Having gone through my own share of C treatments- chemos, surgeries, and radiation sessions- I feel that I should have been more informed about the oh-so-important Lymphatic System. But the only real info I had was that surgeries (where lymph nodes were removed) and radiation treatments can cause lymphedema- swelling due to the altered flow of lymphatic fluid. It’s something that never goes away and can have a significantly negative impact on one’s quality of life.
It wasn’t until I attended the Be Well Yoga for Cancer Recovery Teacher Training that I truly started to understand why we ALL should care about this amazing part of our bodies- diagnosis or not. I’m so impressed by the lymphatic system that I find myself constantly fitting fun facts and ways to improve lymph movement into convos with my yoga students, my friends, family members, strangers… really, anyone who will listen… and now you!
The lymph system is pretty much the body’s sewage system. It’s like a one-way highway- a network of tiny channels that form a passage for lymph fluid to travel throughout the body- with stopping points (lymph nodes) along the way that act like trash cans. In the lymph nodes, lymphocytes and antibodies hang out to sort through waste, searching for and removing toxic cells, dead cells, bacterias, viruses, and other foreign elements. The lymph system then irrigates potential threats out of the body via body waste. If the potentially dangerous cells are not removed from the body, the lymph node enlarges as a sign of infection and the rest of the immune system is notified and comes to kick some ass.
Lymph nodes are located in places like the mouth, nasal passages, neck, arm pits, and groin areas. But the largest and main lymph node is the thoracic duct. It’s located behind the heart and lungs along the spinal column and runs from the top of the lumbar spine to the base of the neck.
So, why did I just completely nerd out on the lymphatic system? Because all of that info was totally fascinating, right? Mind blown (poof!) And because, as important as it is to our health and immunity, this system does not have a “pump” to keep this crazy-necessary fluid moving. Instead, the lymphatic system relies on muscles, movement, and gravity to get lymph fluid moving. Nuts, right? So it’s up to us!
Now you’re thinking “But how? How can I get this super important stuff moving?” Oh, man. I’m glad you asked!
Simply by breathing we stimulate the flow of the lymph, and through full, deep breaths we can encourage the flow to be both cleansing and powerful. Full breaths create muscular movement and massage the thoracic duct.
Diaphragmatic (deep) breathing:
Begin by breathing in slowly through your nose, pushing the stomach out. The chest should remain relatively still on the inhale. Slowly let your breath release out through your mouth. Full and slow diaphragmatic breathing for even just 5-10 rounds will circulate lymph fluid and oxygenate blood.
Before starting any of the exercises below…
Begin with a few rounds of diaphragmatic breathing. Then bring your ear to your shoulder and on the opposite side, place your palm or flat fingers above the collar bone on the side of the neck. Gently stretch the skin down while counting like a waltz~ 1-2-3 (about 5-10 times). Repeat on the other side.
Think of it this way, if you don’t open these main drains before getting the lymph moving, it would be like pressing from the bottom of a toothpaste tube with the top on… it will have no where to go.
Movement & Yoga
The lymphatic system depends largely on muscle activity for its circulation. Though, we tend to spend a lot of time sitting, whether it’s at a desk, in a car, on the couch… and all of this sitting can lead to stagnation. Fortunately, even minor movement can help. Remembering to take breaks throughout the day to walk around and stretch can be really beneficial for your lymph system AND your overall wellbeing.
Yoga can help maintain lymph fluid movement via gravity (inversions), utilizing body positioning to reverse pooling of lymph fluid in the lower extremities. Yoga also increases lymph flow with postures that cause large muscles to contract and relax- encouraging lymph to move through the body.
Gentle self-lymphatic massages can be added to various poses to aid the flow of lymph fluid. Try very gently running/dragging the fingers from wrists towards armpits on the top, sides, and bottoms of arms- massaging near the armpits (think- while in Warrior II), as well as very gently dragging fingers from ankles to pelvic area (on all sides of the legs) and massaging around groin / hip creases (think- Staff Pose).
Dry skin brushing also promotes lymphatic drainage and is said to include additional benefits like refreshed skin and reduction of cellulite. It’s best done few minutes before a shower, using a natural bristle brush.
Stand in your bathtub or shower so all of the falling dead skin doesn’t land on your super sweet bath mat. Using long sweeping motions, begin brushing at your feet, moving upwards towards your heart. All brush motions should go towards the heart area. No need to press hard because the lymph system is close to the surface of the skin. After you have brushed your whole body, hop in the shower.
- About 4 liters of lymph fluid is moved through the body and eliminated each day!
- The body has between 501 and 700 lymph nodes- varying from person to person.
- Where there are veins, there are lymphatic vessels. The cardiovascular system and lymphatic system run parallel to each other .
- The thymus is a super important part of the lymphatic system. It is where the T-cells are generated which help to destroy the naughty cells that get flushed out.
- The thymus is located behind the sternum, between the lungs and can be stimulated by tapping or softly thumping in that area 20-30 times.
Sooooo…. Have I peaked your interest in the lymph system? Are you as fascinated as I am?
Are you ready to live that Lymph Life?
The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.