LYMPHATIC FLOW YOGA SERIES

LYMPHATIC FLOW YOGA SERIES

The lymphatic system is part of our immune system and consists of tiny vessels, smaller than arteries and veins, which produce, store and carry white blood cells that fight infection and disease. So problems with the lymphatic system can impair the body’s ability to fight infections. We all should be aware of maintaining a healthy lymphatic system.

Lymphedema occurs when there is an impairment and the lymphatic fluids collect in the tissues and pool, causing swelling.  Lymphedema is a common side-effect of breast cancer surgery, and so maintaining a healthy flow is even more important for breast cancer survivors. Exercise is very important in keeping the flow of the lymphatic system healthy because the movements of the muscles stimulate the flow of the lymph.  However, not ALL exercise is appropriate.

For about 15 years I was the Executive Director of a nonprofit that worked to improve the quality of life for breast cancer survivors. During that time I created a Lymphatic Flow Series that is gentle and can be done seated. I have been teaching it to all my cancer students, as well as all of my basic yoga students and at workshops ever since. Before you begin this series, you should consult with your health practitioner about your own personal situation. For those at risk for, or who already have lymphedema, you might need to wear a sleeve when exercising, so make sure you check before you begin.

You will not need any special equipment fro this series. Wear comfortable clothes and the entire routine will be done seated, so make sure your chair is stable and solid. We have posted a VIDEO showing how to do each pose and movement.

The series starts with range-of-motion for your neck and spine and then moves from the shoulders, and trunk to the arms, hands and fingers. (In this series, we are not doing much for the legs except for the forward bend that stimulates the lymphatic flow in the groin area.)  By starting with moving the lymphatic fluid from the neck, trunk and central areas then moving from the arms to the fingers, the lymphatic flow is stimulated in a path that follows its natural flow.

THE SERIES:

This entire routine is done seated. Sit comfortably on the front edge of your chair with your feet about hip width apart.  If you are tall (or your chair is short) you might need to sit on a pillow or folded blanket or towel. (See my BLOG #4, posted on May 15, 2013, to learn more about how to sit properly.)  I often encourage the poses to be held for 3 breaths, but for simplicity to start, I have you hold for one breath each.  As you progress and get comfortable with the series, you can increase the breaths you hold each pose.

6 DIRECTIONS FOR YOUR NECK:

Your neck moves in 6 directions: side-to-side, twisting, forward and back

1-2. Side-to-Side:

  • Inhale, turn your head to the right, keeping your chin tucked a bit so the back of your neck is not compressed as you twist!
  • Exhale, turn your head to the left
  • Inhale back to the center (2 directions completed.)  Exhale

3-4. Ear-to-Shoulder:

  • Inhale, bring your right ear to your right shoulder (do not lift the shoulders.)
  • Exhale to the other side, your left ear to your left shoulder.
  • Inhale back to the center. (4 directions completed) Exhale

5-6. Forward and Back:

  • Inhale lifting your head and looking up (if your neck allows this.)
  • Exhale, drop your chin down towards your chest.
  • Inhale, back to the center. Exhale.

I tell my students that they can do the neck movements in front of a mirror before they brush their teeth. It doesn’t take long, but your neck will thank you for remembering and making it a daily routine!

6 DIRECTIONS FOR YOUR SPINE:

1-2:  Side-to-Side:

  • Bend your elbows and hold your arms a bit below shoulder level.
  • Keeping your hips and pelvis stable, swing your arms side-to-side, letting your head and eyes follow your elbow behind you so your entire spine gets rotated
  • Swing 3 times to each side (2 directions completed)

3-4:  Side Stretches:

  • Place your right hand on the outside of your left thigh, holding it mainly for balance.
  • Lift your left arm, placing your left hand on your head.
  • Inhale and lift the left elbow up towards the ceiling as you lean slightly towards the right.
  • Exhale, sit up straight, return your left hand to your lap.

Repeat on the other side:

  • Place your left hand on the outside of your right thigh.
  • Lift your right arm, placing your right hand on your head.
  • Inhale and lift the right elbow up towards the ceiling as you lean slightly towards the left.
  • Exhale, sit up straight, return your right hand to your lap. (4 directions completed)

5:  Arch Back:

  • Place your hands behind you on the sides of the seat of your chair.
  • Inhale, arch back and look up (if your neck allows that), lifting your sternum, opening the chest and rolling the shoulders back and down away from your ears.
  • Exhale and return to your starting position.

6.  Forward Bend:

  • Inhale, sit up straight.
  • As you exhale, lean forward and, either rest your elbows on your legs and let your head drop forward. OR, if you are more flexible, you can fold forward between both knees, letting your     arms and head drop down toward the floor.
  • Inhale and roll up to starting position. (6 directions completed)

Now we will work on the poses that open the shoulders.

EAGLE POSE: (to help stretch your back muscles around your shoulder blades)

  • Sitting up straight on your chair, bend your right elbow 90 degrees, if you can, in front of you
  • Either take your left hand and place it on the outside of your right elbow and move the elbow across your chest towards your midline ; OR, for those who are more flexible, bring your left elbow under your right one and intertwine your hands (or try to straighten the arms vertically), keeping them centered along your midline.
  • Inhale, and if you have your arms intertwined (2nd position above) lift them up a few inches without moving your head and neck.  Whichever position, visualize that nice stretch across the muscles of your back, under and around your shoulder blades.
  • Exhale and lower your arms if they are raised, and slowly unwind and release.

