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Sweat lodge survivor speaks out

During the session with spiritual guru James Arthur Ray, people were vomiting in the heat, gasping for air and lying lifeless, according to participant Beverley Bunn.

October 22, 2009|Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, ARIZ — . -- More than 50 followers of spiritual guru James Arthur Ray had endured five days of fasting, sleep-deprivation and mind-altering breathing exercises when he led them into a sweat lodge ceremony near Sedona.

People were vomiting in the stifling heat, gasping for air and lying lifeless on the floor, according to participant Beverley Bunn. One man was burned when he crawled into hot rocks, seemingly unaware of what he was doing, she said.

"These people, including myself, were really just searching for a better way to live and a better life," she said. "And I commend us for that."

Three of those people died because of their quest.

Bunn, a 43-year-old Texas resident, described the Oct. 8 tragedy in an interview with the Associated Press.

Ray sat inside the door of the 415-square-foot sweat lodge, leading the group in chants and prayers. He poured water over a pile of hot rocks, sending a rush of steam through the makeshift structure. That began a two-hour ceremony broken up into 15-20 minute rounds that some would later describe as "profound," according to a transcript of a call Ray held with participants days later.

But for others, it was terrifying. By the time people started collapsing, Bunn had crawled to a spot near the door, praying for it to stay open as long as possible between rounds so she could breathe fresh air.

At one point, someone lifted the back of the tent. Ray demanded to know where the light was coming from and who committed the "sacrilegious act," Bunn said.

A man yelling, "I can't take it, I can't breathe, I can't do this" had crawled out, she said.

People were not physically forced to stay inside but highly encouraged, she said. "It was all about mind over matter -- you're stronger than your body."

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