Take Out the Trash
After leaving the dump this morning, I began to think about how great a job the human body does in taking care of its waste. We basically have our own trash collectors. It’s referred to as the lymphatic system. It picks up the extra fluids and proteins from our tissues left there by the blood and transports it to lymph nodes and ducts that filter out and kill harmful bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells and then returns the fluid back to the blood. If the lymphatic system didn't do this, we would swell and puff up like a marshmallow! (Thank goodness it even works on holidays!)
The lymphatic system also helps in the production and distribution of white blood cells, which are the cells responsible to fight infection and disease. (It would be like having your trash collector come to your house with a fruit basket when you aren't feeling well!) Also, it helps absorb fats from the small intestine and transports them to the blood stream to provide energy for cellular function including the brain and nerve tissue. Wow! Thank you lymphatic system!
Unlike the blood stream that has its own pump (the heart), the lymphatic system’s fluid is moved by means of intrinsic muscle contractions and/or external pressure. This is where massage comes in. Massage promotes healthy circulation of lymph throughout the body. If there are areas in your body that have inflammation, massage and moderate exercise can help the lymphatic system transfer the fluid buildup away from that area. There is even a specific type of massage called Manual Lymphatic Drainage
that works with very light, rhythmic touch to help promote lymph flow.
Not until recently has western medicine considered the lymphatic system an integral part in maintaining health and well-being. Eastern culture has, for a long time, regarded Qi (pronounced Che) or the combined idea of bodily fluids and energy, and created breathing and movement techniques to ensure its proper flow. This article
(especially paragraphs 7-9) discusses the differences between western and eastern approaches to lymph and other body fluids. Maybe through a combined understanding of both approaches, we can move toward a better understanding of the importance in keeping this system running smoothly so we don’t end up looking and feeling like the trash dump I visited this morning.
Promote a Healthy Lymphatic System
So now that we know all the benefits of the lymphatic system, here are some that ways we can promote its healthy function:
Diaphragmatic Breathing - belly breathing can help stimulate the nodes and ducts in our bodies core to help the flow of lymph. For a fun way to do this, try Laughing Meditation (scroll down). It's amazing!
Move - Your lymph vessels are entwined in your big muscle groups. The more you move the more your muscles will push against the vessels to promote a strong flow of lymph. Walking, stretching, Yoga, Pilates, swimming, ballroom dancing, the options are endless. Find something you enjoy so you stick with it.
Massage - De-stress yourself and allow a massage therapist to encourage proper lymphatic flow through your body with light touch and movement.
Eat Right - Make sure you include healthy fats in your diet. Flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, avocados are all good foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids. Avoid processed foods and eliminate refined sugar.