they tend to falter whenever a proposition demands critical, sceptical thoughts. Someone like Sudhir Shah is so accustomed to looking at the world with his faith-tinted glasses and magical beliefs, that, often, he doesn't even remember that the glasses are there, and would accept any result if it has magical connotations.

The same goes for scientists, biologists, chemists and physicists - working at prestigious and well-funded Indian institutes of higher learning - who, following the advice of their astrologers, sport on their ten fingers 10 different rocks (semi-precious and precious stones, such as topaz, garnet, red sandstone, ruby, amethyst, Cat's eye, opal - just to name a few), fully believing that those stones would ward off dangers due to faraway planets and stars and would bring them good luck.

The astrologers, of course, laugh all the way to their banks, but these so-called scientists and doctors and engineers do this without any self-consciousness, or even without recognizing the inherent conflict between their beliefs and their profession. That is what I find the most amazing in cognitive dissonance.

By Kausik Datta (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

I recall that an uphill li is longer than a downhill li. So are you using uphill or downhill measurements for this concoction?

Downhill. Look at me. Do I look like I could walk uphill after consuming a thousand moles of chi li mole?

Bah, If I am going to go days with out food I will follow the example of some German monks and drink a beer so thick it is more accurately called liquid bread.

frackin' metabolism, how do they work?
Miracles each and everywhere you look.

By O Pioneer (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

Does the site making the claims allow comments?

Kausik Datta #35 wrote:

The astrologers, of course, laugh all the way to their banks, but these so-called scientists and doctors and engineers do this without any self-consciousness, or even without recognizing the inherent conflict between their beliefs and their profession. That is what I find the most amazing in cognitive dissonance.

Or, what's amazing isn't the cognitive dissonance, but the lack of cognitive dissonance. Religion and spirituality seem to encourage a type of doublethink, where an idea in one part of the brain runs on a totally different track than an idea in another part of the brain -- even though, put together, these ideas should be conflicting with each other. For people who talk on and on about "holism" and "harmony," the spiritual folk really don't seem to understand what it means to try to see reality as a coherent whole. No, what's coherent about it is that it's all about them and their precious conscious selfhood. The inner world of thought and feeling merges with the outer world of object and event in a comforting haze of egocentrism.

I read a book once which posited that this capacity to process information along multiple pathways was a trance-related faculty related to the ability to dissociate. Dissociation is found in mystical states, mental illness, and hypnosis.

People who say they "love mystery" and scorn people who are "smart" aren't worshiping their ignorance at all: they're worshiping a presumed ability to know things without using the intellect. The "mystery" is not a matter of not-knowing: it's a matter of knowing that something very important is concerned with your life -- but you can't explain how it does this.

Furthermore, you shouldn't be able to explain how it does this. "We murder to dissect."

Physiology explains it all

Quoted for truth. (by a physiologist)

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

My favorite comeback when I run into someone talking about body energy is to ask "what frequency?" Because, we now know the electromagnetic spectrum from top to bottom and if chi is an energy it's measurable and it's somewhere between nothing and cosmic rays. :)

It's a trap, of course, because if they say "it's not measurable" then you can just nail them with "then how do you know it exists?"

By https://www.go… (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

@Kausik Datta

Very interesting points - but IMO they actually support the notion that Dr Shah is deliberately playing the wide-eyed-wonder BS.

Habitually incorporating cultural-religious junk into daily life (astrology and woo-bling, as you describe) is one thing; blatantly contradicting the simple, basic facts of these medical results - signs which would have been learnt (by rote, as you describe, or otherwise) and understood to indicate a specific condition - is quite another.

I cannot believe that anyone who has gone to medical school anywhere on this planet could fail to notice the unmistakable physiological conclusions to be concluded from these results.

And Dr Shah isn't disseminating this bollocks to a credulous village hall meeting - he's enthusiastically parading it all over the shop. It could be that the limitations and problems you've described with the education system/tradition offer ample opportunity for this type of fraud - and that Shah knows this and thinks its worth a go. After all, if it goes wrong, what's the worst that could happen? he'll shrug his shoulders and say something like "I could only go on what I saw and on my faith in his apparent genuineness..." and no-one can prove otherwise.

It seems to me that Dr Shah has paid "critical, sceptical thought" to both the old charlatan and to the unfortunate situation you have described re national credulity. Possibly his speciality (neurology) has given him ample opportunity to observe the ease with which junk science and woo can proliferate when it comes to understanding the mind/brain.

The only logical explanation for his explanations of these lab blood results is that he's interpreting them through his bank a/c number.

By Thunderbird 5 (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

so we had friends over last night and i asked them if they heard about that crazy yogi story.
my mate ouriel said that he heard about a lady called jasmuheen who also never eats etc.
my friend tends to take things at face value so i ran a very quick search and came up with this:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8060648983626971848#

enjoy! its a hoot

@ 42, talking about "body energy" ,

It's a trap, of course, because if they say "it's not measurable" then you can just nail them with "then how do you know it exists?"

See also "God". A wooist is a wooist because no stinkin' measurement or lack thereof is ever going to sway them.

By Rorschach (not verified) on 14 May 2010 #permalink

enjoy! its a hoot

Dang, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Jasmuheen left a trail of bodies behind her.

Narrator: "By her side was a copy of Jasmuheen's book and a diary with an entry noting she was into the seventh day of the twenty-one day fast."Interviewer: "So this woman died following your regimen..."Jasmuheen: "I have no idea. It's not my regimen. It's a regimen that has been practiced thousands of years that I happen to report on."

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 May 2010 #permalink

Regarding the "if you can't measure it, then how do you know it exists" comment. I agree, but I also know that woo-ists will simply deny the physical necessities of anything if it fits the desired opinion. They'll say, well i can feel it with my sense of attunement to the universe, which you can't measure, because it's beyong your puny physicalism, which we know because sages of all times have confirmed it, based on their sense of attunement to the universe. If you don't have that sense, pity you."

It's completely circular, but they make the circle encompass literally everything by assertion. All a rationalist can do is shrug, let them believe anything is just as valid as the next thing, and hope they get a grip some day. Until they understand that circular logic based on tradition is not on the same level as taking the truth of physical existence and then going from there by evidence and testing, they must find their own path. Many this path leads to misery, addiction and poverty, but there will always be a large number of escapees to move on.

By black-wolf72 (not verified) on 14 May 2010 #permalink

Maybe the yogi follows Ramadanesque rules for fasting - as long as the sun is up you don't eat and can loudly boast about it, but after sundown you can shovel it down with both hands.

I am a scientist from India: I wrote an extensive breakdown of the pathetic way it was touted in the media independently a day after you covered the physiology of the 2003 "experiment".

http://milkmiracle.net/2010/05/14/prahlad-jani/

I just found your breakdown right now. Thank you for your analysis of some of the minimal "data"

By milkmiracle.net (not verified) on 15 May 2010 #permalink

"It seems to me that Dr Shah has paid "critical, sceptical thought" to both the old charlatan ..."

Thing is, the doublethink goes deep. This old charlatan is possibly not a charlatan at all in the sense that he is deliberately deceiving people. He's just got a little corner of his mind quarantined off for sneaking food and drink, and some "nothing to see here" tape around it to persuade the rest of his mind that what goes on in there somehow doesn't count- doesn't have any bearing on the truth of his beliefs.

If you were to outright catch him on tape, he'd tell you that you just don't get it - the spiritual stuff - and he'd sincerely mean it.

By paulmurray (not verified) on 17 May 2010 #permalink