By Erica Christoffer
Yoga isn’t some new-age health trend to Michael McColly. And his relationship with the discipline isn’t fleeting.
For McColly, a writer and professor living with HIV in Chicago, yoga led him around the world, connected him with other HIV positive activists, and served as an impetus for a book. “The After Death Room” is a documentary memoir of his travels throughout Africa and Asia examining the AIDS epidemic.
“Yoga is a very serious thing to me,” McColly says. “I was interested in the more organic ways people find to deal with [AIDS].”
McColly immersed himself in yoga to help learn about the body; how it works, to develop heightened health awareness, and to deal with the psychological issues that accompany illness. “It helped me be more active in my own health,” he says.
While conducting yoga workshops at the International AIDS Conference in South Africa in 2000, McColly discovered an overwhelming interest from activists, doctors and people living with AIDS. It had an emotional effect on him.
He describes the yoga workshops in the second chapter of “The After Dark Room.” In his creative non-fiction style, he recounts adjusting his students’ backs, straightening poses, and the power of touch in connecting with them. But McColly is torn, as he wrote, “I begin to wonder if what I’ve done is only introduce yet another means of giving hope that they cannot have or afford.”
Throughout his book, McColly describes those who are hungry for techniques and natural medicines to help alleviate the pain and sickness they feel. Yoga, to them, is a savior – even in the small doses McColly teaches them.
While traveling with a woman from a Christian AIDS-related organization in Thailand, McColly visits people living with the disease in rural areas. They have no medicine. He chronicles meeting them, their lives, how they live with AIDS. He teaches them basic poses to deal with fatigue. But time is the adversary against the help he can give them.
Again, he moves on.
McColly traveled throughout India, Vietnam and Thailand, where he was asked time and time again to stay and teach yoga to those living with HIV and AIDS. In his book, he describes the relationship he developed with a community organization called Sahodaran, and its director, Sunil Menon. The group serves poor, young male sex workers in Chennai, India. McColly connected with the young men. He wrote about opening up to them about his life and past. The young men embraced him with handshakes, hugs and even kisses on the cheek, full of emotion and gratitude.
“HIV positive people, they want another way to deal with it,” McColly says. “I wish I could have [stayed]. I’ll live with that; I’ll live with that until I die.”
For more information on “The After Death Room,” visit: http://www.michaelmccolly.com/.