Yoga and AIDS Related Diseases

Swami Pragyamurti Saraswati, Talk delivered during the Tyag Golden Jubilee convention, Munger, November, 1993

AIDS is not a trickling stream. It is spreading like fire all over the world. Although I have absolutely no medical training and even less medical knowledge, I would like to share with you my experience of the last three years working with people who are HIV positive and or living with the various manifestations of AIDS.

It is an honour and a privilege to work with this particular group of people, and I can assure you that I am learning quite as much as I am teaching. When young men, who could be my sons, can look me in the eyes and tell me that they are glad that they have AIDS because without it they would not have started to look within, they would not have started to look at the deeper aspects of life, I can only feel humble and privileged to be with them and to be close to them.

About three years ago I was asked by a support group in London for people living with AIDS to start a yoga class. As I said, I have no medical knowledge, I rely entirely on the inner guidance of my beloved Guru, Paramahamsa Satyananda. So, the class started and I have taught them nothing other than what I teach everybody else, starting with the techniques of pawanmuktasana, shakti bandha and yoga nidra. The students in the class vary from being HIV positive and healthy, to people in the later stages AIDS related diseases. I would say that nearly 90% of my students are homosexual males. There are some women and one or two drug addicts, but the latter do not usually complete the course. All of these three groups of people are in some way marginalised and alienated from the main stream of society.

So, the first thing we have to think of is bringing about a balance. Of course, this happens through the various yoga practices. Through pawanmuktasana the body is made stronger and more supple, but fairly quickly I have moved on to some of the major asanas, particularly those which work directly on the thymus gland, which plays an important role in the immune system. So, we have been spending a particular amount of time on asanas such as matsyasana, halasana, sarvangasana and kandharasana. We are also working on a number of other postures which stimulate the adrenals and, therefore, have a secondary knock-on effect on the thymus. These include such practices as paschimottanasana, ushtrasana and many others.

In addition to the practices of asana, pranayama is also very important. Of all the students with whom I have worked in the last twenty three years or so, these HIV positive people seem to have more intuitive understanding of the importance of the breath. So, from the very beginning, we have been integrating breath awareness into our various practices. Learning the various stages of breathing has brought relief to the students in terms of helping them to sleep better and to deal with the tensions associated with AIDS.

I have learnt that oxygenation is an important factor for HIV positive bodies. Therefore, we have spent a lot of time on dynamic breathing- abdominal breathing, complete breathing, bhastrika and kapalbhati. I am encouraging the students to build up these powerful pranayamas according to their capacities, and it is proving to be most effective for them.

We are also practising the Hatha yoga cleansing practices, specifically kunjal and both the short and the long forms of shankhaprakshalana. Many of the students have completed these practices and are coming back session after session in order to detoxify the body. So, this has been most encouraging.

The practices of meditation, starting with yoga nidra, are absolutely crucial in helping to bring about balance, calmness, peace of mind and clarity of thought. In yoga nidra we are using the sankalpa, the positive resolution, and certain visualisations which are constructive and encouraging to the students. We are practising antar mouna, the value of which can never be overestimated. We are also using the practices of ajapa japa, particularly concentration in the frontal psychic passage between manipura and vishuddhi chakras. I have introduced the practice of trataka to help improve concentration and bring about a balance between the activities of the two hemispheres of the brain. Concentration helps to develop willpower, which is something that you definitely need if you are HIV positive and you wish to continue to lead a normal, healthy life for three score years and ten at least. We have also been practising kirtan and quite a lot of chanting of the mantra Aum.

All these techniques help to bring about balance and harmony. It must be said that many of the people who are HIV positive, particularly in the West, have not hitherto been leading very balanced and harmonious lives, so this has been one focus of our attention. I have also introduced rather sooner than I would with many classes, the idea and understanding of the chakras, so that people can learn to understand how and why they have got themselves into this state, and how they may begin to improve the situation. It gives them a chance, through the symbolism of the chakras, to understand themselves better, to learn to accept themselves and to love themselves. So, discussion of, and meditation on, the chakra system has proved to be of great value.

In addition to these classical practices taught to me by Paramahamsaji, we are also getting very interesting results with the use of amaroli (urine therapy). Before I introduced the practice of amaroli to the students, I had a meeting with Dr Arthur Lincoln Pauls, who has written a book on the subject. I was a little bit concerned because in all the amaroli books they say that before starting the practice you must not be taking any drugs, you must have a pure vegetarian diet and so forth. In addition to not necessarily being vegetarian, I know that many of my students are taking very strong drugs, AZT, DD1 and massive quantities of antibiotics, none of which, incidentally, have yet cured one single case of AIDS. So, I went to see Dr Arthur Lincoln Pauls and I explained the problem. He Said, "Let them take the first urine of the day. This is enough in order to avoid recycling of the drugs."

So, I would like to tell you briefly the extraordinary and very encouraging results we are having from amaroli. Applied externally, it is helping to completely clear a number of skin afflictions from which HIV positive people suffer, such as candida, thrush, molloscums, and even Kaposi's Sarcoma. In addition, many of the students are now taking amaroli internally on their own, starting with one session in the morning. Gradually, some of them build up until they are recycling their entire day's supply. Results are very encouraging. Their energy levels are improving and their T-cell counts are going up.

One of my students who has been HIV positive for nine years, and who has been practising yoga, meditation and amaroli since October last year, is now testing negative I But, of course, this kind of information is only being circulated amongst we yoga practitioners, because nobody is going to make any money from somebody who practises pawanmuktasana, yoga nidra, and drinks his own urine.

So, any of you who are HIV positive or who work with this group of people - take courage, open your heart, and trust. Perhaps we can start to work some miracles in this area also.

Having said that, I must tell you that several of these dear people have in fact died in the last year. I have been lucky enough to be with them throughout this process and they have assured me that yoga and meditation helped them in their last hours to face death with calmness, clarity and awareness. I have spent time with dying people, chanting the mantra Aum together, and they have been allowing themselves to leave this body calmly, quietly and consciously.