As I said in Part One, we are meant to be movers. But the mind has other interests and intentions, and it probably has a pretty low opinion of the body—a cross many bodies have to bear.
Perhaps there would be more communication between them if the mind learned more about how our electro-magnetic miracle of a vehicle works. Because the fact is, it has possibilities far beyond our comprehension. I like to think of this body of ours as thousands of years old—its DNA and RNA come down to us through the centuries from our ancestors.
It knows many things that we really don’t understand because we have formed our own mental take on who we are and what life itself is about. So here’s an opportunity to revisit our attitudes — because in order to live fully, with awareness and grace, we need to learn how to marry our mind to our movements.
One way to do that is of course the practice of meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, or other modalities that develop a finer attention. Another is to examine how the body actually works. Any open-minded scientist who studies neuro-anatomy in depth is amazed and energized by its extraordinary capabilities. My doctor father could talk for hours about the miracles hidden in human biology.
Take the lymph system, for example. How much do you know about it? If you are like most people, not much. But if you never thought about it before, here’s what you need to know: your lymph nodes are vital to your body’s abilities to detoxify, nourish and regenerate tissue. They are key to filtering metabolic waste and keeping your immune system healthy, a hot topic today.
Then you might ask, “What does movement have to do with it?” The flow of lymph fluid depends on the movement of our muscles and diaphragm in order to circulate at its best. And scientific tests have shown that we can increase lymph activity by as much as 30 times more when we exercise than when we are sitting still.
To start at the top: brain chemicals are always enhanced by physical activity. What’s more, movement produces feelings of contentment and tends to relax all that stress we seem to be heir to. Doesn’t more movement, less stress sound really worthwhile?
Moving down to our lower story, no surprise that movement regulates digestion and elimination, since our intestines are a muscle like any other. But did you ever think about toning them in order to help the lymph system process what you eat? A couch potato has weak intestinal musculature. But those who move around often, stimulate intestinal circulation, which encourages regularity and helps the body get rid of toxins.
Dr Christine Schaffner calls the lymph system “your hidden highway to health.” It acts as the body’s “sewer system” because the toxins that are carried out of the cells pass first through the extracellular matrix to the lymph system, and then to the organs of elimination. However, she alerts us that “unlike blood, lymph does not have a pump that moves it into circulation. Rather, the lymph system relies on muscle contraction to create flow.” That means it’s time for those who work or rest for long hours—either sitting or lying down—to consider taking intentional action.
Here are two simple techniques she shares with us to improve our lymphatic health.
The first is gentle movement. Since the lymphatic system has no central pump, it moves when you move. That means modern sedentary lifestyles do not produce a good flow. Any movement moves the lymph, and any flow of lymph gets rid of toxins. So take a walk or put on some music, get up, and dance around the house. Scientists are now recommending for better immune health that those who have to sit a lot at computers get up and shake their body once an hour.
I’m not kidding! And how nicely this fits in with qigong master Robert Peng’s teaching—to start any exercise class by shaking your bod for a few minutes. So enjoy the bounce!
The second way to impact lymph flow is by deep breathing. The diaphragm’s lymphatic drainage system is especially effective for rapid absorption. When we breathe in slowly and breathe out twice as slowly, we are helping ourselves to better health by activating the lymph system and bringing more oxygen into our blood. That’s because the exhale is more important than the inhale as fresh oxygen flows naturally in once we let the stale lung air out.
Dr. Schaffner assures us that “whether the issue is chronic illness, autoimmunity, weight struggles, Epstein Barr, skin conditions, acne, inflammation, mood disorders, anxiety… it’s ALL connected to your body’s ability to support you on a cellular and extracellular level.”
And who’s in charge of that? You and your lymph system. So don’t hold back! Helping the lymphatic system is the key to change. Let’s all become movers and shakers and exhale twice as long as long as we inhale!
For more background on breathing and the importance of the Vagus Nerve, see my blog: You are the Ocean, not the Waves.