A growing number of people with AIDS are turning to the ancient practice of yoga to strengthen the immune system, reduce chronic pain, relieve stress and depression, and also reduce the side effects of the powerful antiretroviral medications that they are required to take every day. HIV is a viral infection that often slowly develops into AIDS after a period of 10 – 15 years; however this time period can be lengthened or prevented through receiving effective treatment, leading a healthy lifestyle and managing stress levels. Once an HIV infection develops into AIDS, the immune system will begin slowly shutting down. This leaves the sufferer vulnerable to all types of minor infections, bacteria, colds and flu that can have devastating consequences. Individuals living with HIV and AIDS must ensure they take an active role in their healthcare to strengthen their immune systems to keep their disease at bay for as long as possible. Practicing yoga may be the perfect solution for fulfilling the need for a peaceful state of mind and a productive healthcare routine.
How AIDs Affects the Body
AIDS is also known as ‘late-stage HIV infection’ and considered to be a pandemic as over 35 million people are living with the disease and it is still actively spreading. The most common method of infection is through unprotected sex and far more people contract the disease this way than through sharing needles or contaminated blood transfusions. Once a person becomes infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) they will experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, enlarged lymph nodes, sore throat, headache and a rash approximately 2-4 weeks after the initial infection. The second stage of infection lasts between 3 and 20 years and will present as sudden weight loss, fever, muscle pain and enlarged lymph nodes. As the disease spreads, it will eventually progress to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) resulting in a total breakdown of the immune system. PWAS often develop other conditions towards the end of their life such as cervical cancer, Burkitt’s lymphoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma and cardiovascular disease.
How Yoga Can Help
The healing benefits of yoga have been proven beyond a doubt, and it is a form of exercise that benefits the mind, body and soul equally. It strengthens the muscles and cleanses the body of toxins through sweat, deep breathing and by stimulating the internal organs. It also helps to clear any negative or blocked energy from within the body, promoting a healthier physical and psychological state. Meditation is a central component in yoga, and a study conducted at UCLA found that HIV positive patients who spent just 30 – 45 minutes a day in meditation were able to slow the drop in their immune cells after just 2 months. A large number of HIV sufferers also report feeling isolated, stigmatized and are far more likely to suffer from depression, substance abuse issues and suicidal thoughts than the rest of the population. Attending a yoga class each week provides some much needed human contact outside of a hospital setting. Many states now run yoga classes that are specifically for those living with HIV and AIDS and are extremely popular amongst patients. Visit http://yogagroup.org/index.html for information on free yoga classes for both AIDS patients and those living with serious illnesses.
What Evidence Is There?
HIV sufferers are far more likely to experience cardiovascular disease as a result of their condition. A study conducted at the Washington University School of Medicine involved 60 HIV positive patients who were deemed to be at risk of cardiovascular disease. Half of the patients participated in a 20 week yoga program and researchers monitored the blood pressure, body composition, insulin and other related factors. Compared to the control group, the patients who participated in the yoga practice were found to have lower systolic and diastolic blood pressures.
A controlled trial published in the American Journal of Health Promotion involved testing the effects of yogic breathing and meditation on 62 HIV/AIDS patients. Participants reported improvements in their overall wellbeing and positive changes in their day to day lives.
Much of the evidence that supports the use of yoga for PWAS is anecdotal and derived from clinical reports. Thousands of people across the world report huge improvements to their overall health after adopting a regular yoga practice. Yoga is an ancient system of healing that enables the practitioner to turn inwards and confront their true selves, bringing them closer to a sense of peace and acceptance whilst cleansing and strengthening the body. There are numerous types of yoga practiced and many centers offer a variety of styles to meet the needs of their clients.
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