For many people with HIV, the medications, infamous for their unpleasant side effects, just add to the burden of the disease. Antiretroviral medications are known to cause nausea, insomnia, and loss of appetite, and they may cause liver damage, increase levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (fat in the blood), raise blood pressure, and increase the risk of heart disease. The good news is that yoga seems to also help here. Researchers at
Washington University in St. Louis found that HIV-positive people taking antiretroviral medications who experienced high cholesterol levels also saw modest reductions in their blood-pressure levels and in the amount of triglycerides in their blood by practicing hatha yoga two to three times a week.
This is important, says Timothy McCall, MD, Yoga Journal's medical editor and the author of Yoga as Medicine, because medicine can't work if people don't take it—and side effects are a big reason that people stop taking their medications or reduce their dosages. If yoga and meditation can help offset negative side effects, there's a better chance that HlV-positive people will stay on medications that can help keep them alive.
For Don, an HIV-positive San Francisco resident who requested that his last name not be used, fear of taking HIV antiretroviral medication contributed to his denial about his condition after it was diagnosed in 2005. Instead of dealing with his anxiety about the disease, he focused his energy on work and exercise. And his T cells began a slow, steady decline.
From his participation in an MBSR study through the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, Don discovered more formal tools for managing his anxiety and for staying healthy He now receives monthly acupuncture, which he says promotes relaxation and balances his energy And while he used to view his vin-yasa flow practice as a workout, he's added restorative yoga to his relaxation tool kit to help him to get in touch with his body and to keep his stress in check.
Don has also begun taking a cocktail of drugs to maintain his T cell count, and he uses mindfulness techniques to keep his fears about the disease at bay. "While I still may not be able to sit still long enough to do a 25-minute meditation practice, I can pause and reshift my awareness and not get stressed," he says. *
Heather Boerner is a freelance medical writer in San Francisco.
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