How Yoga helped me choose to live with HIV, instead of dying of AIDS

Alexander Smith

Alexander Smith

Alexander Smith explains his own viral mindfulness and how doing yoga’s corpse pose helped him appreciate his own life (from HIVplusmag.com) …

Difficult poses (asana) are expected in life and on the yoga mat. Hatha yoga is a style of yoga common in the West that focuses on poses and breathing. As we pose, we learn to sit with the pain and discomfort that arises in our bodies, and we become aware of the suffering in our minds that is attached to our thoughts and story. In a place of discomfort, we often let go of the breath (pranayama), which is there to strengthen and sustain us.

It is taught that shavasana — best known as the corpse pose or dead man’s pose — is the most difficult of all the poses. To assume the posture, lie down on your back, allow your feet to fall outward, rest your arms at your sides with palms facing upward, and let your breath follow its inherent inhaling and exhaling pattern. At the end of our practice we traditionally assume this pose. In the giant metaphor of sitting like a corpse, we have an empty space to release all effort in mind and body. Do nothing. Completely surrender. And experience the sweet spot of shavasana.

Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness drive us toward a strength that rises when we surrender everything. It reminds us that the happiness we seek is already here.

At the end of summer a couple of years ago I posed in my own version of a dead man. Facing the fact that my strain of HIV had mutated and developed a resistance to my current cocktail of antiretrovirals, I stood at a crossroads. After a decade I could stop taking pills and lean toward my own corpse pose. Set down the worry and frustration and struggle I experience in posing with this virus. Develop AIDS, catch an opportunistic infection or two, and be dead within a year.

As I surrendered in this pose I noticed that by focusing so much on my death I had distracted myself from stories of life. In a place of complete honesty and reproach, I made a decision to build me a life. I recommitted myself to regular practice of meditation and yoga — with compassion — and I started by cleaning my entire house, doing the laundry and dishes, feeding my body, and taking my medications.

When I checked the online schedule of yoga classes I saw a picture of a beautiful man and yogi. Posing. I recognized him from years earlier. We had shared a neutral greeting when I attended a class at his studio in Laguna Beach, Calif. I was super excited to think he would be teaching class that day. Perhaps he is my future husband, I thought hopefully. When I looked deeper for class details I realized the picture was in honor and memory of his life. My future husband was dead, but somehow I found comfort in the eerie coincidence — and I marveled at the beauty and strength in his pose.

Continue reading on HIVplusmag.com.

Hook-up risks higher with non-gay-identified men

From the Washington Bladecraigslist image

A newly published study found evidence that men having sex with men use the Internet to find sexual partners who do not identify as gay, either to fulfill a fantasy or because it allows anonymous sexual encounters without discovery. The findings, conducted by Eric Schrimshaw, Ph.D. at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Martin Downing Jr., Ph. D. of the National Development and Research Institutes, were published in the online journal “Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity” published by the American Psychological Association.

To examine the subgroup of men seeking non-gay-identified (NGI) men in the online sexual marketplace, the researchers reviewed 1,200 Internet personal ads posted on Craigslist and selected 282 for analysis. They performed comparisons of two categories of personal ads: those seeking encounters with NGI men, including straight, bisexual, married, curious and men on the “down low”; and a contrasting set of ads that did not specifically seek NGI men.

Among the ads studied, 11 percent were placed by men seeking NGI partners. Although men who posted NGI-seeking ads were more likely to self-identify as bisexual, married, and/or discreet and to seek out an anonymous encounter relative to the ads of comparison men, only 24 percent of online advertisements seeking NGI men were posted by men who were themselves non-gay-identified. This suggests that many of the posts are placed by gay men seeking NGI men, perceived by some gay men to be more masculine, dominant or “straight-acting.” Only a small number of ads by NGI-seeking men mentioned safe sex or condom use.

Obama appoints HIV/AIDS activist as new AIDS czar

From the Washington Times

President Obama on Monday appointed as his new AIDS czar Douglas Brooks, an activist on health care policy who has been living with the HIV virus for more than 20 years. Mr. Brooks has served most recently as senior vice president at the Justice Resource Institute in Boston, a nonprofit which provides outreach mental health treatment and services people with HIV/AIDS. He also has served on the National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition in Washington, and was appointed by Mr. Obama in 2010 to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. “Douglas’s policy expertise combined with his extensive experience working in the community makes him uniquely suited to the task of helping to achieve the goal of an AIDS-free generation, which is within our reach,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “I look forward to having him lead our efforts from the White House.”

As director of the White House Office on National AIDS Policy, Mr. Brooks will lead the administration’s work to reduce new HIV infections, improve health outcomes for people living with HIV, and eliminate HIV health disparities in the United States, the White House said. A licensed social worker, Mr. Brooks replaces Dr. Grant Colfax, who served in the post for two years.

Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com

The fight against HIV/AIDS is vital to a future without tuberculosis

From AIDS.gov

On Monday, March 24, 2014, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) joined the international community in commemorating World TB Day and those who have lost their lives to this terrible disease; TB is second only to HIV/AIDS in global deaths due to infectious diseases. Moreover, the World Health Organization estimates that at least one-third of the nearly 36 million people living with HIV/AIDS are also infected with TB. TB is the leading cause of death among people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. With these two diseases so closely linked, the 2015 Millennium Development Goal of a 50 percent reduction of TB-related deaths is integral to achieving an AIDS-free generation.

