Yes, I'm gay. I probably was since the day I was born. On my 21st birthday, I sort of had my debut. I came out to my parents. A little drama from mom, and some indifference from dad. An above-average coming out. Almost perfect.

Nine years later, two weeks before my 30th birthday, I found out... I'M HIV POSITIVE.

And so my story begins... I'm BACK IN THE CLOSET.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

YFL Hits the Inquirer

MAROON 5 VOCALIST Adam Levine recently revealed his obsession over yoga, how it helped solve his flexibility issues and how it sculpted his body. For a group here in Manila, yoga means more than just a workout. To them it is a community whose common advocacy focuses on helping people with HIV.

Read on as Yoga for Life is featured by Emman Cena in the Philippine Daily Inquirer article "Yoga for people living with HIV". :-)

Founded by yoga instructors Charmaine Cu-Unjieng and Paulo Leonido who once dreamt of bringing yoga particularly to the HIV community, Yoga for Life became the buzzword in June last year. With the help of ECHOyoga, Positivism and core volunteers, Charmaine and Paulo were able to start yoga classes initially with 14 students.

“The first months were like walking on thin ice as we needed to get people to open up to either experiencing yoga and facing the issue of HIV,” the founders recalled. After almost a year, the Yoga for Life community has grown to over 300 members holding bi-weekly classes in Ortigas and Makati.

As a community of people living with HIV and those tested “negative” but likewise support the cause, YFL seeks to send the strong message that “there is no place for fear, stigma and discrimination in our world.”

The number of people getting HIV infection is sending shockwaves of alarm the world over. In the Philippines alone, six cases are recorded a day unlike in 2006 when it used to be just a single case per day, said Cu-Unjieng in an interview with the Inquirer.

It should be noted that Philippines and Bangladesh are the only countries in the whole Asia Pacific region whose HIV prevalence has increased by 25 percent in over 10 years. Most countries have HIV epidemics that are controlled or decreasing, she said.

Best yoga poses
What makes the YFL program different from among the yoga programs available is its emphasis on the practice of breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation to deepen the yoga experience.

“Many of our students face extraordinary fear, stress, anxiety or depression because of the impact of HIV and AIDS in their lives, so we use these yoga techniques to help alleviate these and bring them back to a peaceful, happy and optimistic, positive state of mind,” Cu-Unjieng told the Inquirer.

Because HIV attacks the immune system, people who develop AIDS become vulnerable to opportunistic infections. YFL puts premium on certain yoga poses that are especially beneficial in boosting the immune system, stimulating the thyroid gland and detoxifying the body, particularly inversions and fish pose. All breathing techniques are beneficial to the immune system, especially the Ujjayi breath (“victorious breath”), Cu-Unjieng said.

“Meditation is good for everyone, especially those suffering from mental and emotional stress. People living with HIV need to adopt a healthy lifestyle both physically and mentally. Healthy diet, regular exercise, stress-free environment and avoidance of toxins like alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can all strengthen the immune system,” she furthered.

Part of the YFL program is discussion on relevant issues such as safe sex and positive prevention using the yoga philosophy.

The YFL community provides a safe haven for people living with HIV because they do not need to disclose their status to become members, the founders said. Members are welcomed and treated with the same respect and love as anyone else. The group relies on the support of private and public donors to cover for their expenses and from the minimal “suggested donation” of P200 from students who join their classes.

All the regular yoga classes that YFL conducts are open to anyone who supports the HIV and AIDS cause. There is no registration fee to be a member. Schedules are available at


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Yoga for Life Touched Lives

Around two months of preparation is finally over. Last weekend, we held Yoga for Life's first major major event for the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial. Most of what I did was in preparing print materials like banners, teasers, flyers, etc... my fault for getting my proposed design approved, and thus getting assigned to cascade it as well. Hehe. But it was fulfilling for a frustrated designer as myself. Oh, money matters too... till now, a week after the event, I have the tail end of the accounting to deal with. MS Excel mode, on! All in all, it was a fun event, with the support of the community taking most of the feeling of work out of it. A true group effort, making it feel, for me, like it was a huge success. :-)

On Sunday, May 15th, the Yoga for Life community came together to join the world in commemorating the 28th International AIDS Candlelight Memorial at the Glorietta 3 Park in Ayala Center, Makati City. Entitled “Yoga for Life: Touching Lives”, the afternoon gathered yoga enthusiasts and HIV/AIDS advocates alike in a candlelit sunset ceremony honoring the lives of people affected by HIV and AIDS.

