There is increasing evidence demonstrating the relationship between emotional stress and the depletion of our immune system. Research shows how the immune system appears to benefit from the practice of yoga by encouraging ‘coherence’in the rhythm of the heart beat, as opposed to ‘chaos’.
In the body, the main agent of our immune system is our blood, a clear fluid (plasma) containing red and white blood cells. It is the white blood cells that inhibit the invasion of the blood stream by bacteria and viruses. The production of antibodies is a major function of the immune system and is carried out by special white blood cells called B cells (B lymphocytes). Antibodies can be triggered by and directed at foreign proteins, microorganisms, or toxins – antigens. An immunoglobulin is a specialized immune protein produced because of the introduction of an antigen into the body, and which possesses the remarkable ability to combine with the very antigen that triggered its production.
Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is the body’s front line defense against infectious agents. IgA is present in all the mucous membranes of the body. When volunteers were asked to recall an occasion when they became stressed or angry, and by doing so induced a chaotic heart rhythm, their secretions of IgA dropped for an average of 6 hours.
Negative emotions appeared to have a negative effect on the immunity of the volunteers, unless they had learned how to induce ‘coherence’. Research showed that those who had learned simple techniques for quieting their heart and brain through yogic breathing techniques could maintain coherence in the heart rate, and thus reduce the likelihood of a drop in their IgA levels.
We have two types of immunity – natural and acquired. Natural immunity is non- specific, and you could say that someone with a ‘strong constitution’ probably has good natural immunity. In contrast, the body can also acquire immunity, through its response to infection or vaccination. It is through the breathing practices and their effects on the heart that yoga strengthens both types of immunity.