Yoga for people living with HIV

Published by rudy Date posted on May 28, 2011

MAROON 5 VOCALIST Adam Levine recently revealed his obsession over yoga, how it helped solve his flexibility issues and how it sculpted his body. For a group here in Manila, yoga means more than just a workout. To them it is a community whose common advocacy focuses on helping people with HIV.

Founded by yoga instructors Charmaine Cu-Unjieng and Paulo Leonido who once dreamt of bringing yoga particularly to the HIV community, Yoga for Life became the buzzword in June last year. With the help of ECHOyoga, Positivism and core volunteers, Charmaine and Paulo were able to start yoga classes initially with 14 students.

“The first months were like walking on thin ice as we needed to get people to open up to either experiencing yoga and facing the issue of HIV,” the founders recalled. After almost a year, the Yoga for Life community has grown to over 300 members holding bi-weekly classes in Ortigas and Makati.

As a community of people living with HIV and those tested “negative” but likewise support the cause, YFL seeks to send the strong message that “there is no place for fear, stigma and discrimination in our world.”

The number of people getting HIV infection is sending shockwaves of alarm the world over. In the Philippines alone, six cases are recorded a day unlike in 2006 when it used to be just a single case per day, said Cu-Unjieng in an interview with the Inquirer.

It should be noted that Philippines and Bangladesh are the only countries in the whole Asia Pacific region whose HIV prevalence has increased by 25 percent in over 10 years. Most countries have HIV epidemics that are controlled or decreasing, she said.

Best yoga poses

What makes the YFL program different from among the yoga programs available is its emphasis on the practice of breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation to deepen the yoga experience.

“Many of our students face extraordinary fear, stress, anxiety or depression because of the impact of HIV and AIDS in their lives, so we use these yoga techniques to help alleviate these and bring them back to a peaceful, happy and optimistic, positive state of mind,” Cu-Unjieng told the Inquirer.

Because HIV attacks the immune system, people who develop AIDS become vulnerable to opportunistic infections. YFL puts premium on certain yoga poses that are especially beneficial in boosting the immune system, stimulating the thyroid gland and detoxifying the body, particularly inversions and fish pose. All breathing techniques are beneficial to the immune system, especially the Ujjai breath (“victorious breath”), Cu-Unjieng said.

“Meditation is good for everyone, especially those suffering from mental and emotional stress. People living with HIV need to adopt a healthy lifestyle both physically and mentally.  Healthy diet, regular exercise, stress-free environment and avoidance of toxins like alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can all strengthen the immune system,” she furthered.

Part of the YFL program is discussion on relevant issues such as safe sex and positive prevention using the yoga philosophy.

The YFL community provides a safe haven for people living with HIV because they do not need to disclose their status to become members, the founders said. Members are welcomed and treated with the same respect and love as anyone else. The group relies on the support of private and public donors to cover for their expenses and from the minimal “suggested donation” of P200 from students who join their classes.

All the regular yoga classes that YFL conducts are open to anyone who supports the HIV and AIDS cause. There is no registration fee to be a member. Schedules are available at –Emman Cena, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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