Yoga for Immunity and prevention of Infection in the Context of a Pandemic

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Dr Ishwar V. Basavaraddi

Immunity, by definition, refers to the ability of an organism to resist a particular infection or toxin by the action of specific antibodies or sensitized white blood cells. The Immune system, which is a complex web of cells, tissues, and organs, plays a vital role in the upkeep of a human body. It protects our system against harmful substances, germs and cell changes that could make us ill or potentially lead to death.

Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga organised a webinar on the topic Immunity and Infection: in the context of a pandemic” on 30th October, 2020. The webinar was hosted by Dr. Vandana Singh, with Dr. I V Basavaraddi, Director, MDNIY; Taiyab Alam, Communication and Documentation Officer and other members of the institute as panellists.

Dr. Basavaraddi addressed the webinar with his introductory remarks welcoming the esteemed guest speaker, Dr. Nimesh Gupta, Head, Vaccine Immunology Laboratory, National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi, India. Dr. Nimesh is a virologist and immunologist who is leading a team interested in understanding the immunological determinants responsible for the establishment of long-term protective immunity. Moreover, in some extensive collaboration with multiple national and international institutes across the globe, he has established a cutting-edge human immunology and T-cell immune-profiling platform at the National Institute of Immunology.

Dr. Basavaraddi also informed viewers on the importance of following the ‘physical and social distancing norms’ along with hand washing and sanitizing directives, as instructed by the Ministry of Ayush.

In this webinar the basic aspects and crucial components of the immune system that are implicated in the fight against a pathogen were discussed at length and in detail by Dr. Nimesh Gupta. On the functioning of immunity, Dr. Gupta remarks that, “we are constantly exposed to a plethora of pathogens throughout our life and simultaneously our body develops the immune responses to these pathogens in multiple ways.”

One way is to catch the infection which leads to sickness and eventually a recovery. In this process an immunological memory is developed, something that in case of natural infections persists for long. Dr. Gupta further elaborated that, “there is a fair chance of developing this memory even without getting sick, which is widely known as asymptomatic infection.”

This memory that we talk about, is a consequence of our ‘Immunity’ or ‘Immune System’ which is an organisation of organs, cells, and proteins that orchestrate together against any extraordinary invasion in our body.

Dr. Gupta then went into further details to explain two components of immunity, i.e, 

  1. The Innate Immunity: consists of the activation and participation of pre-existent mechanisms including the natural barriers (skin and mucosa) and secretions; and
  2. Adaptive Immunity: is targeted against a previously recognized specific microorganism or antigen.
Image Source: Webinar PPT by Guest Speaker

From here he moved onto the intricate details of ‘Pathogen Destruction’ which mainly happens in three ways;

  1. Phagocytosis: swallowing of the pathogen or killing by intracellular enzymes
  2. Direct killing of the infected cell: cell killing by secretion of cytotoxic molecules
  3. Antibody mediated clearance: antibodies attach to the virus and neutralize it for further interaction with cells.

On the question of how our immune system works and the spread of Virus infections, Dr. Gupta graphically explained the stages of transmission – infection – virus control or spread – infection control – and the gradual development of specific antibodies as well as immune memory.

Image Source: Webinar PPT by Guest Speaker

Explaining the origin and dynamic of pandemics, he talked about two deadly pandemics of history – The Plague in 14th century (Black Death) and the 1918 Influenza pandemic. Most new pandemics have originated from the zoonotic transmission of pathogens from animals to humans, the prevalent COVID-19 pandemic is an example of one spread of a deadly virus. Moving on to the extremely important topic of ‘Strengthening our Immune System Dr. Gupta enlisted five requirements to maintain a healthy immune system, i.e, Exercise – Mental health – Lifestyle – Hygiene – and Nutrition. Talking in detail about the ‘Exercise Immunology’ he showed a chart from a 2018 study explaining evolution from 1900-2010 and future.

Image Source: Webinar PPT by Guest Speaker

Here he deliberated on the important aspect of “Immune dysfunction or the immune suppression” after a heavy exercise that negatively affects our body. While the acute exercise stimulates the interchange of innate immune system cells and components between lymphoid tissues and the blood compartment, stress hormones which can suppress cell function indicative of intense metabolic activity, do not reach high levels during short duration exercise. 

Also, Immune system reflects the magnitude of physiological stress experienced by the exerciser. Therefore, it is believed that heavy exercises may lead to immune dysfunction due to increased metabolic activity that actually puts stress on immunity. A moderate method of exercise provides good immunosurveillance and lower risk of illness.

Image Source: Webinar PPT by Guest Speaker

In this regard, Dr. Gupta talked about “Yoga Immunology” which continues to evolve. He also remarked that a lot has to be done to understand the intra-disciplinary aspects of Yoga in the development of immunity, Yoga is understood as a moderate form of physical activity that also impacts our mental health. He also remarked that the advancement in the field of human immunology and development of multi-omics approaches may provide new insight into the impact of Yoga on the immune system.

With this we reached the conclusion of the webinar wherein Dr. Bsavaraddi interacted with the guest speaker to derive conclusive remarks. Director MDNIY detailed the implications of Yoga on our immune system wherein our body stays in a static state creating a moderate exercise of psycho-physical condition of even breathing and calm mind. Dr. Nimesh Gupta furthered this point talking about Yoga and its benefits stemming from Stress Management, Diet, and Exercise. Therefore, here we focus on the important condition of maintaining good nutritional values and along with mind calming exercises that compliment the heavy metabolic workload of sportspersons and common practitioners. He also mentioned the importance of wearing masks properly, fully covering the nose, since most infections are caught through respiratory tracts.

To deliberate on ‘the importance of strengthening our Immune System’ was the main purpose of this webinar while bringing in the aspect of Yoga and it’s benefits upon the same. It is paramount that we maintain a healthy immune system by a balanced amalgamation of moderate exercises and good nutritional values on a daily basis.

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