This post was updated on 3/6/23.
Do you have dull skin, thinning hair, PMS, aching knees, mood swings, forgetfulness, food sensitivities, or those hard-to-lose last 10 pounds? All of these symptoms can be caused or exacerbated by a sluggish lymphatic system. Identifying if you have sluggish lymph is easy. Fortunately, optimizing your lymph flow can be done with quick and easy techniques. Since optimizing lymph flow is crucial to maintaining good health, you will likely want to incorporate these easy techniques into your movement or self-care time. In fact, it may be just what you need if you have”tried everything.”
What is the lymphatic system?
Your lymphatic system is your second circulatory system. Unlike your cardiovascular system, however, this system lacks a pump. It requires movement, breath, contraction, and relaxation of muscles in order to pump lymph up your body toward your heart. In your chest cavity lies the largest lymph node in your body, the thoracic duct.
The lymphatic system is critical for maintaining health:
- The lymphatic system is your great detoxifier! It removes the “gunk” from your body. Your lymph system actually is the first line of defense for filtering out unwanted toxins. If the lymph doesn’t do its job, then the kidneys and liver have too big of a job to do. When the kidneys and liver are overwhelmed, the next path out is your skin. If that doesn’t work, then your body has to hold on to the toxins and it usually stores them in your fatty tissues.
- Your lymph system is a major part of your immune system. It produces white blood cells, which destroy the “germs” your body comes into contact to throughout the day.
- It regulates the fluid balance in your body. This system drains excess fluids and purifies your lymphatic fluid so that your tissues don’t swell.
How long have we known about the importance of the lymph system?
Throughout human history, various cultures have focused on lymph as one of the most important pieces in health. Even has far back as 460 B.C., ancient cultures were referring to lymph!
In Ayurvedic medicine, a medical system that is at least 5,000 years old, the lymphatic system is generally the first system treated, no matter the symptom. This may seem strange to those of us in the west where the lymph system is rarely even mentioned.
Signs of Lymphatic Congestion:
- Bloating/water retention
- Blood clots
- Sinus congestion and infections
- Puffy face and/or neck
- Hormone imbalances
- Brain Fog
- Difficulty losing weight
- Digestive issues
- Get sick frequently
- Overly emotional
- Acne and rashes
- Getting sick too often
How to optimize your lymph flow!
As you can see, even if your lymphatic system doesn’t have all the answers to what ails you, it certainly can only help to start taking care of it! Here are some simple solutions to getting that lymph flowing freely. YOu don’t have to do ALL of these. Pick what works best for you.
- Open lymph nodes before you work out: Don’t do a work out without opening up your lymph nodes first! You will move a lot more lymph through the cleansing process if you spend a few minutes opening your ducts first. (See the Book of Lymph for detailed instructions.)
- Give yourself a lymphatic massage from time to time.
- A few times a day, take the time to open your main lymph nodes.
- Take deep belly breaths at least 3 times a day, hopefully more! Breathing deeply opens up the thoracic lymph node in your chest cavity.
- Drink hot water throughout the day. This is regularly done in China and India (both cultures with an understanding of the importance of optimal lymphatic flow.) If you can’t do it all day, try drinking a cup of hot (or very warm) water with or without lemon before you have your morning beverage.
- When you towel off after a shower or bath, move the towel from the bottom of your feet up toward your heart. Move from the wrists up the arms toward the heart. Work with the flow of lymph instead of against it.
- Alternate between temperatures in the shower. Going from hot to cold and back helps open your lymph nodes.
- Avoid drinks with ice and/or cold drinks. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is believed that drinking cold beverages slows the lymph while drinking warm or hot beverages allows the lymph to flow more freely.
- Incorporate fennel into your spice mixes and cooking. You can even make a tea out of it!. Fennel is a lymph mover according to Ayurvedic tradition.
- Use an essential oil blend made for optimal lymph flow. I love Vibrant Blue Essential oils. They are made my a nutritional therapy practitioner and target specific organ and organ systems.
- Use a dry brush before your shower. Use light motions toward your heart. This has the added benefit of exfoliating your skin. The skin needs to breathe! It is your largest organ, so it is worth showing it a bit of love.
- Eat with the seasons. Nature has a perfect schedule for cleansing our lymph in the spring. Our bodies were designed to have breaks from our favorite foods. Different species in your microbiome are to be fed and flourish at different times of the year to benefit your body.
- Do yoga: as if you needed another excuse. 🙂 All exercise moves lymph, but there are certain yoga poses that help to open specific lymph nodes. Poses that open up your lymph nodes tend to ones that are held for a few breaths and involve stretching or twisting. There are plenty of yoga videos online showing lymph moving yoga poses.
- Get your omega 3’s. Whether from fish oil, algae oil, seeds, etc, these healthy fats keep your lymph flowing. Contrarily, fake fats (like those in processed foods) clog up your lymph. Be especially wary of seed oils (often labeled as vegetable oils). Stick to grass-fed butter, tallow, lard, avocado oil, coconut oil, and sustainably sourced palm oil.
- Manage your stress. Stress is very hard on the lymphatic system (and every other body system you have). In most cases, you can’t change the external stressors, but you can change how you handle them. My favorites are yoga, mediation, hiking, and gardening, but find what works best for you.
- De-stress with holy basil tea or a turmeric “golden milk”. According to Ayurvedic doctor, Dr. Douillard, holy basil and turmeric address a very specific connection between stress and slow lymphatic flow.
How do I open my lymph ducts and/or practice lymphatic self-massage?
I highly recommend The Book of Lymph for learning how to correctly open your lymph ducts and give yourself regular lymphatic massages. This book explains in depth how important lymph is to health. It is written by a Lymphedema Therapist who gives you lymphatic massage sequences for a myriad of conditions like:
- Scar tissue
- Nasal congestion/Allergies
- Ear aches
- Digestive issues
- Sore throat
- Mental Clarity
- Heart and lungs
- Athletic injuries
Homeopathy for Lymph drainage.
I can’t seem to write a post these days without mentioning homeopathy! This is because it is the most amazing form of medicince there is. I digress though. Homeopathy has many lymph moving remedies and remedy combinations. I love the company Energetix for their Lymph 1, Lymph 2, and Lymph 3 products!
I’d love to hear the health benefits you get from taking care of your lymphatic system!
Great tips and Inlike all the action ideas for getting lymph moving.
These are great tips! Thanks so much for sharing! I have a dry brush and really need to be consistent about it. I also drink lots of warm water and I’d like to incorporate more yoga into my self-care routine!
Very clearly explained how our bodies are complex and connected with nature. I love to drink cold water but I am going to work on it now 🙂
That one was a hard one for me to give up too!
I love these tips because they are so easy – I literally don’t have an excuse to not do them! I love it when I come across things like this that actually feel achievable without having to drop a bunch of money on special supplements and such! You rock!
Awww!! Thank you!! 🙂