Let me start by wishing you all a happy new year! I’m forever grateful for the inspiring community of health-loving individuals we’ve created, and I can’t wait to see it continue to flourish in 2024. But before we completely shift our focus to the future, I want to take a moment to reflect on the past.
At the beginning of 2023, I wrote about some tips to start your new year off right, including learning to be more selfish and prioritizing you. I’ve decided that this one is too important not to carry into 2024, so what better way to ring in the new year and set the tone for the rest than by highlighting one of my favorite acts of self-care?
Learning about and educating others on lymphatic drainage is something near and dear to me since I experienced my own struggles with my body’s lymphatic system at just 32 years old when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. While this was definitely an unfortunate circumstance and terrifying time, I’m thankful for the fire it lit within me to expand my understanding of my body and take control of my health. It led me to where I am today, which makes me excited to share what I’ve learned about the lymphatic system and lymphatic drainage with you.
Understanding the Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system is just one part of our circulatory system, but it plays a key role in protecting us from infections and maintaining a healthy fluid balance. It consists of a network of organs, tissues, and vessels that carry lymph (a watery and often colorless fluid containing white blood cells, bacteria, proteins, and other cells) back into our bloodstream. This movement of lymph keeps us healthy by acting as a filter for waste products and abnormal cells—when lymph returns to the bloodstream, the waste gets prepared for excretion out of the body. It also helps keep us from getting sick by producing and releasing white blood cells and other immune cells to fight off invaders. Finally, our lymphatic system allows us to absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) for normal functioning. In essence, the lymphatic system is vital in ensuring our body’s overall health.
Lymphatic Drainage in the Literature
Lymphatic drainage is a therapeutic technique involving gentle massages to help stimulate lymph flow, and it’s a relatively new method. While the lymphatic system was first reported in the seventeenth century, lymphatic drainage wasn’t used in clinical practice to treat lymphedema (swelling from accumulated lymph) until 1936. However, due to their effectiveness, lymphatic drainage massages have become a pillar in lymphedema treatment. Then, in 1999, new patterns of movement for drainage were published, which has led to modern-day lymphatic drainage techniques.
These contemporary techniques have expanded the scope of lymphatic drainage beyond lymphedema management, finding applications in holistic health and aesthetic practices. Today, lymphatic drainage is an essential and well-established method providing therapeutic benefits for conditions like lymphedema and contributing to overall well-being and self-care.
How Lymphatic Drainage Works
Lymphatic drainage works by using gentle, rhythmic massage techniques to stimulate the movement of lymph throughout the lymphatic system. By utilizing precise movements in a circular or pumping motion, we can encourage the flow of lymph. The pressure helps open our lymphatic vessels, letting the fluid travel more efficiently. Lymphatic drainage promotes the drainage of accumulated fluids, waste products, and toxins from the tissues, helping improve the lymphatic system’s overall function. By facilitating the movement of lymph, lymphatic drainage contributes to reduced swelling, improved circulation, and an enhanced sense of well-being. And as a bonus, the therapeutic effects promote relaxation and support holistic health.
My Top Lymphatic Drainage Techniques
Gua Sha, a traditional Chinese healing technique, is widely used for various health conditions, including pain, respiratory problems, and internal organ issues. “Gua Sha” translates to scraping or scratching, and the process involves unidirectional, pressured, yet gentle stroking with a smooth edge. These motions promote lymph drainage to detoxify and reduce inflammation, making Gua Sha an effective technique for enhancing lymphatic flow and well-being.
Exercise Balls and Trampolines
Exercise balls and trampolines engage the entire body in rhythmic movements, effectively promoting lymphatic drainage. The bouncing creates gentle tissue compression and decompression and encourages the opening and closing of lymphatic valves, enhancing lymph circulation and promoting waste removal. Regular use of exercise balls or trampolines as part of a wellness routine can contribute to a healthy lymphatic system, supporting overall immune function and reducing the risk of fluid retention and inflammation.
Dry brushing is one of my favorite ways to promote lymph flow. Using a natural bristle brush to exfoliate the skin can stimulate the lymphatic vessels to promote circulation. I like to start at the feet, brush in a circular motion, and slowly work my way up the body. Always brush towards the heart since this is where lymph drains. A good practice is to take 3-5 minutes of dry brushing before you shower.
Proper hydration is essential for a healthy lymphatic system. Freshly prepared juices, especially those rich in antioxidants and hydrating properties, can support lymphatic function since fluids with higher water concentrations flow more easily. Juicing high-quality ingredients is an amazing strategy to support a healthy lymphatic system.
Mindful movement, like yoga and tai chi, promotes the gentle flow of lymph. These exercises enhance flexibility and balance and encourage deep breathing and muscle contractions. Lymph relies on these contractions to move fluid through the system and create an ideal environment for optimal lymph flow.
Work with a Specialist
Education on proper lymphatic drainage massage with a specialist is another way to optimize self-care. I trust Lisa Gainsley, who is an innovator in all things lymphatics. As a Certified Lymphedema Therapist and Manual Lymphatic Drainage Practitioner, she created the Lymphatic Message to bring lymphatic programs to communities and individuals that enhance well-being from the inside out. Her mini-courses and masterclasses are great resources to advance your lymphatic drainage skills.
Prioritizing self-care (including lymph care!) at the beginning of the year sets you up for success. Lymphatic drainage techniques are simpler than you think and can easily become part of your routine with a little practice. And with consistency comes both internal and external results, leaving you looking and feeling your best. If you’re looking for an extra push to guide you along your overall health journey, you’ve come to the right place. Book a one-on-one session with me to kick off your new year and ensure that this is the year you take ownership of your health. I know how incredible this freedom feels, and I want to help you feel it, too.