The skin is our largest organ, and our visceral connection to the outside world. Strung along like pearls knotted on a string, the lymphatic system is an intricate net of lymph nodes, lymph ducts, and lymph vessels. This system resides just beneath the surface of the skin and is in charge of eliminating cellular waste, storing and distributing fat/fat-soluble vitamins, and absorbing fluid to minimize swelling. This magical system directly affects cellulite, bloating, circulation, skin, respiratory health, aging, and immunity.
I first experienced a lymphatic massage several years ago in New York. With little knowledge of the lymphatic system and on a friend’s nondescript referral, I went to my first session with zero expectations. The therapist’s touch was so light, I wasn’t sure this “massage” was doing much of anything. She described the lymphatic system as little rivers that live beneath the surface of the skin and required subtle stimulation to detox the cells and skin. Afterwards, still bearing minimal information on the subject, I noticed a slight change in my demeanor. I felt more relaxed, like I could breathe better, my face looked less tired. Placebo? Maybe. Or maybe her subtle touch actually did something.
It wasn’t until years later that I would be reacquainted with this subtle yet powerful system when I took an apprenticeship with a specialist in the field. During my first few months of training, I developed a deep understanding of (dare I say obsession with) the Lymphatic System. I now run my own practice in Los Angeles that focuses on stimulating and flushing this system, and instead of using our hands, we use a futuristic looking French machine to perfect the pressure and stimulation.
Unlike other systems within our body, the lymphatic system requires stimulation in order to circulate effectively. A healthy lymphatic system prevents waste buildup, fluid retention, and increased cellular aging. It also maximizes your body’s ability to internally absorb vitamins for healthy skin, hair, and nail growth, and acts as a vital assist for your respiratory system. When the Lymphatic System is not stimulated, lymphatic drainage slows and waste accumulates, leading to cellulite, inflammation, and a weakened immune system. The Lymphatic System is a major player in the body’s immunity and anti-aging. Invisible, yet very visible. Have you ever woken up after a night of indulgence and noticed an overall puffiness that generally appears in the form of under eye bags and stomach bloating? Boom, visibility.
Here’s an example: Our tonsils are major lymph nodes (cool right?) – so when they swell, it means they’ve identified a threat, such as allergens, mutated cells, pathogens, and are cleansing them. Whatever the threat, our lymph nodes increase white blood cell production, which causes the nodes to swell, become noticeable, and sometimes painfully inflamed. Once the white blood cells have the threat contained, they neutralize or kill the toxin to be flushed out through the lymph.
The Lymphatic System is a major player in overall cellular regeneration and detoxification, the holy grail of immunity and anti-aging. It’s a big deal. So how do we care for it?
Stimulating your skin boosts circulation and supports the slow movement of the lymphatic system, which is prone to stagnation and buildup. The easiest way to stimulate is by incorporating practices in everyday life, such as a light scrub in the shower, or extra time massaging your skin when applying moisturizer. To take it up a notch, add dry brushing to your daily or weekly routines. Dry brushing energizes and exfoliates the skin cells, boosting collagen and elastin production in addition to facilitating lymphatic drainage. Foam rolling or fascial stimulation helps reduce deeper congestion and buildup in the form of fatty deposits, cellulite, or lactic acid buildup. If you really want to amp up your cellular stimulation, you can invest in some at home products, or if you’re in LA, you can always come see me at my studio!
HYDRATION + PERSPIRATION
The word lymph is derived from the latin word lympha, which means “connected to water.” Our internal lymphatic rivers are almost entirely made up of water and therefore thrive in a hydrated state. You’ve probably heard that half of our bodies are made up of water, but you probably haven’t heard that this water lives in the lymphatic system. A healthy body filters approximately a half a gallon of lymph per day and requires adequate hydration to stay clean and flow easily. Like tributaries trickling into a stream that feeds a slow-moving river, the lymph system transports lymph fluid through ever-widening vessels, moving it through 500 filtration and collection points – your lymph nodes. Because the lymph system doesn’t have a pump, like our heart which pumps our blood, the lymph system needs some extra assistance to flow. Hydration is key. In conjunction with hydration you also need regular perspiration to release gathered toxins as you replenish with water. If vigorous exercise is too much on your body or nervous system, an infrared sauna is my favorite go to for a detoxifying sweat.
Our Autonomic Nervous System, which regulates the body’s unconscious actions, functions in two divisions; the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Our sympathetic state, activated when we are engaged throughout the day, is responsible for stimulating activities associated with the fight-or-flight response, whereas the Parasympathetic state allows us to rest, sleep and renew our cells. The lymphatic system, among other functions such as digestion, sexual arousal, and sleep, activate in a parasympathetic state. Most of my clients are caught in a perpetual sympathetic state, without adequate time to rest and rejuvenate. It’s important to value and prioritize time spent in a parasympathetic state, particularly if most of your time is spent in activity. It’s also an effortless way, literally, to support your lymphatic system – similar to how you manage stress. Exercise is important yes, but exercising too much can add more stress to the nervous system and subsequently your lymphatic system. If you overload your body with too much exercise and stimulation without proper rest and relaxation, your body won’t have enough time to recover and rejuvenate. It’s important to remember that not all exercise needs to be high intensity. If you’ve had a stressful week, perhaps you don’t need stressful exercise – instead take a leisurely hike or walk, not to go somewhere, but merely for the enjoyment and simple movement of the body. Trade out a high intensity workout with an epsom salt bath or deep tissue massage.
While “out of sight, out of mind” can be applied to many life situations (see: exes, chocolate, taxes, dust bunnies), the lymphatic system, no matter how invisible, should not be ignored. Call me crazy, but caring for it can actually be kind of fun (I do it for a living) and full of long term benefits, including decompressing in a sauna.