Despite the staggering cost of lives due to co-infection between TB and HIV, we at PEPFAR, in conjunction with our partners implementing TB programs around the world, are encouraged to see progress over the past few years in combatting co-infection. In 2012:

  • Rates of ART coverage among TB/HIV patients globally rose from 49 percent in 2011 to 57 percent.
  • 4.1 million people enrolled in HIV care were screened for TB in 2012, up from 3.5 million in 2011.
  • The percentage of TB patients who knew their HIV status rose from 69 percent in 2011 to 74 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.

The effects of co-infection between HIV and TB cannot be understated which is why PEPFAR addresses the deadly links between these two diseases as a top policy and programmatic priority. Our efforts are focused on prevention, care, and treatment programs as outlined in the 2012 PEPFAR Blueprint [PDF 2.83KB].

Read the full article on AIDS.gov.

Black voices: leveraging digital tools to reach and engage Black gay men

From AIDS.gov

More Americans than ever before have access to Internet-enabled technologies and are participating in online social networking platforms. This trend is particularly notable among women, African-Americans, and Latinos and provides hope that effective use of new social technologies could reshape how we reach, engage, and mobilize vulnerable populations such as Black gay men (BGM) and other men who have sex with men (MSM) who are disproportionately impacted by the domestic HIV epidemic. For example, recent data from the The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project indicate that while the digital divide persists as it relates to Internet access, African-Americans use mobile devices at the same rate as their peers and lead the way in participation in social media such as Twitter.

There is little data available about how BGM/MSM are using social technologies. So, last year, as part of ongoing efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of BGM/MSM, The National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition (NBGMAC) launched a national survey to learn about the online communication habits of Black gay men. The survey’s goals are to better understand how BGM/MSM use the Internet to communicate and receive national health policy and advocacy information. The data gathered from this survey will contribute to our understanding of how to effectively leverage the Internet for outreach and engagement around health information and national policy issues of importance to BGM/MSM across the nation.

Preliminary survey data highlight the importance of social networking platforms like Facebook in connecting with communities of Black gay men and sharing health policy and advocacy information. The data also reflect a notable level of interest in biomedical HIV prevention tools like Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). Findings like these point to the growing importance of making information available about HIV prevention in a way that meets the needs of the populations most impacted the epidemic. If you are a Black gay, bisexual or same-gender loving man, please take a moment to complete the brief survey and share with your networks. If not, please also consider sharing with any colleagues, friends or loved ones who may be willing to participate and help us to shed light on the communication, health information, and policy and advocacy needs of this underserved community.

To complete the survey, click here or copy and paste the survey’s URL into your Internet browser: http://svy.mk/15KFMwc .

Being out to your doctor is important in maintaining your health

Why you should consider coming out to your doctor…

There are lots of reasons why men who have sex with men (MSM) don’t tell their doctors about their sexual preferences. But whatever the reason, it is important to keep in mind that who you have sex with can have a serious impact on your health. MSM need to be aware of the unique medical issues that their heterosexual counterparts may not have to worry so much about. For example, MSM have higher rates of HIV, Syphilis, HPV, anal cancer, and hepatitis (just to name a few). In short, your doctor can help you stay on top of the added health issues if he or she knows your sexual preference.

Finding an LGBT-friendly doctor…

The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) keeps an online list of gay-friendly medical providers. It’s especially helpful if you live in or near a large city. You can go to their Website, www.glma.org, and search under their resources link by zip code. If the GLMA database doesn’t have any options near you, and you’re not willing to make a road trip, you’ll have to go about finding a doctor the traditional way: Meet potential providers and interview them. Ask questions, be honest. Doctors work for their patients, not the other way around. Keep shopping until you find one that you can be honest with. It may take some detective work but maintaining your health is worth it.

To subscribe to Pitt Men’s Study Health Alerts, send a message to PMS@stophiv.pitt.edu with the word “subscribe” in the subject line.

Obamacare insurers prohibited from discriminating against same-sex marriages

From  the Washington Blade

The Obama administration clarified on Friday that insurers are prohibited from discriminating against same-sex marriages for the purposes of non-grandfathered family coverage — even if applicants are applying in non-marriage equality states. In guidance dated March 14, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid says existing provisions in the health care reform law prohibiting discrimination by insurers on the basis of gender — which the Obama administration has interpreted to extend non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity — also requires insurers not to refuse family coverage for married same-sex couples.

The guidance is set up as Q&A. The question is “If a health insurance issuer in the group or individual market offers coverage of an opposite-sex spouse, may the issuer refuse to offer coverage of a same-sex spouse?” The response starts off simply, “No.”

“This section prohibits an issuer from choosing to decline to offer to a plan sponsor (or individual in the individual market) the option to cover same-sex spouses under the coverage on the same terms and conditions as opposite sex-spouses,” the guidance states. Alicia Hartinger, a CMS spokesperson, said the guidance spells out that non-discrimination is the rule for insurers — both on and off the health insurance exchanges — when selling policies.

Continue reading on The Washington Blade.