Are you feeling sluggish, bloated, have low energy, poor digestion, skin issues such as: dryness, acne, eczema? These can ALL be signs of lymphatic stagnation. Interesting, right?!
Before we get into too many of the symptoms you might be feeling and wondering about, let's take a moment and look at what the lymphatic system does, how it can become stagnated, and then how we can address it with movement and lifestyle choices.
The Lymphatic System
Our mighty lymphatic system is the river that flows beneath our skin. It's one of the first systems formed in an embryo before a heart or even a spine is formed!! Fascinating, right?Water is life and is our life force within us. Our living water carries nutrients, oxygen, as well as wastes, immunity cells, and more.
In eastern medicine philosophies, like Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda Medicine, our Lymphatic System is of primary importance. It is considered the watershed of the body, and we know how important watersheds are to the health of the land around them, right? In very simplified terms, the lymphatic system, delivers water, fats, proteins, nutrients, vitamins and minerals to the cells and takes waste away. It also deliveries subtle energies and can store them in cells too. Another major role of the lymphatic system is it is the delivery mechanism for the immune system. It's the immune super-highway in the body and is very important for cell repair & growth, detoxification, and immunity.
But where is our lymph located?
Everywhere! But there are concentrated areas in the body. The abdomen area holds 70% of our lymphatic tissue, making it a central part of digestion. In Ayurvedic Medicine, lymph is associated with rasa dhatu, which is the first layer of new tissue generated through the digestion of food. Rasa is the source of nutrition for every cell and tissue layer of the body. Let that sink in for a moment. The health of our lymph determines the health of ALL the OTHER TISSUES IN OUR BODY! When you see how widespread the lymphatic system reaches yet how subtle it is, ebbing and flowing with our movement and breath, it's not much of a leap to realize that it can get out of balance and have a wide, varying range of symptoms that can appear in the body when there is stagnation.
Like a flowing river in your neighbourhood, it may appear fine on the surface, but if it's been slowly getting slower over time and more stagnant, the river and ecosystem around it is slowly changing as well, maybe the water is more murky, maybe the banks of the river are softer, smoother where there is an increase of sand and clay build-up for example or the bottom is getting shallower as silt and sand build up there too.
Spending some time looking inwards and examining your lifestyle can give you insights into what is at the root of your stagnation. Common causes are: stress and digestive imbalances and deficiencies. In Ayurveda there is an ancient proverb that goes like: "We are what we digest, and don't digest"
When our lymphatic system isn't flowing very well or we aren't digesting things well physically, energetically, or emotionally, lymphatic fluid can become thick and heavy, kind of like in a slow moving river. Signs of poor moving lymph fluid in the body can include:
- excess phlegm/mucus
- increased congestion/stuffiness
- heavy, slow digestion (in Ayurveda, this would be low agni)
- increased swelling, especially in the fingers, wrists, ankles, and feet
- bloating, weight gain
- breast swelling and tenderness, especially w/ menstruation
- skin irritation, rashes, itchy dry skin, eczema
- brain fog
- feeling stiff and sore in the joints upon waking in the morning
- tenderness, inflammation, and pain
- increased acne, breakouts, and or oiliness
- constipation, sluggish bowel movements
- trouble loosing stubborn weight
- swollen lymph nodes
Addressing Lymphatic Stagnation - How to get your inner ocean ebbing and flowing again!!
The lymphatic fluid bathes our cells, washing across them like waves. Those internal waves washing over your cells are moved only by you doing something actively like deep breathing, movement, massaging or stimulating the skin with dry brushing or exfoliation, or massage through touch. We are often told our lymphatic system doesn't have a central pump like our heart, but I beg to differ. I believe the central pump of our Lymphatic system is our Diaphragm - moved by our breath, but it also is moved by our whole body through our movements! It is moved by our muscles and the biggest one involved in moving the lymph is the diaphragm. Those deep breaths flush the lymph system pulling fluids up from our extremities back to our core and out again.
To re-cap, its important to move your lymph by moving your body every day, several times a day, such as:
- Deep diaphragmatic breathing
- Massage -
Like going for a Manual Lymphatic Drainage massage or
- Learning self MLD like in my favourite self-MLD book called the Book of Lymph by Lisa Gainsley! So many great diagrams in here to help you visualize and understand + she has loads of videos to help on her Instagram feed!
- Exercise - get those muscles moving! It doesn't have to be a big sweaty workout. It can be gentle yin yoga, a walk, etc. Find a type of movement you like and you are more likely to make time for it.
- Dry brushing/exfoliation
Try our Garshana Dry Brush Mitts! You will love them! Natural fibres, washable, easy to use dry, or as a wet brush in the shower/bath!
I use mine every morning for 5 minutes after waking up to get my Lymph moving and help my body detoxify.
Other means to improve lymphatic flow that are among my favourites are:
- Staying hydrated. Aim to drink 1/2 your body weight in oz/day.
- Eating a plant-based diet (80/20 alkaline to acidic).
- Eating organically that is locally & seasonally minded.
- Oral hygiene routine in Ayurveda is very important - Rasa - the beginning our our first tissue begins in the mouth - the entry point for the beginning of our digestive system. Tongue scraping, oil pulling, brushing with a clay toothpaste in the morning are excellent practices for supporting the Lymph!
- Avoiding or reducing red meat, wheat, and processed sugars
- Consuming more foods like: ginger, garlic, lemons, grapefruit, celery, watermelon, stone fruits, berries, red fruits and vegetables like beets, cranberries, cherries, pomegranate.
- Lymphatic herbal tinctures & teas.
- Using toxin-free, lymphatic friendly skincare and hygiene products. Toxins can overburdens our lymphatic system. Many of our lymph nodes are in our neck, mouth, armpits, groin and abdomen. Places where a lot of self-care & hygiene products are used.
- Meditating and pranayama techniques.
It's important to listen to your body and get to the root cause of why your lymphatic system has become stagnated. Connect with your inner healer & find the support you need. As mentioned briefly earlier, stress, digestive imbalances, and deficiencies are common causes of lymphatic stagnation.
Try our Lymph Well Starter Kit to get a variety of potions and tools to help give your Lymph system a boost and begin to clear your pathways!
Includes: Copper Tongue Scraper, Magnesium Spray, Natural Deodorant, Soap bar, Toothbrush, Lymph Well Green Tea, Lymph Love Body Oil, and our Garshana Dry Brush Mitt!
Douillard, J. (2014). The Miracle of Lymph. https://lifespa.com/the-miracle-of-lymph/
Ehrlich, C, Iker, E. et al (2016). The Lymphedema and Lipedema Nutrition Guide.
Frawley, D & Lad, V. (1993 ). The Yoga of Herbs. An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine.
Gainsley, L. & Organic Olivia. The Life Changing Lymphatic Episode. What the Juice Podcast (February 10, 2020).
Gainsley, L. The Lymphatic Message. https://www.thelymphaticmessage.com/
Wallace, E. (2000). Lymphatic Yoga. Our Ocean Within.