Sometimes, we go on vacation where our food choices are limited or difficult to maintain when we want to have new experiences and eat with our travel companions. Sometimes, we are in a hurry, and the only food available isn’t a top notch choice nutritionally. Sometimes, self-care looks like a bowl of pasta. Sometimes, we are stressed and our body fails to operate optimally. It’s called being human.
Our overall well-being hinges on our digestive health. When we slip up and our digestion slows, it can be a real pain in the ass – pun intended. Constipation and other kinds of digestive duress can leave us feeling sluggish, bloated or puffy, and affect our mood, skin, and the natural detoxification process.
Of course, the first thing we should do is the aforementioned: Hydrate properly and eat plenty of fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Herbs and tea can also help move things along, as they have laxative and diuretic effects on the body. However, when digestion is slow, many other things in the body are slow, as well, including our lymph. Just a reminder: Lymph drainage is not involuntary. We have to manually drain our lymph nodes.
We don’t tend to think of our lymphatic system when we think of digestion, but the two aren’t so different. Both are major modes of natural detoxification that every single one of our bodies is trained to do on its own, but aren’t always entirely successful based on environmental factors or our less-than-ideal input from time to time. For this reason, we can feel puffy and bloated when we have sluggish lymph.
In fact, our lymphatic system is tied to a lot going on inside the body – so much so that it’s hard to believe the lymph doesn’t circulate involuntarily like our blood. Unfortunately, it requires manual work to pump, move, and release stagnant fluid in our bodies so that we can get to detoxing like Mother Nature built us to do. Massaging the body specifically for our lymphatic drainage centers promotes movement. And when we are constipated, movement is ideal. In short? Draining lymph nodes should be part of everyone’s wellness routine.
Lisa Levitt Gainsley (pro tip: her Instagram is definitely worth a follow for step-by-step tutorials) is a Certified Lymphedema Therapist and author of our new favorite book, The Book of Lymph. We love her approach to lymphatic massage because it’s accessible and only requires our hands, and we can do it anytime, any day. We don’t need to be nude, we don’t need to be oiled up and use special tools, and we don’t need to shell out hundreds for a session in a fancy machine to experience lymph drainage therapy. All we need is a little technique, and our perfect little digits.
The Book of Lymph outlines exactly what the lymphatic system does, where it runs (spoiler alert: pretty much everywhere, including the brain), and how manipulating our lymph manually has the power to transform us. While we won’t give away every step of a sequence directly from Gainsley’s book, we will break down a few major points:
It’s important to note some major drainage centers in terms of our lymphatic system. At the base of our neck and top of our collarbone resides a major drain. When we stimulate this area with a firm yet gentle touch, we encourage optimal drainage from the rest of our massage, so start there.
For the rest of the massage, find a place to lie comfortable on your back. This could be a bed or a yoga mat. Gainsely recommends propping your knees with a pillow to avoid locking joints or creating any unnecessary tension or pressure. Take deep breaths and imagine anything stagnant in the body becoming looser, lighter, dislodged.
The main technique is to massage in the direction of your colon. That means making circular motions from your left side of your body nearest your groin with your fingertips, and working in an arch over your belly button and down the other side. When we deeply massage the skin here – as if we were kneading a tough dough that needs to be worked – we are not only reaching our organs, but stimulating the movement of lymph.
Do this at least 10 times. There are more steps to Gainely’s sequence, but the opening of the drainage centers, deep diaphragmatic breathing, and colon massage are a great starter kit to awaken stagnant blockages within the gut. Because our lymph fluid is moved to flush things out, and also because dehydration makes constipation worse, it’s critical to drink a ton of water, especially after this massage. We recommend 3 cups to a liter, with added electrolytes.
You don’t have to be constipated to reap benefits from Gainsely’s massages! They are deeply relaxing, and keep the elimination and detoxification processes in optimal working order so that you can look and feel your best, anytime. This massage promotes deep sleep, and clearer skin to boot. Happy self-massaging!