Lymph: Fluid containing white blood cells, proteins and fats that gathers toxins, bacteria and viruses, helping to remove waste materials and excess fluids from the body.
If you’re prone to getting sick, or it’s cold and flu season, or, like most of the human population in the modern world, deal with too much stress, too many toxins in the air and food, or consume alcohol or drugs (prescribed or illicit), or if you’re changing your lifestyle into a healthier one by reducing any of the above, then your body has more waste matter to move! This is when consciously moving lymph is vital.
The only way that lymph moves, unlike our blood, is manually, meaning through literal physical movement of the body, hot & cold hydrotherapy, massage, dry skin brushing, and abdominal breathing. These DIY methods cost little to nothing and can assist in overall, optimal health. There are other methods of ensuring healthy lymph, such as staying hydrated and eating real, whole foods (i.e. minimizing harmful processed foods). Here I solely address ways you can manually move your lymph inexpensively on your own.
Alternate Hot & Cold Water
Hot & Cold Hydrotherapy stimulates blood and lymph circulation and consequently detoxification. You can build in alternation counts, the amount of time you spend under hot and cold, and extremes in temperature. Practice cold water exposure in a way that you enjoy—really, it gets easier and feels incredible once you get used to it! It’s soothing and invigorating to feel the comfort of cold water after hot, and vice versa. Of course, take it easy on yourself, especially if you’ve been sick!
Compressing & Releasing the Lymph Nodes
For movement itself, compression of the groin lymph nodes and releasing that compression pumps lymph to cleanse the body, and particularly the liver, of toxins. You can do this when lying flat on your back and bringing your leg to your chest, holding for 30 seconds, releasing and lying flat for 30 seconds, and holding the alternate leg in for 30 seconds before releasing for 30 seconds. Each time you may ease deeper into the compression, and with each release, feel deeper relaxation. Enjoy as you repeat for up to four rounds. Adding this as part of your morning routine or doing before sleep is simple and efficient.
Bouncing or Jumping & Moving Arms Overhead
Jumping jacks are super simple and amazingly efficient because bringing the arms overhead helps move the lymph through the upper body while jumping moves lymph through the lower body. Jumping, bouncing, and moving your arms up and around however you wish will do the job. Reality is, these simple motions do a lot more than move your lymph; they increase circulation through the upper and lower body, and to the brain, while releasing dopamine and endorphins, in other words, happy hormones!
Dry Skin Brushing
Before bathing, and easily as part of a morning routine, use preferably a natural bristled brush or for the minimalist/traveler an exfoliator cloth to brush your skin in soft, swift motions, moving up the legs and arms toward the heart, circling the abdomen in clockwise circles (to run in the direction of the large intestine), and from the face down the neck toward the heart. Cover as most of your skin surface as possible to encourage exfoliation and anti-inflammation. Then add some cold water into that shower to double your lymphatic love!
Self Lymphatic Massage
Massage, especially lymphatic massage, will move your lymph for you. You can practice self lymphatic massage anytime of day (or as part of a morning routine) that doesn’t require much time or money, so it can be done regularly for more benefits.
You can lightly manipulate the lymph nodes that lie just beneath the surface of the skin with your fingertips in slow, circular motions, beginning around the temples, jaw, behind the ears, down the neck and above the collar bones, and cup your hands into your armpits to stimulate lymph circulation in the primary nodes through the upper body (refer to the diagram above for lymph node locations). You can do the same for the nodes in the groin as well.
You can do this when applying oil after hot & cold hydrotherapy as part of DIY-minimalist skin-care basics.
Place your hands around the belly button and begin by breathing in through the nose. Let your breath expand into your hands as you breathe in. As you exhale, your belly relaxes back in. 60 percent of the lymph nodes lie beneath the diaphragm, so breathing with the diaphragm, which creates this slight ballooning of the abdomen, acts as a lymphatic pump.
It is much easier to practice this breathing lying down and may take some time before this breathing feels natural. It is very easy to practice when first waking up or before falling asleep.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re lying down, sitting up, walking, practicing Yoga or any kind of movement, abdominal breathing can be utilized at any moment, with any activity. (except Pilates…!)
As with any self-care practices, begin with what feels best and form it into a habit. I stress the morning routine because habits are easiest to generate after waking up. It takes a few weeks to establish a new habit, so however works and feels best for you to practice over time, most importantly, enjoy!