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Yoga for What Ails You

By Sam Page

Winter 2010

My doctor recently told me that I'm at risk for high blood pressure and placed me on blood pressure medication. What's the best way to augment my workout routine in this situation?

HIVers who participated in a regular yoga program experienced a natural drop in blood pressure, according to new research from the Washington University School of Medicine. The study, published in HIV Medicine, followed 60 HIV+ adults over the course of a supervised, 20-week yoga program. Resting systolic and diastolic blood pressures were reduced more in the yoga group than in the control group, despite no greater reduction in body weight, fat, or overall quality of life. The best part? T4 levels were not adversely affected.

Practicing yoga is an intelligent idea for other reasons, too. Participants in other double blind studies on yoga have documented substantial improvements in flexibility, balance, and muscular endurance. (Flexibility and strength are two key areas for HIVers, especially as we advance into our golden years). Yoga has also been shown to improve anxiety, depression -- even irritable bowel syndrome! Best of all, yoga is relatively inexpensive and accessible, with many community classes free of charge or "pay what you can" from $5 to $20. There are yoga classes for nearly every specific interest and demographic, ranging from "11th step yoga" (for those in 12-step programs) to "hot nude yoga" for the more adventurous.

When you're ready to find your inner yogi, ask friends if they know of a good yoga studio in your neighborhood. Most gyms and studios offer beginner-level classes, but a good instructor can adjust even intermediate classes for the novice, offering helpful suggestions without making you feel awkward. If you're just starting, try "restorative" or "passive" yoga, a class in which foam blocks and other objects are used to relax the body into the yoga asanas (poses) without undue strain or stress. You may be confused or frustrated, but instead of getting irked, "offer up" your yoga practice to someone or something in your life that needs your support, patience, or understanding. This will align your focus and help you stay in the moment.

Remember, the benefits of yoga only become evident only if you do it regularly. Make an effort to practice the asanas you have learned. Above all, listen to your body and don't force yourself into any pose that causes pain. Drink water, take breaks, and breathe. Namaste.

Sam Page is a certified fitness trainer and freelance journalist. As director of Sam Page Fitness, he operates three private studios in Southern California. He contributes to several national magazines and also publishes a weekly e-newsletter from Sam Page Fitness and a daily blog called Peace Love Lunges.

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