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Yoga Anatomy: The Lymphatic System

The Lymphatic System

Health Benefits of Twists and Inversions in your Yoga Practice

Lymph is the fluid that contains the hormones and other message-sending chemicals from your various glands to the rest of your body. The “Lymphatic System” consists of all of the glands and various conduits that comprise your internal communications network.

Because lymph is rich in white blood cells, it plays a vital role in your immune system and toxin removal from tissues of the body. The better this communication system is working, the better your entire body feels.

No Pump and No Peristalsis

The interesting thing about the lymphatic system is that although it is vital that these fluids move around within your body, there is no mechanism to achieve that motion.

There is no peristalsis – the smooth-muscular series of contractions that move food and waste throughout your gastrointestinal tract.

There is no lymphatic heart – to pump the liquid throughout the entire body in the way the cardiovascular system surges blood and oxygen to our cells. (In some frogs, there is a “lymphatic heart” that beats for this secondary system.)

In contrast, lymph simply has to move around based on how much you move around – it uses the contractions and stretching of your regular skeletal muscles. The only way you can ensure proper lymph circulation is with exercise or massage.

And no other exercise moves lymph around in so many good directions as Yoga.

Inversions: Going Upside Down

Increased blood flow and circulation aren’t the only benefits of hanging around bottom-over-top.

Yoga poses ranging from Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog), Viparita Karani (Inverted Lake) to Shoulder stands, Handstands and Headstands all help to shift fluids around your body in ways that you would not ordinarily be able to achieve in daily life (not to mention provide another reason to show up with an empty stomach…).

Let’s Twist Again

Imagine wringing a wet cloth by twisting it in the center. What happens to the liquid? Some of it sloughs off completely (inside the body this would be detoxifying or cleansing), other portions of the liquid move to the ends of the cloth from the center.

Like inversions, twists offer your body new ways to remove toxins and flush important lymph around the entire torso.

Yoga as Long-Term Care

Most people take their lymphatic system for granted.

What press lymph does get appears when it causes an unpleasant side effect called lymphedema – a potentially disabling condition that can sometimes arise following a mastectomy.

In a Yoga Journal article about Yoga as complementary physical therapy for Lymphedema, Lisa Gilbourne, a seven-year cancer survivor and studio co-director of Bikram Yoga College of India in Florida remarks “Lymphedema is not something you can cure, you have to manage it. Doing yoga every day helps undo the effects of sitting and standing for long periods of time.”