Edie Weinstein was diagnosed with asthma at the age of four. Through the years, as she relied on the typical Western approach to her illness, she began to learn about the physiological and psychological aspects of the condition. As she improved both her physical health and issues around unresolved grief, Edie was able to cure her asthma. She has not user her inhalers or any asthma medication in over five years.
Here is a bit of her story.
How long did you have asthma before you were completely cured?
I lived with the symptoms of asthma for most of my life, and the symptoms dissipated completely in the last year. The last time I used my inhaler was more than five years ago. I attribute part of my healing to losing weight. I was a lifelong athlete, but in 1992, I had a lot of major life changes. My husband was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, I had an ectopic pregnancy, we lost a home to Hurricane Andrew, and I started putting weight on. It was a gradual process, and I think emotional eating played a role. I sense that the weight put even more of a strain on my lungs and my ability to breathe comfortably. When I lost weight, did more cardio and changed my attitude, that all helped my asthma, along with a lot of other factors.
In the email you sent me, you said that part of your asthma was attributed to unresolved grief. Could you explain a bit about what you meant?
I remember reading about unresolved grief and people telling me over the years that there was a connection between the two. When my grandmother died soon after my fourth birthday, it was like losing a third parent. It is no surprise, when I look back on it through a therapeutic perspective (I have been a therapist for years), that this is when the asthma symptoms started. I have no conscious memory of my parents grieving, although I am sure they did. I know my mom missed her mother her whole life, but she just kept on keeping on. And in the midst of all of this, I started having my first asthma symptoms. On an unconscious level, perhaps I thought, “If my mom does not have to grieve, then neither do I.”
My M.O. had always been to run 100 miles per hour, figuratively speaking. When we are doing that, we are not taking in air comfortably, and if I am not fully breathing, then I am not fully living. So that had a lot to do with my asthma also.
What were the first steps you took in curing yourself of asthma?
When I was first diagnosed, I had allergy tests and I was put on steroids. I put on weight as a child from those steroids. When you look at pictures of me from the ages of four to seven, it is evident that I gained weight. As soon as they took me off steroids, I lost the weight. My family doctor was pretty holistic for his time. What he said was that treating asthma was not just about medication, but that exercise and swimming were also excellent ways to help it, so I joined a swim team when I was 11. I did it until I was 18 and then coached for three more years. I think being in the steamy pool environment helped my asthma as well.
In this whole journey were you thinking you were going to completely cure yourself?
No, I just wanted to feel better. I wanted relief and to simply breathe more comfortably. There were times when I felt as if I were suffocating — pretty frightening. Anything that could help with that was beneficial. When I was in college, I started studying mind-body medicine and the ways in which our thoughts contribute to our physiology, as well as the ways in which we see health. I became a vegetarian back then. I don’t eat red meat now, but I am not a strict vegetarian, either.
I also started thinking about how the food I ate contributed to my asthma and how I am able to breathe. Also, over the last few years I started to realize that the inhalers were not working.
The other part of curing my asthma was learning to slow down. Meditation helped, yoga helped, focusing on mindfulness helped and noticing my breathing helped. Curing asthma calls for a multi-modal approach.
Is there any one thing that you feel attributed to curing your asthma more than anything else?
I just keep getting back to the mindfulness and the awareness factors. When I am not consciously aware of what I am doing, I speak really quickly, I breathe rapidly and my lungs do not expand and contract fully. To me, asthma is not just physiological, but psychological as well.
How did you cure asthma through healing unprocessed grief?
I do not know if grief is ever completely resolved. I am also a bereavement therapist and a licensed social worker. I have done counseling for others for years around grief. I allow myself to cry when I need to. I allow myself to mourn when I need to. I have had a lot of family members die. My husband died when I was 40. Both of my parents have passed away in the past few years. With every cumulative loss, believe it or not, I have felt like my breathing was better.
I feel like it was hardest initially with my husband, because he was in a coma and on life support for five and a half weeks before he died while awaiting a liver transplant. The asthma was very active then.
When I have been around people with breathing problems, I sometimes empathically take on their symptoms. I know that sounds like cosmic foo-foo, but it is part of my recovery to refrain from taking on someone else’s grief. Grief comes up when it does. If I need to cry, I cry. I go to the gym to work out a lot of emotional stuff including grief. If you are at the gym, no one can tell if you are crying or sweating, so it is great. [Laughing] When I practice yoga, sometimes I cry. People cry on the mat a lot. Yoga brings up emotions.
Do you believe that diet overall helped your asthma?
I have a doctor friend who told me that for whatever reason, eating red fruits can contribute to breathing problems, so I stopped eating red apples, raspberries and strawberries, but since then I have gone back to eating them and they do not seem to bother me. But I think the biggest things that contributed to easier breathing for me were to slow down my pace, practice mindfulness, do cardio and lose weight. Because I was not hauling around so much body mass, it helped my breathing.
When you say slowing down and mindfulness, do you consider those two different things?
There is physically slowing down my pace and then there is the mindfulness, the awareness of what I am doing. If you are speaking 100 miles per hour and you cannot catch your breath, you are probably not going to feel your best. When you are rushing through your life, when you are rushing through talking to people and you cannot catch your breath physically and mentally, you can’t slow your breathing. I want to be mindful and aware of what I am feeling and what I am doing.
How many years total did you have asthma?
I am 53 now. I have not used my inhaler since my late 40s. I stopped using the inhalers because they were not working. I have not had an asthma attack in I can’t tell you how long. I had asthma attacks throughout my whole life where I had to go ER. I have not had bronchitis in years either. In 2005, I believe, was the last time I had serious respiratory issues of any type.
What about advice do you have for others who want to start their journey to curing asthma?
I would say listen to your body, listen to what is it telling you. What are the messages it is giving you? Our bodies are repositories for our emotions. Is your body telling you to take better care of it? Is it telling you to stop smoking? To lose weight? To be away from toxins? To exercise? If you are not able to do rigorous exercise, stretch, swim, walk or float. Do something.
All emotions are “e-motions” — energy in motion. When we are in some kind of motion, we are moving the energy. Be around supportive people who encourage you to take care of yourself and support your lifestyle changes. Be self-compassionate. That is a big one for me. I forget to be compassionate to myself. My inner critic yells at me all day long. I was dancing as fast as I could, which was my M.O. for awhile.
How would someone know if his or her asthma was emotionally exacerbated or induced?
I think it takes a level of conscious awareness to know that. It is a matter of having an awareness of when you are having hard time breathing. People should ask themselves, “When do I notice I have challenges in breathing?” For a lot of people, asthma is exercise-induced. I was the opposite, in that exercise made it better. I noticed that the times when I was most likely to have the symptoms were when I was upset, when I had an argument or when there was a trauma. I noticed that I was inclined to feel like I had a hard time breathing.
Did you use supplements, vitamins, acupuncture — anything like that?
Did you feel anything you tried did not help?
Occasionally, the inhalers would help me catch my breath, but overall they did not make a difference in helping me cure myself. I do not like dissing medical treatments, and I am not telling anyone not to take their medicine or not to go to their doctor. However, I am saying to be aware of how you are feeling and what is and is not working, and then discuss these things with your health-care practitioner.
Does it surprise you that you are cured of asthma?
No, not at all. When I listen to my body and I listen to its instructions, and when I am in connection with my body and having a dialogue with it — it gets better.
This interview and 13 others with people who cured their asthma, plus how my husband healed his asthma can all be found here:
More about Edie: www.liveinjoy.org.