If you are someone who scrolls on social media you have likely seen video content of people brushing, scraping, sculpting and/or massaging their skin in hopes of obtaining a more youthful, healthy appearance. Trending practices such as gua sha, dry brushing and facial tools are all centered around the primary objective to promote the circulation of the lymph, a watery fluid in the body that is responsible for carrying white blood cells to and from the body’s organs and transporting waste out of the body via the lymph nodes.
When you think of circulation in the body, the cardiovascular system may be what first comes to mind. Containing the heart and blood vessels, this system is responsible for pumping nutrient-rich blood and oxygen throughout the body and is of course essential to life itself. Yet, there is another primary circulatory system that up until recently has been oftentimes neglected called the lymphatic system.
An integral part of the immune system, the lymphatic system and its components (lymph, lymph nodes, spleen and thymus) are crucial in supporting the vitality of the human body as well as balancing mental and emotional well-being. Not to mention, maintaining a healthy lymphatic system is a must for glowing, healthy skin. In this blog, we will explore the Ayurvedic perspective of the lymphatic system, its roles and functions within the body, the health consequences of an impaired lymphatic system as well as Ayurvedic rituals to keep the lymphatic system both detoxified and deeply nourished.
What is the Lymphatic System?
Certified Lymphedema Therapist and author of The Book of Lymph, Lisa Levitt Gainesly, explains the lymphatic system as being similar to the cardiovascular system because both contain capillaries and vessels. However, instead of carrying blood and oxygen, the lymphatic capillaries and vessels, along with lymph fluid, carry bodily wastes to lymph nodes in order to filter these toxins out of the lymphatic system and ultimately out of the body. This is why the lymphatic system is commonly referred to as the body’s sewage or drainage system.
There are hundreds of lymph nodes throughout the body, but most are located in the head, neck, underarms, abdomen, top of thighs, behind the elbows and behind the knees. What is special about the lymph nodes is that they contain powerful immune-boosting cells like B cells, T cells and white blood cells which are key to fighting off infections from viruses and bacteria and eradicating cancer cells. Once the lymph nodes cleanse harmful pathogens and waste out of the lymph fluid through the bloodstream, the detoxified lymph fluid then recycles itself back into the body in order to provide vital immune support for both the body and mind.
The Lymphatic System & Ayurveda
According to Ayurveda, the lymphatic system is closely related to rasa dhatu and kapha dosha. The rasa dhatu is a bodily tissue that contains all bodily fluids including plasma, saliva, interstitial fluid, mucus and lymph. When rasa dhatu is healthy, one experiences a state of contentment and joy and physically experiences daily elimination, clear eyes, supple skin and lustrous hair. The lymphatic system also connects to kapha dosha as the lymph contains the water element and the water element is housed (along with the earth element) within kapha dosha. Kapha dosha is steady, calm and strong. Similar to kapha dosha, when the lymphatic system is functioning optimally, the overall health of the immune system is stable and better able to withstand both physical and mental stress. The lymphatic system is responsible for drawing wastes or toxins (what Ayurveda refers to as ama) out of the lymph and ultimately the body.
Signs & Symptoms of an Impaired Lymphatic System:
- skin breakouts/blemishes
- puffy eyes
- brain fog
- muscle stiffness
- swollen joints
Ayurvedic Tools to Support a Healthy Lymphatic System
Unlike the cardiovascular system which has the constant pumping of the heart to help it circulate, the lymphatic system does not have a circulatory mechanism; thus, it relies on the movement of the body and daily lifestyle choices for its maintenance. There are many Ayurvedic practices that can benefit the lymphatic system including the following daily rituals:
- Get your beauty sleep! While you rest, both the lymph and cerebrospinal fluid can filter plaque and ama out of the brain and body.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day, beginning with a cup of warm lemon water first thing in the morning, after tongue cleaning. Ayurveda suggests drinking half your body weight in ounces per day of water or more if you are engaged in strenuous exercise or activities.
- Eat prana-rich foods that are organic whenever possible and free from pesticides.
- Whatever you put on your body gets absorbed into your skin and filtered through the lymph. Hence, use organic, earth-based ingredients on the body. We suggest our handmade, organic Ayurvedic selection of skin, bath and body care products.
How to Perform a Lymph Drainage Massage
There are many layers of lymph including the superficial layer that is located just beneath the skin’s surface. This is where the lymph collects fluid; thus, ama can remain dormant here unless it is manually moved. A lymphatic drainage massage is a wonderful way to gently stimulate the lymphatic system and encourage the release of ama. Additionally, this gentle massage calms and grounds; therefore, helping to improve digestion and soothe the nervous system. Keep in mind that this type of massage requires a light, gentle touch in order to connect with the superficial layer of lymph. Lastly, it is important to move like the lymphatic system, using slow strokes, without any rush. (Please view the video below to learn how to perform a lymphatic drainage massage).
Lymphatic Health Matters
As you can see, there is good reason why the lymphatic system is getting a lot of attention these days, as it plays a central role in the health of the body and mind. Hence, it is important to commit to simple, daily Ayurvedic practices that will ensure you will properly get your lymph flowing and detoxified. May the knowledge of Ayurveda and a deeper understanding of the lymphatic system inspire you to engage in preventative, radical self-care in 2023 and beyond.