by Andrew Weil
Sounds True, 1999
Review by David Wolf on Dec 29th 2004
Rarely does the implied promise of any self
improvement program lead to complete fulfillment in its delivery.
Half-believing, we think, "Oh well, let's try this," then we listen
or read, as the case may be, and end with mixed results. Gradually, we learn
not to hope for much.
Andrew Weil's Breathing is
an exception to all this. He appears to promise very modestly: how much can we
expect from such a title? But listening to these tapes reveals a startlingly
easy, effective, almost magical power for health and healing, as Weil says,
"literally right under our noses." What's more, it's free and
non-toxic. Breathing is about breath, energy, spirit, health, healing,
better lives, balance; specifically, the power of working with breath to
correct problems of health and spirit.
Andrew Weil, M.D. is a graduate of
Harvard College and the Harvard Medical School who has been widely read and
heard in recent years, both as physician and as an expert in the uses of
healing herbs, integrative medicine, and other alternatives (or additions) to
the traditional medical model. He is a professor of internal medicine at the
University of Arizona, founder of Weil Lifestyle LLC, and world-renowned author
of bestselling books like Spontaneous
The first bridge to the power of
this two-cassette program is Weil's careful, physician's reintroduction of
breathing itself in the first tape. His central insight is that breath is the only voluntary link to our otherwise
involuntary nervous system. Those who remember a bit of high school biology
will recall that the human nervous system has two branches, one voluntary, the
other involuntary. For example, running
down the street: voluntary. Heart beating: involuntary. Weil reminds us the
involuntary is called the Autonomic nervous system, itself divided into two,
the Sympathetic, that revs us up, and the Parasympathetic that calms us down.
Absolutely unique to our lives is breathing: it's both voluntary and
involuntary, thus it is served by both branches of our nervous system. This
makes breath the "doorway to the autonomic nervous system," as Weil
says, because we can influence that involuntary system using our voluntary
breath. Not only is this an insight of singular distinction, it is one of great
potential power for anyone willing to apply it.
You don't need to think of the
possibilities, because Weil thinks of them for you and spells them out in
fascinating detail. It's really quite trilling to recognize the potential power
in getting a voluntary grip on things, like stress, threatening our health.
Our nervous systems are out of
balance today. Constant Sympathetic stimulation creates stress, leading, in
turn, to imbalances that cause things like high blood pressure, heart disease,
and a long list of bodily diseases. Learning to use our breath, as Weil
explains, can resolve these stressors and help us deal with, or even eliminate,
Also, breath work--the guided use
of voluntary breathing--can center the mind and help turn our direction away
from the physical to the spiritual world. Although the power to do this
originated in ancient India, it does not require deep or deeply cultural
knowledge to achieve; it's available to anyone who makes a brief study of the
matter and practices a few simple techniques that Weil teaches in this program.
He imparts simple but powerful methods he has used on hundreds of patients
during many years of practice.
The value of this becomes apparent
when we consider the alternatives everywhere in society: prime examples, the use of suppressive
medications, the misuse of addictive drugs like nicotine and alcohol, the abuse
of food. Today, people are turning increasingly to pharmacological answers that
are expensive and harmful to the body. In contrast, Weil gives case examples of
patients who have, under his care, used breath as a way forward from drugs and
the harmful effects of stress.
How does it work?
We need to learn how to breathe
"more slowly, more quietly, more deeply, and regularly," says Weil.
These are the governing principles. Learning about our breath and doing it
voluntarily and correctly "increases Parasympathetic tone," therefore
brings our two systems back into balance. It does this over time, not
immediately, so it's not a quick fix. It is a powerful and lasting solution to
many defects and physical problems, however, one that has no unwanted side
effects. This program introduces, explains, and offers practice in breathing
exercises (tape two).
Related but nonetheless distinct is
the advantage of voluntary breath as a link between the conscious mind and the
unconscious. Psychotherapy has long sought to do this. Breath can provide
greater access to dreams, for instance. Breath work can also harmonize the
physical body and the mental life. Part of the intrinsic harmony of breath work
is that it participates in the rhythms of all life, the yin and yang or in and
out of energy and, indeed, the whole of creation. Not a bad program for
self-improvement available in so small a package.
Who should buy this program?
First of all, it's for healthy
people who want to stay healthy and get more out of life in every way. It's
also for all those whose response to stress has already resulted in some
symptoms of degenerative disorder--high blood pressure, elevated LDL
cholesterol, overweight, anxiety or depression just to name a few probable
conditions. Still more urgently, those who are ill with diabetes, artery
disease or any other disorders in treatment should consult with their doctors,
after listening to Weil's program, about how to put this program to work to
augment their treatment plans.
Dying patients have special needs.
This program can go far to help them physically, mentally, and spiritually. It
would also be a valuable program for those who work with the dying. Learning to
breathe well and using it as a mode of physical and spiritual
balancing--breathing more regularly, more slowly, more deeply, more
quietly--can be a profound comfort when under stress of any kind; it has
unlimited possibilities for healing and for renewal.
© 2004 David Wolf
David Wolf is the author of Philosophy That Works, a
book about the practice of philosophy. His book page for orders (hardback &
paperback) is www.xlibris.com/philosophythatworks
; readers can also see the first chapter there.