Participants gather for the Candlelit Memorial

The Yoga for Life community took the traditional candle lighting ceremony a step further by making an impact in the way it knows best—through yoga. Co-founders of the Filipino branch, Charmaine Cu-Unjieng and Paulo Leonido, were joined by the country’s top yoga instructors in leading the community through yoga poses, breathing techniques, and guided meditation, thus demonstrating how the discipline and kinship of yoga can help those affected by HIV. More importantly, however, the event, which took place amidst the ordinary buzz of Makati traffic, united the community’s energies towards igniting the flames of HIV awareness in the general public.

Participants engage in yoga practice led by the country's best instructors... I'm actually in this picture... SPOT ME?! Hehe.

As people passed by on the street, some staring, some joining the gathering crowd of spectators, acclaimed yoga instructors Roland dela Cruz, Jeannie Javelosa, Tesa Celdran, Marilen Elizalde, Marc Carlos, Lex Bonife, and Rebecca de Villa each led the participants through a brief series of postures. The yoga practice was followed by a candlelit “kirtan”, an ancient call-and-response chanting experience that originated in India and involves chanting hymns or mantras accompanied by musical instruments. The kirtan called upon sacred energies which served to quiet the mind, remove obstacles, and bring the participants back to the center of their being—while also commemorating the lives of those who have died, and allowing spectators to recognize how precious and powerful their own lives are.

The event also celebrated Yoga for Life’s official launch as a non-profit organization. Yoga for Life began in June 2010, and is the Philippines’ first community-based yoga program for persons living with HIV, as well as others who support them and the cause and want to experience the beauty of yoga. To date, the community has grown to over 300 members, as YFL continues to reach more people and build a community of advocates who, through yoga, share their energies towards living positively and living well.

Participants in the yoga practice model their warrior pose

This particular event, the 28th annual International Candlelight Memorial (the longest running grassroots movement around HIV and AIDS), also marked the first time YFL has joined the global cause and the tens of thousands of people from 83 different countries who participated in similar memorials. While the Candlelight Memorial was originally started to commemorate the lives lost to HIV/AIDS, Yoga for Life chose to expand the mission, praising the lives of those who continue to triumph in spite of the virus, and celebrating the HIV advocate in everyone.

Charmaine Cu-Unjieng, co-founder of Yoga for Life, joins others in singing the kirtan, an ancient call-and-response chanting experience

The memorial coincidentally occurred in the same week as a groundbreaking new discovery relating to HIV treatment. Results announced on May 12 by the United States National Institutes of Health show that if an HIV-positive person adheres to an effective antiretroviral therapy regimen, the risk of transmitting the virus to their uninfected sexual partner can be reduced by 96%. This discovery will seriously change the way HIV is treated, and hopefully have a huge impact on the so-called “prevention revolution”. At a time when the number of HIV cases in the Philippines, once noted for its remarkably low rates of HIV, is rising steadily—the results from March 2011 marked a 43% increase compared to the same period last year—any HIV advocacy, such as that encouraged by Yoga for Life, is of great importance to the country.

Participants engage in the kirtan

If you are interested in joining Yoga for Life or want to help their mission, visit

Yoga for Life offers classes twice a week for those living with HIV and/or those affected by HIV in some way. Classes include breathing techniques, postures, and guided meditation meant to address the fear and stress of HIV, as well as the stresses of everyday life:

Wednesdays at 7pm: 28th Floor Conference Room, Medical Plaza Ortigas Building, 25 San Miguel Ave, Ortigas Center, Pasig City

Saturdays at 2pm: Century Plaza Penthouse, 120 Perea Street, Legaspi Village, Makati City

Photos courtesy of Yoga for Life