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Yoga, hope, HIV


Headstand strengthens
the immune system.
Photo rights: Christie Hall

Faced with the potential wholesale assault of HIV, what better than the wholesale response of yoga?

For a person living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), yoga works on a physical level, strengthening the immune system, and on a mental level, helping work through turmoil, according to yoga teacher Lisa Walford.

Yoga: science and art

“Yoga can be a very practical science and a highly esoteric art. When applied to a condition as complex as HIV, both are necessary,” Lisa Walford wrote in her presentation titled “Patanjali’s Stages of Transformation in Treating HIV Infection”, given Jan. 21, 2007, to the International Association of Yoga Therapists Symposium of Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR).

Yoga therapy addresses structural imbalances, neuromuscular patterning such as pain, emotions, and mindful awareness, according to a presentation for the Center for HIV Identification, Prevention, and Treatment Services, by Suzanne Slocum, yoga teacher and researcher, Walford, a certified Intermediate Senior I Iyengar yoga teacher, and Fawntice McCain, yoga teacher.

Balancing practice

Yoga practice must be adapted to the individual, as various symptoms surface, according to Walford. A balance must be struck between a normal and a restorative practice, avoiding the extremes: neither a practice that depletes strength nor a practice so gentle as to be ineffective, she notes.

“While many asanas will alleviate discomfort and enhance healing in target areas, the gift that yoga gives is solace, inner strength and equanimity, regardless of whether the disease is controlled or not,” wrote Walford, who is based in Santa Monica.

Strengthen and restore

For example, a student with HIV but without health problems should take general classes and emphasize inversions and backbends, according to Walford.

Restorative poses, on the other hand, have an effect on immunity because of the role positive emotions play in offsetting physiological stress.

These poses “target specific areas of the body to pacify and relieve symptoms, and thus encourage hope,” according to Walford.

More info: Download Walford's presentation. Download the powerpoint by Slocum, Walford and McCain. Learn more about the Center for HIV Identification, Prevention, and Treatment Services.