Yoga is an integrated mind–body practice, originating about 5000 years BC in ancient India. Since then, it has been employed to promote health and well-being across various conditions. The word ‘yoga’ is derived from Sanskrit and may be translated as ‘union’ or ‘conjunction’, entailing the idea of uniting body, mind, and spirit. Though yoga is in the Western world predominantly used as a recreational practice, it is increasingly gaining attention as a clinical intervention.
In fact, yoga did not primarily evolve as a system of physical exercises, but also as a healing system. This healing system is based on the assumptions that a human being is a unique, holistic, and interconnected entity; that yoga can empower a person to become active in his or her own healing; and that a person’s state-of-mind is central to this healing process.
This ancient idea that the mind and physiological processes, including both healing and disease, are centrally intertwined has nowadays become scientifically substantiated. It is broadly accepted that psychological stress or other adverse mental conditions can impact on several physiological systems, amongst these also the immune system. Both acute and chronic stressors can, mediated through effector pathways such as the sympathetic nervous system and the HPA-axis, entail a dysregulation of different immune parameters such as inflammatory pathways and thereby lead to disease. In turn, so-called mind–body therapies (MBTs), which aim at inducing relaxation and reducing stress, can through the same effector pathways exert beneficial effects on the immune system and thus potentially prevent or alleviate a variety of diseases. Although its exact mechanisms of action are not yet entirely clarified, yoga is, similar to other MBTs, supposed to modulate the central stress response and to regulate autonomic balance. Thereby it may equally impact immune functioning in beneficial ways.
A few pro-inflammatory proteins are reduced in yoga practitioners as compared to the control group. An anti-inflammatory protein was reduced in yoga practitioners as compared to the control group. This supports other evidence that yoga tips the balance towards less inflammation and less tissue damage due to dampening of inflammation.
Source: Falkenberg et al. Yoga and immune system functioning: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials, 2018.