Repeat on the other side:

  • Sitting up straight on your chair, bend your left elbow 90 degrees, if you can, in front of you
  • Either take your right hand and place it on the outside of your left elbow and move the elbow across your chest towards your midline ; OR, for those who are more flexible, bring your right elbow under your left one and intertwine your hands (or try to straighten the arms vertically), keeping them centered along your midline.
  • Inhale, and if you have your arms intertwined (2nd position above) lift them up a few inches without moving your head and neck.  Whichever position, visualize that nice stretch across the muscles of your back, under and around your shoulder blades.
  • Exhale, lowering your arms if they are raised, and slowly unwind and release.

COW POSE: (forward rotation of the shoulder joint and stretching the triceps)

  • Bring your right arm straight up and bend the elbow, letting the lower arm drop down behind you.
  • Use your left hand to move the elbow closer to your head, facing forward to align the arm correctly in the shoulder socket before we continue.
  • Take you left arm out to the side, with your palm facing away from you towards the back and bend your elbow, moving the hand up your back.
  • Reach up with the left hand and try to grab the fingers of the right hand.
  • Hold the pose for one full breath and slowly release.
  • The goal and purpose of this pose is to increase the range-of-motion in the left shoulder socket and to stretch the muscles under the right upper arm (the triceps). So, do not force the   rotation. You can use a sock or towel, bathrobe belt or strap if you want, holding it in the right hand and dropping it down so your left hand can grab it and try to work the hands closer together. However, you do not need to use any prop if you don’t want to.  Move slowly and with awareness and keep practicing if your hands are far apart!

Repeat on the other side:

  • Bring your left arm straight up and bend the elbow, letting the lower arm drop down behind you.
  • Use your right hand to move the elbow closer to your head, facing forward to align the arm   correctly in the shoulder socket before we continue.
  • Take you right arm out to the side, with your palm facing away from you towards the back and bend your elbow, moving the hand up your back.
  • Reach up with the right hand and try to grab the fingers of the left hand.
  • Hold the pose for one full breath and slowly release.

ARM CIRCLES: (full range of motion for the shoulders)

This is a simple movement that anyone can do, but maybe your range will be much less, with smaller circles than you might have imagined!  This is a good pose to do in front of a mirror sometimes, so you can see for yourself how wide your circles are.  It is often a big surprise to my students because it may feel like full range, but in the mirror you can see that you might be bending your elbow, or not moving in a full range!  Give it a try.

  • Sitting with your arm left hand on your lap and your right hand hanging down by your side, inhale, and lift your right arm in front of you and then up as high as you can, keeping the arm as close to your ear as you can.
  • As you exhale, lower the arm behind you until it is back down by your side.
  • Repeat this circular movement 3 times.
  • Before placing your right hand on your lap, shake the arm a bit.

Repeat on the other side:

  • Sitting with your arm right hand on your lap and your left hand hanging down by your side, inhale, and lift your left arm in front of you and then up as high as you can, keeping the arm as close to your ear as you can.
  • As you exhale, lower the arm behind you until it is back down by your side.
  • Repeat this circular movement 3 times.
  • Before placing your left hand on your lap, shake the arm a bit.

REVERSE NAMASTÉ/Prayer Position: (to stretch the tops of your wrists)

I call this the “After Computer Pose” since everyone should do this after working at a computer!

  • Sitting up straight, bring the backs of both your hands together, with your fingers pointing down, at chest level. If you can’t keep the wrists together, then lower the hands if necessary.
  • Inhale
  • As you exhale, lower your elbows, keeping the tops of the wrists together.  Fell that great stretch!
  • If you can, hold this pose for 3 breaths
  • Release and shake out your hands.

NAMASTÉ/Prayer Position: (to stretch to underside of your wrist)

Always do this pose after the one above to balance out your wrists!

  • Place your palms together in front of you at chest level.  Inhale.
  • As you exhale, push your hands together and slowly lower them without letting the heels of your    hands separate.
  • If you can, hold this pose for 3 breaths
  • Release and shake out your hands.

FINGER SQUEEZE: (to squeeze the lymphatic fluid from your fingers back up your arms)

This is the final movement of this series. It is fun and can be silly, but it is also very beneficial!

  • Start by sitting up straight with your hands lifted at chest level, palms facing away from you.
  • Inhale.
  • As you exhale, slowly bend your fingers, starting with the pinkies, as you twist your hand so the palms end up facing you. (Do not bend the wrists; try to keep the hands vertical.)
  • Squeeze your fingers into fists (this squeezes the lymphatics)
  • As you inhale, once again leading with your pinkies, unwind the fist and twist the hands so they once again are facing palm-out.
  • Repeat 3 times.

For this movement, the silly part comes with the sound effects that I like to add, but it is optional:

  • As you are closing and opening your fingers, trill your tongue on your lips. (This is apparently more difficult to describe than I had thought, but you can see this more clearly on the video.)

So, you have completed my Lymphatic Flow Yoga Series.  We will be posting the video soon so be sure to watch the VIDEO to follow along, tell your friends, family and Facebook acquaintances about it.  If you find this to be helpful, please go to my Facebook page and LIKE it and pass it along!  If you are a lymphedema therapist, you can also go to www.lymphseminars.com for further information or to the lymphseminars Facebook page as well.

If you have any question or comments, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.