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Originally published June 14, 2013 at 7:52 PM | Page modified June 14, 2013 at 9:51 PM

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Eastside woman eschews food to live on sunlight

Naveena Shine says she’s testing out living on light and no food. She’s now on Day 43.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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It was on Sunday, Day No. 37 of going with no food, just water and tea, that Naveena Shine began thinking it was time to end the grand experiment.

“I was feeling twitches in my body, like nervous twitches,” said Shine. “I was feeling quite depressed about it.”

Shine is the 65-year-old Eastside woman who had decided to test out whether people can live just on light. You know, sunlight, the stuff of life.

“It would be the most powerful thing this world could have,” she says. No more hunger problems.

On her Facebook page, she enthusiastically writes about how: “Can you imagine, if we did not have to eat, just how free our lives would be?”

Really, it is unbounded enthusiasm.

“If humans did not have to eat, we could turn our planet back into a place of beauty,” writes Shine. “Chemicals in the soil would no longer be needed and neither would all the destruction from the highly mechanized food industries.

Says Shine: “I know lots of people think I’m nuts.”

To answer the obvious question, she doesn’t act as if she needs to be committed.

She seems a gentle, well-meaning person.

There are all kinds of New Ageish beliefs out there, and “breatharianism,” about light substituting for food, is one them.

One of its most prominent advocates is an Australian woman named Jasmuheen, a self-proclaimed prophet. She told one interviewer that she subsists on tea and water and “now and then if I feel a bit bored,” a piece of chocolate or some cheesecake.

There have been four deaths reported of people linked to Jasmuheen’s writings. In 1999, the BBC News told of a Scottish woman who starved herself, and whose diary mentioned the teachings of Jasmuheen.

But, says Shine: “I’m not planning to die.”

What happened to Shine was that she began at 159 pounds on her 5-foot-4 frame, and proceeded to lose 31 of them as of Friday.

You keep losing that much weight, and it means your nourishment isn’t coming from light. You body is consuming itself.

She says that if her weight drops to 125 pounds, she’ll seriously consider ending her experiment. And she says she’ll definitely not go below 120 pounds.

Karol Waggoner, 55, is a friend of Shine’s who comes by to check on her every day.

Neighbor’s support

Waggoner says she’s known Shine for 10 years and lives nearby. She says living on light is not something she’d try, but that Shine “is pretty intelligent and she said from the beginning that if it became harmful to her body, she’d quit. So I support her.”

There are comments from those worrying about her health, saying they can see her get thinner on her YouTube postings. “Naveena, please eat some food!!”

Shine says she hadn’t heard of Jasmuheen until after she started her fast.

It’s just that in her life, says Shine, “Living in the world of spirituality, you hear about yogis and all kinds of strange things that people do or say they do.”

That interest in spirituality, especially in Indian mysticism, is shown by her first name.

Her birth name was Christine.

In 1987, in California, she legally changed it to Naveena, which in Hindi means “new.”

Shine also is one of the followers of the movement started by the Indian mystic called Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and later, Osho, who died in 1990.

He was the “Rolls-Royce Guru” who owned dozens of the cars and had the controversial and now-disbanded 64,000-acre commune that attracted thousands of followers near the town of Antelope in Central Oregon.

Shine says that in the 1980s she lived “on and off” in the commune.

Osho was deported from the U.S. back to India in 1985 after pleading guilty to violating federal immigration laws.

Shine says she knows how many will perceive her being a follower of Osho.

“I know the dramas that are in people’s imagination. It’s not the truth. But people don’t ever want to hear the truth,” she says.

Cold hands

On Monday, Naveena said, the twitches stopped. And she began adding one packet of a vitamin supplement called “Emergen-C” to her water.

Previously, she at times had felt tired or dizzy, and sometimes had to lie down. Last week, after drinking water, she threw up. Her hands were cold and a friend loaned her mittens that could be put in a microwave and heated.

