By Melody Wordsworth
Before starting this essay over a year ago I decided strongly that my Yoga on health topic would have to be Yoga and HIV. As we live in a society where this has unfortunately become a big health problem and a large portion of the population, especially in South Africa is affected by this life threatening disease. As a qualified Pharmacist assistant working in the health sector I see firsthand how this disease affects people. I believe that as Yoga changed my life for the better it can also change the life of those affected by this life altering disease. I believe that Yoga can present them with health benefits to ensure a longer life where the HIV can be kept under control for many years. But before continuing with this topic I have also decided since falling pregnant last year to go further in depth with Yoga during pregnancy as this assisted me in having a successful, stress free pregnancy which I got to enjoy to its full capacity. Enjoying Yoga , while creating life is astonishing.
I will start this essay by explaining the meaning of YOGA and its benefits before going in depth with the two health topics I have chosen.
Although Yoga has been recognized in India for thousands of years, western medicine is just beginning to do the clinical research needed to scientifically document its benefits. Yoga improves lives physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and studies have shown that it has a positive impact on the body and the mind. It lowers stress, improves the immune system, tones the body, balances the endocrine system, and creates a general state of wellbeing.
Yoga is the union of one’s mind, body, and spirit. This is obtained through, Meditation, relaxation, exercise, diet and proper breathing. Meditation has been defined as the self-regulation of attention. Meditation is used to obtain different goals such as a higher state of consciousness, greater focus, creativity or self-awareness, or simply a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind. Relaxation is to most people today sleep or watching TV but relaxation is actually a feeling of refreshing tranquility and an absence of tension or worry which should be easily attained through meditation and positive thinking. Yoga involves creating a balance in the body through developing both strength and flexibility through the performance of poses and postures. The physical poses in Yoga are called asanas. This releases the lactic acid that builds up with muscle use and causes stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue. In addition, yoga increases the range of motion in joints. It may also increase lubrication in the joints. The outcome is a sense of ease and fluidity throughout your body.
Yoga stretches not only your muscles but all of the soft tissues of your body. That includes ligaments, tendons, and the fascia sheath that surrounds your muscles. The more you practice, the more flexible you become and the more body strength you develop.
An improper diet has many adverse effects on the human body. All of the body organs are affected by choice of diet. A proper diet includes taking time to look at what and when as well as how much you eat.
Breathing is one of the most vital, if not the most important factor of Yoga. We come into the world as good breathers, inhaling and exhaling from our abdomens. Over time, we unlearn this process due to adverse external influences such as stress. Through Yoga we relearn that slow, deep breathing allows the abdomen to expand bringing into the lungs the amount of oxygen needed to nourish all the cells of the body. It also slows down the heart rate, relaxes muscles and calms the mind.
When you consider the basic principles of Yoga, it should be evident that gaining total balance of the whole person is a concept that is necessary to the well-being of every human. A beginner’s yoga practice should start you off slowly, as should any new exercise program. Yoga has postures and breathing techniques for almost all diseases and health disorders.
Yoga in HIV and AIDS
We all know that diet has a lot to with our health, as the saying says, you are what you eat. This is a serious factor when it comes to people with HIV as health is now more important than ever as physical well being is important to prevent illnesses that could cause a traumatic influence for the disease to manifest stronger. More importantly is our frame of mind as well as stress levels and Yoga targets all these areas to create equality in the person.
Yoga has proven beneficial for those who have HIV and AIDS, leading to greater levels of physical fitness, improved immunity, lower levels of stress and a greater sense of inner peace. While almost all yoga poses will prove beneficial, there is a few which may yield a greater benefit for this particular disease.
It is believed that inversions may be good for those with AIDS and HIV because they redirect the blood and energy flow to the thymus. The thymus is a large endocrine gland which helps regulate and control T cells within the immune system. Since HIV and AIDS attack the T cells, supporting the gland which controls them seems like a logical way to help the body fights this disease. Improving the efficiency of the thymus and in turn the immune system certainly couldn’t hurt.
Beneficial inversions include Headstands, Shoulders Stands, Plow Pose and Feathered Peacock Pose. When performing inversions it is important to keep safety in mind.
Backbends are also believed to be beneficial because of the fact that they open up the chest. Opening up the chest increases the performance of the thymus gland which in turn should increase immune function.
