I swallow with gratitude pills for seven days and try to keep a sunshine mind.
Nearly everyone who has been living with HIV for several years can attest to the horrible side effects: diarrhea, nausea, relentless fatigue, peripheral neuropathy and lipodystrophy just to name a few. Anyone who has lived with the disease before the age of protease inhibitors (1995) can attest to the severely debilitating effects of opportunistic infections. Western medicine still doesn’t seem to completely grasp the importance of the quality versus the quantity of human life.
It is interesting to me how both the quality and quantity of animal lives are completely disregarded by our society, but of course, this is a topic for another article. Diagnosed with HIV in 1990, before the era of antiretrovirals, I was told that I had a life-expectancy of a few years at best.
I have been living with HIV since 1988 and AIDS since 1998, the year I succumbed to antiretroviral therapy. Fortunately, I discovered the complementary, lifesaving practices of yoga in 1997 and qigong in 1999.I emphasize the word complementary because I would not be alive today if HIV medications were not available. In fact, years ago, when I constantly lamented to my doctor about the intolerable adverse effects I was experiencing, he stated:
“You should kiss your pills before you go to bed at night.”
I did not start treatment for HIV until an extreme case of pneumonia landed me in the intensive care unit of a hospital and my immune system was basically obliterated. When you start treatment late, the immune system often doesn’t recover as well. Thus, after years of treatment, I still lack the Cd4 cells needed to graduate from the AIDS classification (less than 200 Cd4 cells or 14% of the total white blood cell count).
Although my lab results are dismal, I have found that if I remain on my medications and keep my Cd4 cells above 100, I do not have any serious illnesses and rarely ever have a cold. I have experimented with many methods to avoid taking HIV medications. I would rather drink my own urine than take antiretrovirals, but urine therapy never worked for me nor did the Macrobiotic diet, even though I paid a fortune for a personal consultation with Michio Kushi.
In 2002, during my Macroneurotic phase, a more intensive form of the macrobiotic diet, the fungus in my lungs overgrew because in addition to stopping all of my HIV medications. I also stopped taking the antibiotic, Bactrim, the prophylaxis for Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP). When my doctor saw me, he said that he hadn’t seen a case of PCP for five years. At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, PCP was the number one killer of people with AIDS.
Although, I do chronically battle with chronic fatigue, I believe I am able to remain healthy due to my lifestyle:
- I eat a healthy, vegan diet.
- I maintain a regular sleep schedule.
- I do not drink alcohol or smoke.
- I practice asana, meditation, pranayama and qigong daily.
Five Essential Asanas and Four Essential Practices For Living Well With HIV
Above all, I accredit my lifestyle with enabling me to successfully stay on structured treatment interruption for several years. I am the only person I am aware of that is able to take their medication for one week and then take a break for one week. When I first began antiretroviral treatment, I would often stop completely due to the inability to tolerate the side effects; however, the HIV virus replicates at lightning speed immediately wiping out any gain in Cd4 cells as the amount of virus soars higher and higher.
I absolutely do not recommend that anyone attempt structured treatment interruption without completely understanding the gamble and consulting with a physician specializing in HIV. The current HIV guidelines do not recommend treatment interruption for anyone.
I have only shared the information of how I have kept my virus successfully under control on structured treatment interruption because I believe it is due to the incredible stress-reducing, immune-boosting and mood-enhancing benefits of an assiduous yoga and qigong practice that I am extremely grateful for every moment of my life.
Over the years, I have studied and practiced many styles of yoga and qigong. My studies commenced with the Iyengar style, which I believe is the one of the best styles for learning the proper alignment and form of the postures and for learning how to maximize the use of props to enable the body and mind to relax more deeply. I especially appreciate my Iyengar background when practicing and teaching inversions, as these postures are the most likely to cause injuries if not practiced intelligently.
Intellectually, I understand the concept of the power of the mind. I constantly strive to think positively, to cultivate gratitude for everything in my life and to remember “your thoughts create reality.”
