Individuals with HIV/AIDS Turning to Yoga to Help Alleviate Symptoms of Disease
Many physicians and HIV-positive individuals are touting the benefits of yoga in helping alleviate some of the symptoms of AIDS and other immune system diseases, leading "thousands" of men and women across the country to turn to the exercise. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that people with HIV are practicing yoga because they view it as "ammunition against pneumonia, wasting and other signs" of AIDS. For example, "Immuno Yoga," an Atlanta-based program that began as a community service of Grady Memorial Hospital's Infectious Disease Program, includes exercises that emphasize postures and movements that instructors say "boost the immune system and strengthen organs vulnerable to medication," such as the liver and kidneys. Instructor Jaya Devi said the routine also "revitalizes nerve endings by aiding circulation." Those taking antiretroviral drugs say the exercises help them deal with the drugs' side effects, such as nausea and insomnia. Some HIV-positive individuals feel that yoga helps them control their "emotions and mood swings," thus shielding them from depression. Yoga instructors add that yoga gives some people a "sense of control over their lives and health, something that experts acknowledge may aid recovery from disease."
Based in Fact?
Despite yoga's popularity, there is "considerable debate" in the medical world over whether the practice truly benefits individuals with HIV and other immune system diseases. One study funded by NIH and slated to be released at an AIDS conference sponsored by Harvard University and the University of California-San Francisco found that "some alternative treatments," such as yoga, may help slow the progression of HIV to AIDS. Dr. Dennis Melton, an internist at Atlanta Medical Center and a member of the board of directors of AID Atlanta, added that yoga has a mentally soothing effect on some individuals, which could be physically beneficial for HIV-positive people. "They have a system that's already stressed, and they need to focus on positive physical and mental practices," he said. Other scientists, however, are "skeptical" of the health benefits of yoga, stating that there is "no proof" the practice enhances the immune system. Meg Newman, a medical professor and education director at the AIDS Institute at UCSF, said, "There is no doubt that it's a wonderful form of workout, but I can't prove that it enhances the immune system." She added, however, that yoga works as "a 'perfect' companion" to antiretroviral therapy (Yoo, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/10).