Art of Living targets people infected with HIV

Stabroek News
February 6, 2007

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Little is known locally about the specific mental issues people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) face, but depression and isolation are reported to be among them. Now one local non-governmental organisation has embarked on a project to promote stress-free lives for infected individuals.

After presenting a successful project proposal to the Ministry of Health, the Art of Living Foundation, which was among 15 NGOs to receive World Bank funding, is introducing scientifically proven breathing techniques to persons living with the disease that will build their physiology and resistance to the virus by oxygenating body cells and increasing energy levels.

The foundation hopes to promote the use of yogic science of breath for healthier living to build physical and mental strength while infusing the spirit to fight back. Sudarshan Kriya, an ancient breathing technique, is an integral part of the course.

In a recent interview Vice-President of the foundation Rolinda Kirton said they are targeting 360 persons with the pilot project and are working with established HIV and AIDS NGOs to recruit them..

Kirton said Woodlands Hospital will be conducting psychological profiling, while the GUM clinic will work on pre- and post-testing of CD4 levels to gauge the impact of the practices being introduced, adding that this is important to the foundation.

She said they will use group processes to reduce feelings of fear, depression and loneliness, and increase feelings of joy, self-love and inner peace so that PLWHA can live fully and meaningfully. Additionally, she said, they will reinforce in youths and adults the values of caring, sharing and acceptance with a strong bias on self awareness and HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention.

What the Art of Living Foundation proposes has never been attempted in Guyana but Kirton is optimistic that there will be only success stories.

"The Sudarshan Kriya infuses the body with energy and harmonises the natural balance of the body, mind and emotions. Scientifically, the breathing floods the cells of a human body with oxygen and energy while making them feel a sense of harmony. If the Sudarshan Kriya is practiced regularly it helps an individual at being mentally and physically healthy," Kirton said.

She said they are working with highly skilled instructors who have been working in their respective fields for a number of years.

Immune system benefits

Professor Varadaraja Shenoy, Art of Living tutor and Professor/Director of Physical Education, Mangalore University, India who will be carrying out the first course in Guyana said that many problems people have are stress related. He said the chemistry of the body changes with breathing, adding that the programme benefits the immune system.

He said it relieves stress by reducing mental worry and physical strain and consequently improving the immune system.

Professor Shenoy said breathing is in sync with our emotions. He explained that an adult normally uses 30 percent of the lung's capacity to breathe, while children use 100. This, he said, is because adults worry more and feel more burdened. This explains why children are happier- they are stress free.

He said the Art of Living programme is geared towards helping adults build on the 30 percent. He said the programme is not only about breathing but also involves work on the mind and spirit, adding that many of the techniques are rather simple.

Professor Shenoy has worked with PLWHA in Suriname and in India. He has also worked with prisoners and according to him everyone he has encountered has praised the programme.

Over the ten years he has been involved in Art of Living, he has done around 150 courses in various countries, but this is his first time in Guyana.

Outlining the course, Kirton said there are four components, but there are plans to include a fifth and possibly a sixth. The first component is an eight-day programme for PLWHA and the second and third, two five-day workshops to spread awareness among youths and adults. The fourth will be a training session for trainers to leave enough skills to do follow-up classes with participants and members of the community including youths and adults.

She said that if the two other components are added they will focus on a Youth Leadership Training Programme which will channel the energies of youths into a positive direction, again with a strong HIV and AIDS awareness component and a Breath Water Sound (BWS) component to target very poor and disadvantaged communities. This will depend on the number of persons trained in the first six months of the programme.

Through collaboration with the media and the GUM clinic, health centres, clinics, hospitals and community workers Art of Living will identify persons who would need the first component of the course. Participants for component two and three will also be sourced through the media and by word of mouth from those who have already benefited from the courses.

Kirton said several studies have demonstrated that the practice of Sudarshan Kriya significantly reduces levels of cortisol, known as the stress hormone. This, she said, is particularly valuable to those fighting HIV-1 infection given cortisol's effect on cytokine production, and more directly its promotion of increased replication of HIV-1.

"Prior to launching this project we have had such positive feedback from people which is why I am confident someone with a compromised immune system is likely to feel the benefits‚€¦ in a huge way," Kirton added.

Art of Living was founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of India and is now in over 140 countries. Its techniques were medically found to reduce cortisol, benefit the immune system, reduce cholesterol, relieve anxiety and depression, increase antioxidant protection, enhance brain function and health, well-being and peace of mind.

Since its initiation, she said, the foundation has also worked with cancer patients.

Kirton stressed that Art of Living is not a religion since it embraces all faiths.