How well does your lymph move?
If you’re like me, this question would have you a little baffled. I know we have lymph nodes and so probably assumed there was something called lymph in them…maybe…but that would have be the extent of it. So when my TCM doctor told me my lymph was basically stuck (and that’s the word she used), I had no sweet clue what that meant.
I know now, though!
Lymph is the fluid of the lymphatic system, made up of white blood cells. Lymphatic fluid is how the body transports waste products from our cells to eventually be eliminated from the body. You can think of it as the body’s garbage collection system. It also plays a key role in the immune system, fighting infection and producing white blood cells. The lymphatic system is an integral part of detoxification in the body and in order to do its job effectively (and therefore ensure good health), lymph must be flowing well throughout the body, just like the blood. It differs from the blood in this respect because where blood is pumped through the body by the heart, lymph has no such pump to keep it moving.
(Starting to understand why you might want to make sure it’s moving??)
When lymph becomes stagnant, these waste products and “garbage” from our cells build up and can lead to inflammation and eventually, disease. If lymph is not moving, it won’t pass through the lymph nodes (or other organs of the lymphatic system) where cell waste and toxins are neutralized. Instead, it becomes a pool of toxins stuck in the body…never a good thing. As you would expect, this can cause symptoms to develop, which can include:
- brain fog, headaches, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes
- morning stuffiness/mucous in the throat
- ear popping/ringing
- frequent colds, flu, infections
- trouble losing weight
- stiff and sore joints in the morning
- bloating, swelling of hands and feet, heavy legs
- sore breasts during periods
- itchy skin
- acne, eczema, dry skin
There are many things that contribute to stagnant lymph: lack of movement, dehydration, chronic constipation, stress (which contributes to everything!), an unhealthy diet (high in processed foods and bad fats), and chemical exposure (from everyday things like skin care products, cleaning products, and pesticides) are a few of the major reason. The lymphatic system may not have a pump, but the good news is that it’s quite simple to get it moving…you just have to be mindful about it and make it a part of your daily routine. These are the things I do to keep my lymph flowing:
- Jump on a Rebounder: This one is my favourite. Any movement will activate your lymphatic system, but rebounding is the most effective way to do it. Lymph fluid flows upwards, through one-way valves (no wonder it can get stagnant so easily!). The fluctuation of gravity on the body when rebounding (heavy on the bottom and near zero at the top) stimulates these valves to pump lymph through the body and reduces lymph congestion. You’ll also be getting some great exercise at the same time! Start with bouncing without your feet leaving the trampoline and then move up to higher jumps. Try to jump for two minutes, every few hours throughout the day. If you prefer something more structured, YouTube is a good place to find free rebounding “classes”.
- Dry Brushing: Another simple way to get your lymph flowing, dry brushing your skin can stimulate lymph flow and drainage. The lymphatic system runs just under the surface of the skin, so gentle strokes are all that’s needed to get things moving. Check out this dry brushing tutorial for a step-by-step guide of how to do it (this is the brush I use). Besides stimulating lymph flow, dry brushing exfoliates the skin, making it healthier and allowing it to “breathe” better. I recommend dry brushing at least once a day (I do it before getting into the shower), but twice is even better!
- Drink Water: Like everything in your body, lymph moves better when you’re well hydrated. If you’re not drinking enough water, lymph gets thicker and harder to get flowing. Half your weight in ounces, daily should be your water goal.
- Practice Yoga: A daily yoga practice combines the benefits of stretching with deep breathing to prevent stagnant lymph. If you can make it a daily “habit”, it will also do wonders for your stress level! This is a great 20 min Vinyasa Flow class to start or end your day (for any yoga skill level).
- Drink tea: Who doesn’t love a warm cup of tea during the winter? There are several herbal teas that can work to get that lymph moving – astragalus, ginger, fenugreek, and sarsaparilla are some of the best herbs to stimulate lymphatic function. (If you’re pregnant or nursing, check with your doctor to make sure these herbs are safe for you)
- Ditch the Underwire and the Tighty-Whities : A significant portion of lymph is drained in the lymph nodes under the arm. Underwire and tight-fitting bras can hinder lymph drainage and can contribute to issues such as swollen nodes, painful breasts and even breast cancer (just wearing a tight-fitting bra longer than 12 hours a day can increases your risk of breast cancer by five times!). Even for guys, the argument can be made that tight-fitting undies can hinder lymph drainage and cause toxin back up in the testicles. This can increase the chances of fertility issues and even cancer.
- Pay Attention to Your Posture: Poor posture can prevent lymph from flowing freely. If you have to be at a desk much of the day, a standing or treadmill desk are excellent ways to help correct your posture and prevent you from stooping over all day long. Moving your body regularly throughout the day is good for so many aspects of your health besides lymph flow.
Making a point to do things that keep your lymph moving isn’t difficult, but it is super important for your body. It’s impossible for anyone to avoid being exposed to toxins – they’re everywhere – but we can make a big difference in how they affect the body, just by changing our routines a little to include some or all of these simple practices. They’re preventative measures that can make the difference between moving up or down the slope of health..and you’re so worth it!