By Claire Diab and Dennis Boyle
The lymphatic system is a network of vessels and nodes that circulate lymph through the entire body, removing wastes and toxins. Lymph is a transparent fluid rich in white blood cells that plays a vital role in the immune system. When the lymphatic system is flowing and circulating freely, the body can easily rid itself of toxins and debris and fight impurities, bacteria and viruses. The better this system is working, the better your entire body feels. When there is congestion in the system, you may feel sluggish; experience swelling and/or stiffness in your hands, legs, or feet; or be prone to recurring sore throats.
Lymph fluid is not pumped through the body like blood is by the heart. There is no lymph “pump.” Rather, it moves based on how much you move, as it is moved mostly through contraction of your muscles. Because yoga involves muscle contraction of both the upper and lower extremities, it is particularly effective for transporting lymph and supporting your lymphatic and immune systems. Twisting poses are especially good for stimulating the flow of lymph in and around the organs, and yogic breathing is also effective as the diaphragm massages the organs with each breath.
Inversions, like Legs Up the Wall Pose and Shoulderstand, are also effective in draining lymph from the legs and reversing the effects of
gravity. Inversions are particularly helpful for people who sit or stand for prolonged periods of time. Be sure to check with your doctor first if you have an eye condition such as glaucoma, high blood pressure, a hiatal hernia, or other circulatory problems.
Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose):
- Begin by lying down on your back next to a clear wall.
- Scoot your bottom as close to the wall as possible.
- Release your legs up the wall, straightening your knees if you can. Your low back and sacrum should remain flat on the floor.
- If your hamstrings are particularly tight, you may find it difficult to get close to the wall or to even get your legs straight. Do your best to find a comfortable position, even if it means you have to bend your knees.
- Relax and soften into the pose, breathing deeply in and out of your nose. Hold the pose for 2-10 minutes or as long as you feel comfortable.
Photo courtesy of MindBodyGreen.com.
Claire Diab is an internationally recognized Yoga therapist. She is the director of the Yoga Program for the Chopra Center founded by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. David Simon. She is an adjunct professor of Asian Studies at Seton Hall University. She is the author of several books and DVDs on Yoga including “Yoga For Firefighters.”
Dennis Boyle is a retired fire director and acting chief with the West Orange (NJ) Fire Department. He was the recipient of the 1999 New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs “Fire Officer of the Year” award.