It’s that time of year when everyone is getting colds, flus, chest infections…. You know all the regular recommendations: wash your hands, take Vitamin C, get plenty of rest, take On Guard (I think I’m a little behind the trend on this one– I JUST discovered how amazing this essential oil blend is. Seriously, it changed my life.) or immune boosting herbs.
I’m going to give you a new one today: Move Your Lymph
If you are thinking, “move my what?”, keep reading. How do we move our lymph? Before we get to that, we need to talk about what lymph is and what it does…but before we get to that, let’s start with the blood. Everyone knows that the heart pumps the blood, circulating it around the body. What many people don’t realize, is that the muscles are designed to help move the blood along as they contract and relax. While the heart is the main pump, muscle activity helps draw the blood to the smaller capillaries that feed the cells and pickup the cellular waste. The large veins and arteries are like the main lines in an irrigation system that would water a large garden, and the capillaries are much smaller lines watering specific areas on the outskirts. When muscles are tight, they are not very active, and the blood flow to that part of the body is relatively low. When this happens, the blood flow may be lower than optimal (or not reaching ALL the cells adequately), but at least it’s still flowing because the heart it pumping.
Now we are ready to talk about lymph. (Keep in mind this is a simplified explanation of a very complex physiological process.) The lymphatic system is your body’s garbage clean up system, and it circulates a fluid called lymph. All the cellular waste, toxins, and other “garbage” gets picked up in the lymph, which travels through vessels (similar to blood vessels), passing through lymph nodes to get filtered. Lymph doesn’t have a pump, so it relies on outside forces to move it…muscles, gravity, massage, etc.
When muscles are tight and bodies are inactive, lymph gets stagnant. The lymphatic system is directly related to the immune system, and when it’s not functioning as it should, immune function is compromised. We often forget that there are mechanical components to disease & illness, and this is one of them.
Here’s a picture of the lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes, and organs associated with the system. The areas with more green clusters are the areas with higher concentration of lymph nodes (pelvis, groin, armpit, & neck).
Back to the original question: How do we move our lymph?
1) Stretch tight muscles in regions of high lymph node concentration– chest/shoulders, groin/hips & neck. If you’re like me, these areas with a lot of lymph nodes also happen to have a lot of tension. When muscles are tight, they are relatively inactive and don’t circulate lymph (or blood) very well. Here are a couple of my favorite stretches for theses regions.
2) Move more, starting with a daily walk. Regular, full body movement is necessary for moving blood & lymph (and for health in general). Walking is the preferred full body movement for many reasons, but that is another post for another day. (I do NOT recommend walking on a treadmill. It’s not the same.) The rhythmic movement of arms and legs helps pump both blood and lymph around the body, feeding cells & removing waste.
You also may have noticed that the areas of high lymph node concentration happen to be near major joints. These are joints that would get a lot of movement IF we were moving naturally instead of sitting all day. When I say “moving naturally” I am referring to the way humans moved before we had modern conveniences like cars, grocery stores, high heels, chairs, strollers, toilets….not bad things, but things that require us to move WAY less than before. Walking, hunting/gathering food, kneeling, climbing, carrying kids, squatting….can you see how just “doing life” would facilitate the movement of lymph (and blood) throughout the day? If this concept resonates with you, I’d recommend Katy Bowman’s new book Move Your DNA.
(SIDE NOTE: High intensity exercise is not necessary to move lymph, and it can actually weaken your immune system.)
3) When you walk, swing your arms. You have a built in reflex for arm swing. Without thinking about it, your opposite arm and leg will move together. It’s called reciprocal arm swing. When you are carrying a baby or a purse, that arm tends to not swing, so try alternating sides (or finding an alternative that allows arm swing, like a sling or messenger bag). For optimal muscle use and lymph movement, keep your elbow pointing back behind you and the elbow “pit” pointing straight ahead as your arms swing. Then keep the arms straight (not bent like a race walker), and push them back behind you. More on this here. Yes, you’ll get more toned arms (say good-bye to that flap on the back of your arm), but more importantly, it is essential for breast health!
Now, take a computer break, and go move that lymph!
PS- If you want more, here a few 20-30 minute classes that target these areas. Click HERE, then choose one of the following titles:
A Real Pain in the Neck, Rhomboid Madness, Adductor Madness, Take a Load off Your Chest & Hips, Frankie Says: Relax the Psoas