Yoga and Lymphatic System Health
An optimally functioning lymphatic system helps the body to circulate blood, balance fluids, and have a strong immune system. These are benefits I am personally quite interested in!
There are plenty of accessible ways to help your lymph flow. The key is knowing that the lymphatic system doesn't have a pump - if we don't physically manipulate our bodies to encourage lymphatic drainage and flow, it doesn't flow. The power is in your hands! (Well, in the movement of your entire body, too.) It doesn't happen on its own, like so many other functions of the human body.
First, what is lymph? What is this fluid that needs circulating?
Lymph fluid is a clear fluid drawn from the blood cells, digestive cells, and other cells in the body and picked up by lymphatic vessels from the interstitial fluid (stuff between the cells and surrounding all tissues). This lymphatic fluid has a high concentration of white blood cells.
The lymphatic system is part of a detoxifying process, carrying away waste product it picks up from different areas of the body. We want these toxins and waste products to be picked up and carried away, or else we will develop pockets of stagnant toxic buildup. (a swollen lymph node)
At times in life we might notice a swollen lymph node. This is commonly noticed in the sides of the neck, but could also be along the jaw, back of the head, near the armpits or the front of the hip crease.
Sometimes this is because you are sick, and the body produces extra white blood cells to fight infection. Sometimes this is because you are going through a detoxing period, and there is extra toxic buildup present to remove.
If you notice a swollen lymph node, don't panic! There is nothing wrong - this is the body trying to do it's job. Thanks body. Now its time to help that lymph flow.
How to Increase Lymphatic Drainage and Circulation
These are methods that I have personal experience with. I am sure there are other methods!
There are a couple things to focus on here. First, get the body moving, as a whole.
Try some Sun Salutation A's, or even Ardha Surya Namaskar (Half Sun Salutation) would be very helpful. (If this is unfamiliar to you I am sharing some video instruction over on Instagram @practicewithbren) These full body warming sequences with some up and down movement will get your body's fluids pumping.
Next, try some targeted postures.
There are two main areas where many lymph nodes are grouped: the armpits and the front hip crease/groin area. So think of practicing asanas that move and stretch and twist these places.
Try puppy pose aka melting heart pose to feel movement through the underarms.
Low lunge position can help with the lymph nodes present at the front of the hips. Frog pose is another good one, especially when held for a minute or so.
Goddess squat brings space into all of these areas at once.
Parighasana (Gate Pose) is another good one for all the areas at once.
What works best is incorporating these poses into your regular practice, regularly move your body in all directions.
Deep, long, diaphragmatic breathing is another great yogic tool to use to help the lymphatic system flow. Intentionally bringing space and fresh oxygen into the body keeps the systems working, and keeps fluids moving. You can think of intentional deep breathing as a good preventative for stagnation and/or toxic buildup.
A more targeted, hands on approach, Gua Sha is a technique from Traditional Chinese Medicine that means 'scraping.'
You might go see a TCM professional for a Gua Sha treatment. Some, like myself, do Gua Sha at home. You could buy a special smooth-edged tool. Apply oil first, then apply gentle pressure as you slowly draw the tool across your skin. For lymphatic flow, this technique works well on neck and jaw, inner elbows, and back of knees. You can think of it as manually helping to spread out any stuck fluid/toxins, to be then picked up and moved along and out of the body.
Gua Sha is also used to reduce inflammation, treat and prevent cellulite, improve circulation and to generally detoxify.
Dry brushing is fundamentally similar to Gua Sha. Using a firm-bristled brush, one makes long strokes on the skin, often towards the heart, once a week.
Dry brushing increases blood flow and aids lymphatic drainage. It also exfoliates the skin and by clearing blocked pores, allows the body to more-easily sweat out toxins.
These are four techniques that I use regularly to prevent and treat swollen lymph nodes and to increase circulation and help the lymphatic system to function properly.
Help your body help you by giving one or more of these methods a try.
Questions? Chat with me here or over on Instagram.