Your lymphatic system is a bit tricky to explain. If you can imagine your circulatory system as a network of vessels that travel throughout your entire body delivering nutrients to your muscles, organs and more… your lymphatic system is the system that runs beside it, collecting back all the fluid and excess debris that the circulatory system didn’t reabsorb immediately.
On average your lymphatic system collects 2-3 litres of fluid and delivers it back to your circulatory system every day. It is almost like the super-parent/spouse who follows behind in the kitchen cleaning up the mess left behind. Your lymphatic system isn’t just collecting fluid (blood plasma) that didn’t get reabsorbed by the bloodstream, it is also collecting foreign bodies/proteins which were too big to reabsorb into the bloodstream. All lymph must pass through lymph node epicenters (neck, groin, and armpits) to be filtered before delivering back to the heart. These nodes are like spider webs, collecting foreign bodies and sending in white blood cells to attack. This is why your lymphatic system is also a key component of your immune system (think about your swollen neck nodes when you are sick with a cold).
The lymphatic system collects fluid and foreign bodies “aka lymph” all day and all night, but it doesn’t have any way to move the fluid from Point A to Point B. While the circulatory system has the heart, the lymphatic system only has valves to prevent back-flow. Lymph gets moved around via gravity and when you move your body. This is why you might experience swollen feet after a long day standing, or why your face looks more puffy in the morning after laying horizontal all night.
Exercise, stretching, yoga, massage, and movement in general are lifestyle practices that move lymph. Supporting your lymphatic system through intentional movement is extremely helpful in supporting the efficiency of your immune system and promotion of blood flow. A full body lymphatic routine (such as dry brushing) can make a huge difference in how your body retains “water weight” especially if you spend the majority of your day sedentary.
Although the top layer of your skin (epidermis) does not have any lymphatic capillaries, the layer right below it (dermis) is packed with lymphatic capillaries. Lymph Brushing and facial Gua Sha are both topical skin care techniques to support the lymphatic system in its difficult task of tidying up the body everyday.
Ways to support your Lymphatic System
Dry Brushing - this is a whole-body activity.
Hot/Cold showers - the switch from hot to cold constricts the muscles and helps move lymph.
Massage - professionally or at home.
- Exercise - any kind of movement is helpful! It doesn’t have to be intense, but it can be too!
Yoga - Yoga postures can be helpful because of the ways you move your body and hold in specific positions. Especially inversion postures like: legs up against the wall, head below your heart, shoulder stand, etc. Note: shoulder stand is an advanced posture, please do not attempt without the help of an instructor.
- Not into yoga? Simply putting your legs up the wall after standing/sitting all day can help drain the lymph from your feet/legs.
Shaking/Vibrational Therapy - Jumping on a trampoline, or going for a ride on a bumpy road or trail does much more than make your vocal cords sound shaky.
Hydration - Every system in your body requires water for proper function. Often temporary swelling in the face and feet is related to an excess of sodium (perhaps from food or alcohol). Time and hydration with water, electrolytes, and some herbs can make a difference.
Gua Sha - a technique and tool from Traditional Chinese Medicine that involves massaging the face/body in a specific manner. Click here to learn more about Gua Sha and how to buy one.
It is good to know what the lymphatic system is and how it functions so you can relate the importance of daily movement to a deeper meaning of health and wellness. It is motivating to know that even a bit of movement (that little walk around the block, or a few jumping jacks in the morning, or putting your legs up the wall in the evening) can help support your lymphatic system.
If you are wondering why buy a Gua Sha tool, or a Dry Brush - now you know how these tools seek to help your body. But remember sustainable skincare is dynamic skincare. If you want to set time aside in your day for lymphatic care, pick something that resonates with you and is sustainable long-term. Build a habit, and then introduce something new if it suits you! Your lymphatic system is hustling for you on the daily, and it's happy to know you are thinking about it as a start!