Beneficial backbends include Reclining Bound Angle Pose, Supported Bridge Pose, Cobra Pose and Upward Facing Dog.
In addition to supporting immune function, yoga may be used to reduce levels of stress. Stress reduction is critical for those with HIV and AIDS. Anything that can decrease stress levels is profoundly helpful.
Beneficial poses for stress relief include Child’s Pose, Corpse Pose, Hero Pose and Legs Up The Wall Pose.
It is vital to keep an eye on any person performing Yoga with health problems to ensure that they do not over exhort themselves.
Within Yoga, pranayama has been studied for its positive effects on stress and is recommended as an effective treatment for those suffering from AIDS.
Yogic pranayama is both breath awareness and manipulation and is essential in reducing stress.
One of many positive aspects of pranayama for AIDS is the fact that it is possible to practice throughout the course of the illness, unlike many other physical activities. Anyone with AIDS should consider practicing pranayama on a daily basis. Pranayama requires attention, force of will and patience but it does not put heavy demands on the physical body.
Yoga during Pregnancy
If you consider Yoga during your first trimester it is important to ensure that the teacher has been trained for prenatal Yoga classes.
Pregnancy is a great opportunity to relax and turn your attention inwards. Hormones released during pregnancy cause dramatic changes in the body. For example: the hormone relaxin, softens the connective tissue, cartilage, and supports the joints to prepare for an easier delivery. Any asana or pranayama technique that doesn’t make you feel good should be stopped immediately.
Prenatal Yoga helps to prepare the body and mind for labor and birth. According to hormonal changes overstretching may cause injury to the joints, tendons and muscles. The first trimester is crucial part of pregnancy, so yoga should be done with modification and great caution, considering the possibility of miscarriage.
There is an opinion that most asana should be avoided during the first trimester:
If a woman had one or more miscarriages previously, or is now threatening to miscarry in this pregnancy, all exercises should be avoided until after 16th week. If she has any bleeding at all, she should stop exercising until she has investigated the cause with her doctor.
Doing yoga postures is not a strenuous activity and unlikely to be the cause of miscarriage, but as a precaution it is wise to begin practice after your pregnancy is well established.
Now we will look over asana in different poses.
1. Standing Pose: Many women feel faint and dizzy in first trimester. It can be caused by posture, anemia and postural low blood pressure. Hence standing poses should be done without holding the pose for too long.
2. Sitting Pose: In sitting pose deep twists should be avoided. Deep twists from belly may compress internal organs including uterus which will be harmful for baby.
3. Back Bends: Deep back bends should be avoided because it causes overstretching. Generally deep back bends strengthens the abdominal muscles, also abdominal and pelvic organs
4. Inversions: Inversions are helpful in pregnancy by using the wall. Sometimes woman may not feel comfortable doing it so best is avoid it.
5. Prone Pose (Abdominal strengthener): Abdominal strengthener should completely be avoided in this period because abdomen gets completely compressed and it stimulates the internal organs..
6. Pranayama: Pranayama requiring breath retention (Kumbhaka) is not good for both mother and baby as it may cut off blood supply to baby..
Yoga is a good way to relax and relieve stress. Relieving stress is a much underrated part of adopting a healthy lifestyle. In a culture where hard work and dedication are given tremendous importance, many forget that stress can have several adverse health effects. When pregnant, finding a way to relieve stress can be beneficial not only for yourself, but for your baby as well.
There are various yoga poses that may be recommended for pregnant women. Chatarunga is one such pose, as is downward facing dog and cobra. Restorative yoga is a type of yoga that is not intended to put stress on the body, but rather uses props such as pillows, blocks, blankets, etc. to put the body into certain poses. Remember, though, that restful poses are different from sleep and can be more rewarding than you might believe.
When practicing yoga while pregnant, if something doesn’t feel right, stop. Do not feel like you have to walk away from a yoga session having exerted tremendous amounts of energy for it to be successful. While pregnant, taking care of your baby and your body should be your top priorities. Leave the challenging stuff for after giving birth.
The bottom line is that yoga can be a great way to restore balance, relieve stress and prepare your body for giving birth. Make sure that you find a yoga class dedicated to pregnant women, or inform your instructor that you are pregnant before class.
Melody Wordsworth is a certified Yoga teacher who lives in South Africa.