The Lymphatic System only makes up 1% of your total body but it is the powerhouse behind your Immune System. Think of it as your Immune System’s bodyguard. It is a system similar to the Circulatory System where it circulates fluid throughout the body. However, unlike the Circulatory System, it does not have a major organ, like the heart, to help push the fluid throughout the body. But why is this important? This system produces lymph fluid made up of white blood cells, mainly a type called Lymphocytes that “eat” bacteria, dead cells, and cancer cells. The regular everyday job of the Lymphatic System is to filter the lymph fluid to remove these unwanted cells. When the system notes bacteria, it ramps up production of germ fighting white blood cells which causes the lymph nodes to swell. The lymph nodes are where the immune fighting cells are and is where the lymph fluid gets filtered. They are located throughout the body but many of us have felt the ones in our neck swell when coming down with a sickness. Breast cancer awareness note: the lymph nodes under our armpits need to be checked each month, too!!
To boil this all down, look at the Lymphatic System as the drainage system for the waste in our cells. How do we know when our system is clogged up? It’s easy to see when a sink drain gets clogged but not so easy in our body. If you have any of the following then you may have a “clogged” Lymphatic System:
- rings on fingers start to feel tight
- brain fog
- water retention
- feeling tired, itchy skin
- cold hands and feet
- soreness/stiffness in the morning
- soreness/swelling breasts during cycles
How do we keep the system clean and draining well? Muscle contractions of movement (think exercise), massages, and the simple act of being inverted help to move the fluid in the Lymphatic System around. Movement comes in many forms of exercise: dancing, running, yoga, etc. Any pose which places the head below the heart, like standing forward bend and supported should stand, moves lymph fluid into the respiratory organs where germs often enter the body. Once the head is back above the heart, gravity again assists the lymph fluid sending it toward the nodes for filtering. Add these poses to your sequence regularly, not just when you have the first case of the sniffles, to build up your immune system as we enter into the winter months: down dog, dolphin, rabbit, forward folds (ragdoll and wide legged), shoulder stand, plow pose, supported bridge, wheel, camel, and child’s pose.
If you are a yogi then you may be thinking that you move enough through yoga. However, another aspect of a clogged Lymphatic System is built-up stress by living in a chronic stress state. This would be where our restorative yoga comes in as a key to unraveling stress with the added benefit of moving lymph fluid throughout the body. Legs up the wall can be thought of as the “go to” pose for helping our Lymphatic System. In this pose your legs are straight up against a wall with your back flat on the floor. Here our legs are above our chest area allowing the flow of lymph fluid to reverse due to gravity, thus aiding our body’s waste removal process. This helps to restore body fluid to the upper body which also helps to reduce swelling and fatigue in the legs, feet, and ankles. One of my young yogis came into my class not feeling well and I had her put her legs up the wall while I continued with class. The teacher came in and asked what she was doing and was surprised by my explanation. She was further surprised when 10 minutes later the little girl felt better and wanted to join the others in class! A month later a cold was going around the classroom and that same teacher requested that I end the class in legs up the wall to help the students’ immune system. Who doesn’t need a little relaxation, less stress and a better immune system keeping every little cell happy and well?