yoga mats

Yoga for People with HIV

Build muscle, improve energy, reduce stress
Author: Matt McMillen

Yoga is an ideal exercise for people with HIV. It not only helps build muscle and energy, but also reduces stress. In a study published in the June 2008 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported that stress greatly increases the risk that HIV will progress to AIDS.

“Yoga is excellent for stress reduction when done properly,” says Misha Cohen, OMD, LAc, a specialist in integrative medicine at the University of California San Francisco Institute for Health and Aging. This is especially true of gentler forms of yoga, which focus on simple poses and breathing techniques rather than on exercises that overly tax the body. One such form is hatha yoga, a slow-paced version that emphasizes stretching to improve flexibility and breathing exercises that aid in relaxation.

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Cohen, a practitioner of Chinese and Asian medicine for more than 30 years, says that yoga offers additional benefits. It can help ease some symptoms, as well as the side effects of HIV medications, including joint pain and digestive problems. “Practicing yoga is a great way to gain strength, support the immune system and increase circulation,” Cohen says.

Many of Cohen’s clients practice yoga, which she encourages. She tells her patients to find studios that cater to the special needs of people with HIV. “You don’t want a class where you are pushed too hard,” Cohen says. “That’s not good for the immune system.”

Cohen advises her patients to attend at least a few classes in order to become comfortable with the yoga routine before they practice on their own. Most people will begin to experience yoga’s benefits after a month of regular practice. The social benefits, on the other hand, can be enjoyed immediately. Specialized classes for people with HIV, which Cohen says are often free or offered at reduced cost, bring together people with common concerns and experiences.

To learn more about yoga for people living with hemophilia and HIV/AIDS, please contact the physical therapist at your local hemophilia treatment center.