Simple ways to improve your health and change your life.
We are all taught about out circulatory system, our nervous system, digestive system, reproductive system, respiratory system and skin, but not many of us know a thing about the lymphatic system—yet if this system stopped working we would die within 48 hours.
When I was 29 I had ovarian cancer and several lymph nodes were removed. Many months later I developed some swelling in my leg and a full, uncomfortable feeling. I was both a midwife and massage therapist with numerous resources yet could find very little information about my condition.
They say necessity is the mother of invention and so it is.
Over the years I have learned all that I can about our incredible lymph system and what it means to have part of it injured or removed. I’ve also learned that the lymphatic system is a huge part of the immune system and that a sluggish lymph system can cause frequent illness, hormone imbalances, insomnia, fatigue, headaches, digestive problems and get this…weight gain and cellulite among other things.
On the bright side, it’s not difficult to improve the health of this system—a healthy lymphatic system can increase energy, remove toxins from the body, distribute hormones and beneficial nutrients, increase immunity and improve overall general health.
Your lymphatic system is present everywhere in your body that blood is found. There are four to seven hundred lymph nodes in your body and a vast web of vessels. When those vessels become clogged or injured the body needs to find new pathways. The system becomes slow and “backs up.”
Imagine if you will a bathtub full of water, outdoors in a forest. In this forest there is a constant, slow sprinkling of rain. Bits of dirt and moss and dead insects fall into the water. In the bathtub is a garden hose. One end of that hose attaches to a spout that removes water from the tub, the drain. The other end is submerged in the water. Once the hose is fully submerged and the air has bubbled out there is no more room in the hose for more bath water to enter. The drain opens and the water from the hose leaves the tub, creating a vacuum effect, pulling more water and some naturally occurring debris from the full tub into itself. This process continues over and over. The tub fills, the hose empties, the tub fills and so on.
Now imagine that drain being clogged. The tub fills, and fills and fills, eventually overflowing. Meanwhile, debris from the forest falls into the tub dirtying the water. The drain and the hose need to be unclogged before normal activity can resume and the water can be cleaned and refreshed.
This is your lymphatic system in a nutshell.
Here are a few of the things you can do to love your lymph and make yourself feel great;
1) The first and most obvious is to maintain a healthy diet and healthy weight. By healthy diet I don’t mean you need to go crazy and fast and cleanse every three months—though that’s not a bad idea—What I mean is to eat real food. Food that doesn’t confuse your body. Food that your wonderful hard working body can easily digest, absorb and break down. My preferred diet includes only the things I can pronounce and identify.
By healthy weight I mean a weight that is healthy for you. Once upon a time my healthy weight was twenty pounds lighter than today. Your healthy weight can change. Healthy is what feels good to you.
2) Exercise is an enormous factor in the health of your entire body but especially your lymphatic system. When you move your body, when your muscles contract, they are pushing the lymphatic fluid through tiny vessels and back to the terminus where this nutrient rich fluid can return to the blood. Moderate exercise can increase lymphatic flow by 10-15 percent. There are certain exercises I recommend, the most important ones being twists and bouncing.
Yoga is amazing for your lymphatic system and twists help to “wring out” the abdominal lymph. If you don’t currently practice, get a mat and start!
If the kids down the street have a trampoline, make friends with them. The lymph vessels love low impact jumping. If you have no access to a trampoline just bounce. Put on bad 80’s rock, turn it up and bounce. Simply and actually pretty fun.
3) Dry brushing is literally just what it sounds like. Find a natural fiber brush and brush your entire body toward your heart. Start at your feet and stroke all the way up your legs. Brush your belly and chest and arms up toward the top of the heart. This stimulates the superficial lymph, the lymph vessels close to the surface.
4) Learning to “drain” your lymphatic system is not rocket science but it is a bit tricky.
The lymphatic vessels throughout the body are bathed in fluid, like the hose in the tub. The vessels open and this fluid enters, moving through the body, stopping at lymph nodes along the way to be cleaned and receive hormones and nutrients to deliver on its journey back to the heart.
Your body is like the earth in the sense that all rivers flow to the sea. In this case the sea is a vessel at the top of the heart.
A very simple way to increase the rate of lymphatic flow which will, in turn speed up the bodies cleansing process, is to learn to stimulate this area. This is where all lymph returns. Flowing up from everything below and flowing down from the face and neck.
* First place your fingers on the soft tissue over the tops of your clavicles (collarbones) and gently stroke down toward your heart. Move your fingers along the entire length of the bone. The pads of your fingers are resting on the tops of the bone. Spend three or four minutes doing this. These are the main drains. Stimulating this area increases the rate of lymphatic flow throughout the entire body.
* The head and face drain toward the back of the ear to a location know as the waterwheel. Very gently massage the entire face in short strokes out to this location. Softly stroke both the upper and lower eyelids toward the outside corner of the eye. Stroke from the center of the chin above and below the bone line out toward the ear. Place your fingertips here, on the waterwheel, and move in slow circles for one to two minutes then stroke down to the main drains.
When doing self lymphatic drainage Use gentle pressure and slow strokes. This should not be uncomfortable at all.
In addition to a clean diet and regular exercise I recommend adding this 15 to 20 minute regimen to your daily routine. Five minutes dry brushing, five minutes of jumping on a trampoline with the neighbor kids or dancing to bad 80’s music and 10 minutes self lymphatic drainage.
Your lymph system will feel the love immediately and will return that love ten fold.
If an experienced lymphatic drainage therapist is available in your area I highly recommend seasonal treatments for healthy people and more frequently for those with health challenges. If you suffer from congestive heart failure or have a port please contact a health professional before beginning this practice. Excessive Lymphatic drainage can alter the distribution of some medications. Take caution when taking medications.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: Flickr, Andrew Mylko (used with permission)