Yoga for Lymphatic Drainage: How to Use Yoga to Support Your Immune Health
Article At A Glance
The lymphatic system helps us eliminate waste and toxins from the body. But unlike our cardiovascular system, there’s no central pump—like the heart—to move the toxin-carrying lymph through the vessels. Instead, we rely on movement to maintain the flow. Yoga for lymphatic drainage can be especially helpful for keeping the system moving to support our immune system. Try these 6 yoga poses to support lymphatic drainage.
After living through a global pandemic, immune health is on all our minds. We all want to stay as healthy and protected as possible from the inside out. Yet, one of the most crucial aspects of our immune systems, the lymphatic system, is so rarely discussed. Do you know how lymphatic drainage works? Did you know that yoga for lymphatic drainage can be highly effective?
There is so much mystery around the lymphatic system of the body that essentially works as the cardiovascular system of the immune system but with one key difference. The cardiovascular system has a central “pump” (the heart) that works to circulate blood throughout the body. The immune system doesn’t have a mechanism like this. So lymph is moved through a very different mechanism: movement. So, of course, yoga can be a helpful tool to assist with this.
What Is the Lymphatic System?
As a critical part of our greater immune system, the lymphatic system helps to eliminate and remove toxins and waste from the body. Lymphatics transport waste and toxins out of our tissues to send them back to the bloodstream to be filtered and removed. Essentially, the lymphatic system works as almost a clean-up crew or sewage system for the whole body.
The lymphatic system works closely with immune cells to monitor and react to various signals throughout the body to either increase or decrease immune responses, helping to fight off infections, harmful bacteria, and even diseases like cancer.
What Is Lymphatic Drainage?
Lymphatic drainage is the flow of lymph fluids. And one of the best ways to stimulate this is through movement. Movement in the body creates change in pressure around joint spaces, where lymph nodes gather. These pressure differentials allow for a “pumping” effect to create the movement of lymph fluids. This creates lymphatic flow, which helps to drain areas with excess fluids and/or to sound the alarm to mount an immune response if needed.
How to Use Yoga for Lymphatic Drainage
Lymph nodes are little immune centers found across the body, and we can target just about all of these centers with a yoga practice. There are a few key areas that stick out though, that can easily be accessed with a yoga practice, and you probably already know these as areas where lymph nodes congregate: your neck, armpits, abdomen, and groin.
Any movement practice can work as a pump for the lymphatic system, but yoga can be particularly effective because:
- It can be used to specifically target lymph congregations.
- It has a strong focus on the breath, which works as a greater central “pump” of the lymphatic system as a whole.
- It helps to manage and reduce stress, which is a known immune inhibitor.
Use This Simple Yoga for Lymphatic Drainage Practice to Assist Your Immune System
As you move through this simple practice, focus on deep, relaxed breathing, and strive to find only subtle sensations. As always, it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise practice—especially if you have a known lymphatic issue.
1. Diaphragmatic Breath: Yoga’s Pump for the Lymphatic System
When it comes to yoga for lymphatic drainage, the breath is likely the most crucial aspect. Think of your breath as the central pump of the entire lymphatic system, so keep a keen awareness on your breath as you flow throughout your entire practice.
- Start lying on your back with one hand resting over your belly and your other hand resting over your heart. Option to bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor about as wide as your mat and allow your knees to knock in toward each other.
- Inhale deeply through your nose and feel your breath move from your nostrils all the way down to your abdomen to lift your belly beneath your hands.
- Exhale slowly through your nose and feel your breath move back out across your abdomen and chest and through your nostrils. Feel your belly surrender back down to the floor as you release.
- Continue to breathe in this way for about one minute.
2. Neck Release: Target the Lymph Nodes in Your Neck
Many lymph nodes congregate in the neck, so simple and subtle movements of the neck will help to stimulate lymphatic drainage here.
- Find a comfortable seated position. You can sit on the floor or in a chair. Ground your sitting bones toward the earth and lengthen the crown of your head toward the sky.
- As you inhale, grow even taller through your spine. As you exhale, release your right ear toward your right shoulder and soften both of your shoulders down toward the floor as you lengthen the left side of your neck.
- Invite small, subtle movements into your release. Gently draw your chin closer toward your chest and then lift your chin higher toward the sky. Subtly move your head forward and back and side to side to stimulate movement and lymphatic drainage around your neck while breathing consciously.
- Hold for about one minute on the right and then slowly release and switch sides.
3. Thread-the-Needle Twist in Yoga
This gentle position helps to gently compress the armpit on one side of your body while lengthening on the opposite side, all while gently twisting the torso to allow for lots of pressure differentials around the joints to help stimulate lymphatic drainage.
- Start on all fours in a Tabletop Pose (Bharmanasana) with your shoulders roughly aligned over your wrists and your hips roughly aligned over your knees.
- Inhale and sweep your right arm up toward the sky as you twist your chest open toward the right.
- Exhale and thread your right arm under your left as you soften your shoulder and your cheek to props or the floor.
- Slide your left hand forward toward the top of your mat so that you create length along your whole left side body and expand and open across your armpit.
- Hold and breathe deeply for about 30 seconds to one minute before gently releasing and switching sides.
4. Sphinx Pose (Ardha Bhujangasana)
This yoga for lymphatic drainage pose gently compresses your abdomen to stimulate the flow of lymph in this part of your body.
- Lie down on your belly and rest your forearms on the floor in front of you in any position that feels comfortable (your elbows could align under your shoulders or be further forward).
- Create a subtle backbend through your spine as you lift your chest and roll your shoulders down your back.
- Bring your awareness to your abdomen and focus on the movement of your belly as you breathe deeply into your diaphragm.
- With every inhalation, feel your abdomen press gently into the floor. With every exhalation, feel your abdomen softly lift up away from the floor.
- Hold here for about one minute, focusing deeply on your breath.
5. Frog Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana/Baddha Konasana)
This posture places your body into a gentle inversion, helping to move lymphatics. But it also works to create space around the groin with gentle movement to stimulate lymphatic flow there as well.
- Lie down on your back and bend your knees to plant your feet onto the floor.
- Draw the soles of your feet to touch so that your knees open out slightly toward the outer edges of your mat but keep your knees pointing up toward the sky.
- Root down against your shoulders and the outer edges of your feet and lift your hips up away from the floor as if in a Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) shape but with Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana) legs.
- Option to stay in stillness or to add gentle movement by pulsing your hips up toward the sky or “clam shelling” your knees in and out.
- Stay for about 30 seconds to one minute before slowly releasing out.
6. Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani)
Inversions are the perfect yoga for lymphatic drainage postures because they help to reverse the flow of lymphatics by using gravity to your advantage.
- Sit with your right hip beside a clear wall and place your hands behind you.
- Lean your weight back into your hands so you can lift your feet off the floor and turn your whole torso to face the wall as you slide your legs up it.
- Soften your torso down to the floor and scoot your hips as close to the wall as you desire.
- Soften your full body weight down into the floor and relax your arms into any comfortable position.
- Soften and hold here for anywhere from one to 10 minutes.
The Takeaway on Yoga for Lymphatic Drainage
Yoga can be a powerful tool to assist with lymphatic drainage to help boost your immune system’s function. It’s also extremely helpful to regulate and reduce stress, which will only further enhance your immune functioning.