The Lymphatic system: a lover and a fighter

Just say “yes” to Viparita Karani — Legs up the wall pose.

During yoga class, I have been known to talk about the lymphatic system.  It’s usually during inversion time.  The room looks like a forest of legs and toes as students hang out in headstand, shoulder stand or with hips propped up on a block or bolster and I like to hope that I’m increasing the helpfulness of the already greatly beneficial practice by offering a little information as to why feet in the air feels so good and is so good for the body. If you read last week’s post, you know I like to talk.  Maybe with all this helpful information, we don’t feel quite so silly about hanging out upside down.

I knew a little about the lymphatic system before this week—lymph is the fluid and the nodes are where stuff gets filtered and somehow it is a part of the immune system.  I knew that the lymph is moved around as muscles squeeze because it doesn’t have pump, like a heart, to get it going.  I knew that inversions somehow aided this flow and movement of lymph back to the heart, but that was the extent of my knowledge so I decided to research this important system a little further. Once again, I’m astounded by this body of mine.  Astounded and so glad that I don’t have to understand it to make it work. Hallelujah for autonomic functions.  My brain can go on thinking about things and the lymphatic system works its magic.

The lymphatic system is a really important and smart part of our immune system, and you know how they say our bodies are 80% water?  Well, this system has a lot do do with our body’s fluids.  It manages, moves and rids that water or lymph of problematic bacteria and other disease-inducing invaders.  Lymph is mostly plasma that seeps into organs and cells as the arteries carry it and the red blood cells on by.  As the fluid visits these organ and cell destinations, it brings with it immune cells and nutrients.  After good times are had between lymph and tissues, the fluid needs to move out and move on. (Just say no to swollen ankles.) That’s where the lymphatic vessels come in.  It’s amazing.  The fluid is pulled back into these vessels and it brings with it the body-invaders that might have been hiding in the cells and tissues.  Don’t worry… The lymphatic organs are ready for the fight.  They produce a batallion of lymphocytes: B-cells and T-cells are manufactured in bone marrow and thymus gland, respectively, and the white blood cells are produced in the lymph nodes. Once created, a lot of these lymphocyte soldiers swim around in the lymph, and they neutralize most problem causing invaders along the way.

If the B-cells and T-cells haven’t killed off the bacteria or antigens, then when the fluid moves into the lymph nodes, (you can feel those bean and pea shaped nodes around the inner groin, armpits and throat—especially if they are swollen from battle) the white blood cells blast at ‘em.  The nodes make more white blood cells as reinforcement when needed for a particularly stubborn opponent.  Go team.

The lymphatic system is a fighter, but it has its sweet side, too.  As the lymph passes by the digestive organs it gives a ride to fats and fatty acids (a.k.a. lipids, cholesterol) that need a lift to other parts of the body. Remember that fatty acids are really important parts of cell functioning all the way to the tiny DNA, so take that fish oil, people.

The lymph eventually needs to get mixed back  into the blood so that the whole cleansing, nourishing and hydrating process can begin again.  When we move our muscles, the lymph is squeezed through the lymph vessels up toward the heart. There are one-way valves in the vessels that don’t allow it to flow back down, but normally, gravity is working against the flow of lymph.  If we invert, sticking those legs and hips up high, gravity helps to boost to that lymph-flow.  The lymph eventually gets up to the neck where it drains into one of the two subclavian veins. These are important and large veins located behind the collarbones (about the girth of a man’s pinky finger!),  where the lymph can mix again with the red blood cells, take a trip through the jugular and the superior vena cava and then flow back into the heart so that it can all start all over again.

The lymphatic system loves it when you invert in yoga class.  It is so good for you.  Getting your legs and hips up lets gravity assist the lymph in moving toward the heart, helping it along its way.  The lymphatic system continues doing its good work so that you can go on thinking and moving and loving and dancing your way through your days. Let’s show a little appreciation. Everybody! Legs up!

Hah-zah. Ha-zah. Ha-zah.  Three cheers for our awesome bodies.

I like this lymphomation page.  Click HERE if you want to know more.

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