In our plans about how to keep well for winter how many of us consider the lymphatic system? Many of us don’t really know what it does! Well here’s some info on how lymph fights off the foreign invaders and some techniques to help it along!
Lymph is a pale opaque liquid like that found in a blister on your heel. It flows around the body in channels much like the veins that carry our blood but unlike our blood there is no pumping station for it.
If our lymph flow is sluggish then we will feel sluggish also. Waste products will accumulate around our cells causing toxic build up and even limiting the flow of digested food to the liver for detoxification. Foreign invaders won’t get dealt with efficiently and we will be more inclined to come down with those winter infections which are so prolific at the moment.
Yoga to drive the flow of lymph
Yoga is wonderful exercise for addressing the flow of lymph. While all aerobic activity including yoga flows will be advantageous for the flow of lymph and help to keep it moving, yoga’s special advantage is in stretching out the tight muscles which inhibit the flow of lymph and in its pranayama practices (controlled yoga breathing) which activate the diaphragm. Apart from the controlled yoga breathing throughout all the poses some yoga breathing methods specifically pump the diaphragm which is one of the main ways that lymph gets propelled around the body. In this connection kapalbhati pranayama is highly recommended as a boost to our immunity.
Limiting factors that yoga asanas can address:
- A sedentary lifestyle equals slow lymph
- Shallow breathing – not much happening there with the diaphragm – slow lymph
- Tight muscles – lymph pathways are narrowed
Yoga and the lymph nodes
At certain places within the body there are clusters of lymph nodes where armies of white blood cells muster their forces to fight infections and other foreign invaders. The main clusters of lymph are in the groin, armpits, abdomen and neck. Through yoga asanas we can help keep these areas from clogging up by alternately squeezing and stretching at the node points. Flowing yoga sequences like Salute to the Sun and the 5 Tibetan Rites tend to do this naturally while easy warm ups with joint circles help also.
Limiting factors that yoga asanas can address
- Joint tightness in hips, shoulders, lower back and neck inhibits flow of lymph into and out of the nodes
Yoga and the Thoracic Duct
After the lymph has traveled around the body picking up infections and destroying them, it disposes of them into the blood stream from where they become part of the blood plasma and are taken to the liver for processing and finally to the kidneys for filtering. The collection of lymph and its redirection into the blood stream takes place in the lymphatic ducts situated high in the chest, just under the collar bone. Poses to help keep these ducts flowing freely are those that open the chest and shoulders like Dynamic Extended Mountain, Cobra and Fish
Stress and the Thoracic Duct
We always knew stress was bad for our health, now here’s another way it can make us sick.
Hormones secreted by stress, narrow the thoracic duct making the lymph drainage less efficient. With poor circulation, the immune system becomes less efficient as lymph node follicles at the outer extremities are deprived of essential nutrients. Bacteria filled fluid remains at the extremities, damaging surrounding cells.
Limiting factors that yoga can address
- Hunched shoulder posture causes chest tightness and poor drainage
- Tension in shoulders, neck and upper chest causes poor drainage
- Stress narrows the ducts.
- Sedentary lifestyle causes slow lymph flow
- Tension in joints is also a limiting factor
- Poor breathing habits limits lymph flow too
- Stress tighten muscles, limits the flow and the drainage
As a wholistic yoga practitioner I would recommend practicing yoga asanas and pranayama for at least 20 minutes three times a week, making sure you add in the poses recommended above. For stress management I would recommend deep slow yoga breathing and meditation (come along to one of our many Deep Peace Meditation sessions) and an understanding of yoga philosophy to find the underlying cause of stress and how to prevent it.
By Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training