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Meditation, spiritual exercises part of HIV patient retreat

June 25, 1997

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Daniel Ollis knows the pain and stress his brother went through before dying of AIDS seven years ago.

Ollis, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1983, said his brother’s death was reason enough to attend a new seminar that involves no drugs or side effects _ only meditation and spiritual exercises.

``Seeing a person waste away like that really tells you something,″ Ollis said. ``I look back at him and I see myself. He just gave up. I’m not giving up. I’m a fighter.″

Ollis was one of 30 AIDS and HIV sufferers who attended a ``Spirituality and HIV″ retreat developed by Jason Tokumoto, an AIDS doctor at the University of California-San Francisco, and paid by four drug companies.

``I think pharmaceutical companies realize that in taking care of AIDS patients, you have to take care of the whole person,″ Tokumoto said. ``We’re more than just a physical being.″

In the seminar Tuesday, patients were instructed in various meditative exercises and listened to motivational speeches.

In one exercise, patients walked in a courtyard for 15 minutes without talking, some of them with their eyes closed. In another, eating a raisin was intended to teach a deeper appreciation of life’s little moments.

``What happens is when you really give your full attention to the sensory experience of eating a raisin is that people find there’s a lot more flavor and they have a richer experience,″ said Ken Farber, who led the session and teaches a program on meditation at UC-San Francisco.

The spiritual-based therapy is looked at as one way to help patients reduce side effects from the 11 anti-virals being prescribed in the United States. Cancer patients and those suffering from back pain have long used similar stress-reduction methods.

Tokumoto said many scientists dismiss his exercises as hogwash. But Jean Boyer, who researches AIDS vaccines at the University of Pennsylvania, said spiritual-based approaches could have value.

``I think a positive outlook on life and taking control of your life and being optimistic is very powerful,″ Boyer said. ``It can’t hurt unless they’re ignoring their doctors.″

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