Academic journal article International Journal of Yoga

Modulation of Immune Responses in Stress by Yoga

Academic journal article International Journal of Yoga

Modulation of Immune Responses in Stress by Yoga

Article excerpt

Byline: Sarika. Arora, Jayashree. Bhattacharjee

Stress is a constant factor in today's fastpaced life that can jeopardize our health if left unchecked. It is only in the last half century that the role of stress in every ailment from the common cold to AIDS has been emphasized, and the mechanisms involved in this process have been studied. Stress influences the immune response presumably through the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis, hypothalamic pituitary-gonadal axis, and the sympathetic-adrenal-medullary system. Various neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, hormones, and cytokines mediate these complex bidirectional interactions between the central nervous system (CNS) and the immune system. The effects of stress on the immune responses result in alterations in the number of immune cells and cytokine dysregulation. Various stress management strategies such as meditation, yoga, hypnosis, and muscle relaxation have been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological effects of stress in cancers and HIV infection. This review aims to discuss the effect of stress on the immune system and examine how relaxation techniques such as Yoga and meditation could regulate the cytokine levels and hence, the immune responses during stress.


Stress is a common condition-a response to a physical threat or psychological distress that generates a host of chemical and hormonal reactions in the body. In mammals, these responses include changes that increase the delivery of oxygen and glucose to the heart and large skeletal muscles. The result of such a response to stress is physiological support for adaptive behaviors such as "fight or flight." As a part of the adaptive response to stress, various body systems such as the autonomic, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and immune systems may be affected.[sup] [1]

Elliot and Eisdorfer's taxonomy distinguishes stressors into five categories based on two important dimensions: duration and course ( e.g ., discrete vs continuous).[sup] [2]

(i) Acute time-limited stressors involve challenges such as public speaking or mental arithmetic. (ii) Brief naturalistic stressors , such as academic examinations, are short-term challenges that occur during certain points in a person's life. (iii) In stressful event sequences, a focal life-changing event, such as the loss of a spouse or a major natural disaster, gives rise to a series of related challenges. Although affected individuals usually do not know exactly when these challenges will subside, they have a clear sense that at some point in the future they will. (iv) Chronic stressors usually pervade a person's life, forcing him or her to restructure his or her identity or social roles. These include stress induced by an extreme change in lifestyle, such as becoming permanently disabled from an accident, or a refugee forced out of one's native country by war, in which case there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. (v) Distant stressors are traumatic experiences that occurred in the distant past yet have the potential to continue influencing the body systems because of their long-lasting cognitive and emotional sequelae. Examples of distant stressors include child abuse or posttraumatic stress experienced by war veterans.[sup] [3]

The immune system is a network of glands, nodes, and organs that work to protect the body from bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other harmful organisms. The immune system requires a constant supply of energy and nutrients to maintain optimal function and performance. Toxins in the environment and in our food, poor diet, lack of or excessive exercise, and stress can all adversely affect the function of the immune system and can cause a decline in its proper activity. Without the immune system functioning at optimal levels, the body becomes subject to health problems.

Solomon first demonstrated the influence of stress on immune response in animals and human beings. …

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