The bulk of treatment for individuals diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) focuses on pharmacological intervention. But as a complement to those treatments, mindful meditation may be able to improve the well-being of people with HIV, according to a small new study.
The research, conducted by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the David Lynch Foundation, a nonprofit that funds research on stress reduction methods, showed that practicing meditation for 20 minutes twice a day could make HIV-stricken individuals feel better.
"We're undertaking a very conscious move away from the old model of care to a new model of care – away from dealing with HIV/AIDS in a sickness and disease model, to a model of health and wellness," Neil Giuliano, CEO of San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said in a national webinar.
Thirty-nine HIV patients participated in the study, and a variety of their health factors were measured, such as stress levels, levels of psychological distress, physical symptoms related to HIV (fatigue) and well-being (using an established spiritual well-being scale). After three months of meditation, patients had substantial improvement, the study authors reported.
The participants had more energy, better physical health and got sick less frequently. As far as psychological symptoms, patients reported lower levels of stress and anxiousness as well as decreased anger. They also displayed fewer depressive symptoms.
"People living with HIV – beyond the normal stress you can experience yourself, the normal stress that we face as humans in today's society – people living with HIV experience the trauma of diagnosis," Thomas Roth, director of the David Lynch Foundation HIV Initiative, stated in the national webinar.
Roth went on to explain that HIV-impacted individuals live with the following problems:
- Mental burden of living with an incurable disease
- Social stigma and psychological challenges of acceptance
- Physical challenges of living with the virus
- Compromised immune system
- Physical challenges of the drug regimen and side effects
For these reasons, re-establishing a mental balance through meditation can be a giant leap in the lives of patients.
Ilchi Lee, The New York Times bestselling author, pointed out that stress can eat away at our energy levels. Because of this, we experience a certain paradox between feeling enlivened and calm.
"The sensation of energy expands with increasing relaxation," stated Lee.
HIV patients may indeed be able to benefit from the tranquilizing effects of meditation.
Currently, 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the U.S. For many of those individuals, meditation has been a key component of daily life for years. The breathing techniques and soothing concentration help to confront serious mental and emotional challenges as well as vulnerabilities of a weakened immune system.
Researchers are hopeful that someday in the near future, there will be a day when even a single HIV diagnosis is rare.