Saturday is Day No. 43 of no food, and Shine is pushing the limit of what a human body can tolerate.

Says Dr. D. Scott Weigle, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington, and a specialist in metabolism, endocrinology and nutrition: “If you starve long enough it’s a fatal situation. Typically, a person can last a month. Right from the beginning, you start tapping into the body’s fat and muscle. Once the muscles have become sufficiently weak, then the diaphragm gets so weak that you can’t breathe and get pneumonia, or you get cardiac arrest.”

As far as living on light, he says, “It’s well established that humans can’t do photosynthesis.”

A Scientific American story tells that Mahatma Gandhi survived 21 days with only sips of water. The story says reliable data is hard to find, but documented studies of hunger strikers who received hydration report survivals of 28 to 40 days. Bobby Sands, the Irish nationalist, died in 1981 in prison after a 66-day hunger strike.

Shine says she has no regular doctor, and that she wouldn’t have consulted one about her experiment anyway.

“Any doctor would say, ‘No, you can’t do this,’ ” she says.

Shine says that in April she did have a checkup, not telling the doctor about her plans, and her blood tests and other tests showed she was healthy.

Internet gear

Besides affecting her physically, her experiment has put Shine into considerable debt.

She maxed out her credit cards in part to buy gear.

There was the $800 spent on eight security cameras. Originally, Shine wanted to have cameras everywhere in the small trailer so she could live-stream on the Internet, and people could watch her 24/7 and see she wasn’t eating.

But that turned out to be considerably more expensive, and she settled for security cameras from Best Buy. Shine spent another $600 on a computer with a 40-gig hard drive to store all the video.

She says it would be available to people wanting to check on her veracity.

But as much as the Internet curious have checked in — especially after last Thursday when she was written about on the website Gawker, and the next day her Living on Light site spiked from her 10-or-so daily page views to 6,400 — it hasn’t meant the curious have chipped in with donations.

Shine figures she’s gotten $50.

“Splash of milk”

She opens the refrigerator in the trailer, plunked in a countryside, pastoral setting she rented out for the experiment.

It’s empty except for a carton of milk.

“I do need a splash of milk with my tea,” says Shine, who was born in Birmingham, England, and speaks with a British accent.

Shine opens the cabinets in the kitchen. They’re empty.

There is a Subway and an Albertson’s nearby, but Shine says that during her fast the most she ventures out from the trailer is the small deck outside.

Those who have known Shine for a long time wouldn’t be surprised she decided to try living on light.

Her childhood was normal enough. She was raised a Catholic, her dad a British Royal Navy career man, her mom a teacher. She was the youngest of three children.

Originally, Shine received training as a teacher.

But then, in 1970, at age 22, after completing those studies, with $150 in her pocket, she decided to travel around the world on her own.

She wanted to go beyond her “narrow, English, middle-class point of view.”

She’s visited the Taj Mahal by moonlight. Bused it across the Khyber Pass. Shopped at the central market in Tehran. She worked as a teacher in Tanzania and in Abu Dhabi.

While visiting the U.S. in 1983, Shine met an American and married him. They eventually divorced. They had no children. She says, “I’m not the marrying sort. I’m too different.”

In recent years, Shine bought herself a GMC Rally Wagon, with the two back seats that fold down and make into a bed. In the front, she had the passenger seat taken out. She got a butane stove, a sheepskin rug, memory foam for the bed.

Camping out

Some weeks, she says, she’d work four days straight at someone’s home as a caregiver, and go camping the other three. She found safe spots around the Seattle area where she could park her van at night.

So Shine can survive on little money, although now, at 65, she gets $350 a month in Social Security.

Though she considered quitting her experiment on Sunday, “I managed to calm down and get centered again,” says Shine.

Through this week, she says, “I’ve been feeling really good. I’m dancing, even cleaning the house.”

The last full meal that Shine had before she stopped eating was Sunday brunch at Anthony’s HomePort in Kirkland.

She especially remembers the eggs with oysters.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

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