Did you know that the secret to a healthy immune system is a healthy lymphatic system? Did you know that regular Yoga practice can help your body move vital lymph throughout your body, preventing illness and improving your overall well being? You don’t have to be a hardcore yogi to improve your health with Yoga. Keep reading and learn about your lymphatic system and how doing just a few simple postures daily can keep you feeling great!
A Quick Breakdown of the Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system is the body’s drainage system, in charge of purifying the body’s fluids. Lymph is a transparent fluid containing white blood cells and proteins. Lymph capillaries run alongside the body’s arteries and veins absorbing bacteria through their thin, permeable walls in order to keep the bacteria from spreading into blood capillaries. Lymph nodes are found at various points along lymph pathways, close to the surface of the skin, in the groin, armpits, and neck. Each node acts as a clearinghouse, filtering the lymphatic fluid and killing unwanted particles within it. When lymph leaves the nodes it takes with it helpful antibodies and protein substances that help fight foreign particles elsewhere. Lymph is circulated everywhere in the body, cleansing the the spaces where cells dump their wastes and toxins and debris tend to accumulate. If these wastes and toxins build up we feel swollen, heavy and lethargic. Thus, keeping lymph flowing not only does wonders for our immune system, but for our overall well being.
Lymphatic congestion can lead to many recurring and uncomfortable health problems. The first sign of lymphatic congestion is usually tonsils and sore throat. Restricted flow of lymph can also lead to chronically enlarged lymph nodes, swelling of the hands, feet, ankles, difficulty healing and itchy rashes.
How Yoga Promotes a Healthy Lymphatic System
A balanced Yoga practice incorporates not only physical postures, known as asanas, but conscious breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation as well. The combination of these practices brings the mind, soul and body into balance. When an aspect of the mind or body is out-of-whack, practicing Yoga can help the body heal itself. Regular practice can clear away the obstacles prevent the body from reaching it’s natural state of equilibrium, peace and well being.
Yoga is a great way to move lymph through the body. The lymphatic system relies on muscle contractions of the lymph channel walls, as well as larger muscle activity, to circulate lymph throughout the body. As muscles contract and relax interstitial fluid is flushed into the lymph channels. In essence, the rhythmic movements of the muscles wrings out the tissues, allowing the lymph to cleanse bodily fluids and rid the body of unwanted toxins and waste. Including twists and inversions into your regular yoga practice can assist the movement of lymph and the cleansing of the body’s fluids.
Inversions include any pose in which the head is below the heart. Purposely turning the body upside down reverses the flow of gravity, supporting the movement of lymph, and other bodily fluids, towards the respiratory system where much of the toxins enter the body. Twists help remove toxins in much the same way wringing out a wash cloth works. As you twist the center of your body toxins are flushed out of vital organs and tissue and replaced with lymph which detoxifies and cleanses the cells.
Sorry, but there are no quick fixes…
If you want to keep your immune system functioning at 100% and ensure that your lymphatic system is flowing freely you must practice these asanas on a regular basis. It is not enough to wait until you are sick and low on vital energy to use these practices. Just doing them once in a while does not help maintain healthy lymph pathways or prevent blockages. The good news is, just 10-15 minutes everyday can make a huge difference! Try this simple routine everyday for one week and see if you notice improvements in your health.
A Brief Daily Practice for a Healthy Lymphatic System
If done daily, these poses can have a big impact on the flow of lymph in your body, improving your immune system, your mood and your health in general. These are gentle poses and good for beginners. I’ve included links that include pictures and detailed descriptions of each pose. The best times of day to practice are first thing in the morning, or before bed. I hope you enjoy this practice!
1. Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana) – stand with your feet about hip width apart or closer, spread your toes and dig into the floor “rooting” yourself where you stand. Feel the strength in your legs. As you inhale lift your arms over your head, and on the exhale fold forward, sweeping your arms out to the side and down to the floor (it’s OK if you can’t reach the floor, just reach as far down your legs as you can). Allow your upper body to hang, loosening the muscles in your neck, shoulders and face. Keep your legs strong and align your hips over your ankles. If you want, you can cup your elbows in both hands, or if you prefer continue to reach for the floor or hug the backs of your legs. Simply breath here for 5-10 breaths. Imagine stress and tension flowing out of your body with each exhale. When you are ready, take a deep breath in and stand up. Find your balance and “root” yourself again. Repeat this process 2-3 times.
2. Easy Pose with a Twist (Sukhasana) – sit with your legs crossed and your back to a wall (the distance between you and the wall is based on your flexibility). Make sure your legs are relaxed and your spine is straight and tall, but not stiff. To begin the twist position your right hand and arm so that the center of your palm is shoulder height and your fingers and elbow crease are facing the ceiling. Press firmly against the wall. Notice the stretch in your back and the opening of your right shoulder and chest. Stay here for about 5 breaths. To increase the intensity of the twist, walk your fingers as far to the right as they will go. Make sure to lift the heel of your hand away from the wall and to lengthen your spine as you twist. When you are done, slowly come back to the center and repeat the posture on your left side.
3. Reclined Twist – lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet comfortably on the floor. Relax your neck and shoulders and place your arms out to the side, palms down forming a capital T formation. Slowly, moving with your breath, move your knees into your chest. As you exhale lower both knees to the left side, turning your head to the right. Soften your muscles with each breath, expanding the rib cage as you inhale. Keep your shoulders down and your neck relaxed. After a few slow breaths, inhale your knees back to the center and lower them to the other side on your out breath. Again, make sure your face is turned in the opposite direction and that you are not holding any tension in your neck or shoulders. Repeat twice on each side.
4. Legs-Up-the-Wall (Viparita Karani) – sit with your right shoulder and hip touching a wall. Slowly lay down and turn your body so that your feet and legs are resting against the wall and your torso is resting on the ground. Scoot your butt as close to the wall as you can and relax your arms, stomach and lower back. Breathe deeply and slowly for 5 minutes. When you are done, slowly lower your legs to the side and bring yourself back to a seated position.
5. Corpse Pose (Savasana) – every Yoga practice ends with this restorative pose. It is meant to allow the body to re-circulate the lymph and blood that was moved around during the other postures. This is your chance to just relax and let your body recover. Lie down on your back and extend your arms and legs. Your hands should be about 6 inches away from your body, palms facing upwards. If you want you can use pillows under your neck, lower back or knees. Now just breathe slowly and consciously for about 5 minutes. Try not to focus on your thoughts, instead bring your awareness into your body; exploring and relaxing each body part, one-by-one. When the time is up continue with your day!