Yoga’s Effect on the Lymphatic System and Stress

I had the chance to do my first yoga session in years this past Sunday at JoyWheel Yoga, which is in the same building as my office. It was BRO-ga, which is yoga for dudes! Mostly BRO-ga is just fun to say. Adam and Erin Schifferli taught a great class that focused on on basic yoga postures, breath and bringing awareness to your body as you move it.  It was basically an antidote for sitting at your desk all day under stress. This class was  timely for me as I have been sitting at my in front of my computer for much longer periods than I am used to as we set things up at the office. Afterward, I was able to feel more upright and a little soreness in the muscles that hold my shoulders back. In the next couple of days I was able to reflect on some of the major benefits of these yoga poses and and the way they worked the upper body. The positive impact on the immune system was the thing stood out above all others.

The lymphatic system drains into the subclavian vein in front and under the shoulders.

The lymphatic system drains into the subclavian vein in front and under the shoulders.

The lymphatic drainage system is often taken for granted and only noticed when you have a cold or flu. As your immune system fights the foreign invaders the lymphatic system drains away wastes and toxins, which tends to create inflammation and swelling at the lymph nodes along the way. These inflamed nodes are most often felt under the jaw and the sides of the neck. There are lymph nodes and ducts through the rest of your body although you may never feel them get inflamed.  On a daily basis the lymph recycles blood plasma, transports fatty acids and proteins much of which has come from you digestive tract.  Many times while testing a patient they showed tremendous need for nutrients which completely goes away when we get their lymphatic system flowing. The nutrients were there the whole time they were just unable to access it!

The flow of the lymphatic system is from the arms and legs toward the body and up to the subclavian veins where the lymph enters the circulatory system. All the lymph eventually drains in front under the chest muscles and under the shoulders. The primary way the lymph moves throughout the body is by muscles squeezing the lymph along the channels and ducts which requires movement. What if you don’t move all day? The posture of sitting at a desk inevitably leads to rounded shoulder with tight chest muscles and ever weakening back muscles. Tightness in the chest muscles in the front can restrict the flow of lymph in a significant way. By sitting at a desk, day in and day out, with poor posture compounds the the problem.  Little movement means less lymph flow and tight chest muscles means reduced possibility for lymph flow. This is a recipe for a poorly functioning immune system and weird and distant problems like backache worse in the morning, inability to get over a cold, swelling in the arms and legs and symptoms of nutritional deficiencies despite a good clean diet.

The postures and exercise portion of yoga has the benefit of moving and strengthening the muscles not to mention circulating your lymph. This truthfully could be accomplished by many forms of exercise if done consciously with good form.  Most others types of exercise however, don’t have the ability to break the cycle of stress quit so effectively.  During the class Adam continually tried to tune the class into being aware of what their body was doing and feeling.  Over the course of an hour, I found I wasn’t thinking of anything other than how my body was doing and my breath. It was a peaceful place to be.

Stress can be so destructive that taking the time to break the cycle with something we enjoy, and is positive for our health, is critical.  Left unchecked, stress suppresses the immune system making sitting at the desk with a congested lymphatic system a health time-bomb.  My experience after class of feeling at peace is nicely backed up by a Harvard Medical School article that says yoga can reduce heart rate, blood pressure, perception of pain, anxiety and even positive impacts on depression. Other proven ways of breaking the stress cycle are meditation, walks in nature (one of my favorites), low intensity exercise or even a chiropractic adjustment. You will know what works for you when you find it. For me, I will keep doing yoga and taking walks in places like this forest. Sorry, no pics of Dr. Luke doing yoga, the web is not ready for that!

No Stress in These Woods!

No Stress in These Woods!

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