My Zhineng Qigong teacher uses the term, sunshine mind. Nevertheless, after all these years, I still have not mastered: the ability to profoundly relax nor the ability to completely focus my mind. I have discovered over the years that many asanas are energy-draining and exacerbate my chronic fatigue.
What are the Most Essential Asanas and Practices For Living Well With HIV?
Although I do not limit myself to a particular set of asanas, I have learned that my body benefits the most from these essential asanas:
1. Sirsasana (Headstand)
2. Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand)
3. Salamba Setu Bandha (Supported Bridge Pose)
4. Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose)
5. Supta Baddha Konasna (Supine Bound Angle pose) or other supported Backbends
with a block or foam Roller
Four Essential practices:
I leave you with a poem detailing my struggles with HIV:
Oblivious to me, HIV seized my defenseless, body.
Now, host I must be to a voracious sea of calamity.
Gobbling T-cells; replicating incessantly; creating endless mutations; hiding in impossible-to-reach places; HIV is the juggernaut of the century.
Only after a terrifying week in the ICU, strapped to a face mask, struggling to breathe, my
bedridden body pierced with IV’s, am I ready to consider the medications available to me.
If I continue to ignore this unwelcome guest, Doomed am I to a slow, painful death.
If I attack HIV with a cocktail, maybe I can live free.
Paralyzing fear grips me as I contemplate my new Reality.
I must kill you or let you kill me.
Choosing medication is not the panacea I hoped it would be.
I am drowning in toxicities, and the virus continues to rage war inside me.
Losing my hair and incapacitated by headaches, nausea, and horrendous fatigue, my bedroom is the world for me.
Anything but antiretrovirals seems better to me.
Now, I am faced with a formidable task: How can I control this virus alternatively?
Countless supplements, urine therapy, macrobiotics, positive affirmations and endless
visualizations, yoga and qigong do nothing to impede the insurmountable one.
Forced am I to once again contemplate the nemesis.
I weigh my options relentlessly, finding nothing appeals to me.
Decimated T-cells and a rapidly escalating viral load, force me to return to the allopathic mode.
Feeling like a poisoned rat, isolated to my room, I seize the alternative route anew.
Never losing hope of victory, I stop and start until PCP forces me to reconsider my possibilities.
Grim, unbearable thoughts torture my mind: I am blind, demented, paralyzed and confined to a sterile, chemical-filled room of harsh smells and small talk and Hell.
The vision goads me to sobriety, forcing me to surrender finally to the western mentality.
Fortunately, structured treatment interruption arrives to save me.
Now, I aspire to thrive as I continue to survive.
I swallow, with gratitude, pills for seven days, and look forward to a week of respite.
My doctor once said I should kiss my pills good night instead of casting them aside.
Now, I understand the necessity for balance in a world of compromise.
Comments, questions and experiences of other teachers or practitioners living with HIV are welcomed and appreciated. If you don’t feel comfortable posting your comment here, then you can e-mail me.
Kim Amlong has a Master’s degree in physical therapy and practiced physical therapy for five years. A devoted practitioner of yoga since 1997, she completed the Iyengar yoga teacher training program with Patricia Walden (her primary teacher) and assisted Patricia Walden with her classes for two and a half years. Kim has been an avid student and practitioner of qigong since 1999 and has completed courses in Kripalu and Para yoga. Kim served as the Director of Teachers for five years at Karma Yoga Studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During that time, she studied with Jesse Winder (owner of Karma Yoga Studio), and acted as a consultant, as he developed his own style of yoga, PhysioYoga. Kim has a keen interest in energy awareness and its health benefits and teaches an eclectic style that emphasizes anatomical alignment, relaxation, breath, body and energy awareness in a joyful, inspiring atmosphere. Kim encourages students to question everything and to feel confident in exploring postures best-suited to their individual needs and goals. She loves sharing the transformative benefits of yoga and qigong with everyone who is interested, and follows a vegan diet for her health, the animals and the planet.~Editor: Colleen Simpson
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