Interview: Robert Piper
Robert Piper: You’re a true pioneer in your industry. Can you talk about how you literally opened up a new field of healthcare?
Dr. Andrew Weil: I think integrative medicine, something I’ve pioneered, is the way of the future. Its great promise is that it can reduce healthcare costs by shifting the whole focus of healthcare away from disease management to health promotion and prevention. They can do that two ways: first, by focusing attention on lifestyle medicine, which is very deficient. And second, by bringing into the mainstream treatments that are lower cost because they are not dependent on expensive technology.
RP: Early in your career you were the pioneer of integrative medicine. You dealt with criticism. Can you explain how you maintained focus on your goal?
AW: I’ve always been called “controversial.” I think if I were not controversial I wouldn’t be doing my job. I tried to change the conventional paradigm, for example, by insisting on the reality of mind-body interaction, by stressing the importance of natural therapies, by focusing attention on lifestyle issues, by looking at worthwhile aspects of alternative medicine. Many people have been threatened by that. Doctors especially tend to think that they know everything about the human body, and don’t realize that medical education has really omitted many very important subjects.
RP: What most inspires you about your work?
AW: The Arizona center for Integrative Medicine has now enrolled its one thousandth fellow. These are physicians in intensive two year training, so we’ve graduated over 900 physicians from this training. They are in practice all over the country. Some are training other people and publishing textbooks. Seeing this growing number of health professionals “get it” and really represent the generation—that’s extremely satisfying to me.
RP: You’re a big fan of meditation. Can you explain why a meditation practice is so essential?
AW: I think it’s useful on many different levels. First of all, it’s a very useful relaxation technique. Secondly, it trains attention and concentration, which are useful in almost any activity—athletic performance, musical performance, cooking, anything. Learning to focus attention and concentration is very useful; meditation can help you do that. Thirdly, it’s a way to restructure the mind by learning to detach attention from thinking and put it somewhere else. That’s a useful long-term strategy for optimal emotional health because thoughts and images in the mind are often sources of fear and worry.
RP: Can you talk about the role of stress in our culture, it seems to be an epidemic?
AW: I don’t think you can live without stress; I think the human life is stressful, and it probably always has been, although the forms of stress may change from culture to culture, and from time to time. I think it’s worth trying to do something about obvious sources of stress in your life. But even more important is learning and practicing methods to neutralize the harmful effects of stress on the body and mind. There are many possibilities, anything from meditation and yoga to listening to relaxing music. My personal favorite is simple breathing techniques—they’re very effective, take very little time, and they’re free.
RP: Can you talk about the mission behind your foundation?
AW: The Weil Foundation was created to channel money to integrative medicine educational programs both at the University of Arizona and around the country. It receives all of my after-tax profits from the sale of products that have my name and likeness on it. It has supported fellowship training at various universities, and medical students’ trainings. I hoping that we will continue to expand and be able to give away more grants.
Dr. Andrew Weil is Founder and Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the College of Medicine, University of Arizona, and Director of Integrative Health and Healing at the Miraval Resort. For more information, visit drweil.com.
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