Do yoga inversions help drain lymph?

Headstand on beach

Do yoga inversions help drain lymph?

Basically, yes. In the same way that inversions, such as headstand and shoulder stand, help return blood to your heart, turning upside down can assist lymph drainage from your legs.

However, it isn’t necessary to invert to keep lymph moving. Your body has other means to accomplish the same thing, even if you never turn yourself upside down.

(For an explanation of how inversions affect blood flow, check out my previous post.)

What is lymph?

Capillaries, the tiny blood vessels that surround your cells, are leaky. As blood flows through them, fluid from the bloodstream drains into the spaces between the cells. Although most of that fluid is quickly re-absorbed into the bloodstream, some remains behind, contributing to the interstitial fluid that constantly bathes your cells.

That lost fluid has to be recaptured and returned to the bloodstream, or your blood volume would drop too low. Returning excess interstitial fluid to the bloodstream is the job of the lymphatic system — sort of like the New York City storm sewer system, which collects rainwater from the streets and drains it into the rivers.

Interstitial fluid first flows into tiny lymph capillaries, then into larger tubes called lymph vessels. Once the fluid enters the lymphatic system, it’s called lymph.

Lymph flows from your extremities into your trunk, where it empties into the subclavian veins in your upper chest. Most of the lymph in your body drains through a large channel called the thoracic duct into the left subclavian vein. Lymph collected from the head, neck and right arm drains into the right subclavian vein.

Along the way, lymph passes through lymph nodes, located at strategic bottlenecks like your groins, armpits and neck. Lymph nodes contain immune system cells called lymphocytes, which clean up the lymph, destroying pathogens, cancer cells and detritus from damaged cells.

Do yoga inversions help drain lymph?

Lymphatic  circulation

Without a way to pump lymph against gravity, interstitial fluid would collect in the lower legs. Fortunately your body has several mechanisms to prevent that.

Although the lymphatic system has no central pump like the heart, the muscular walls of the lymphatic vessels rhythmically contract and release to pump fluid upward. One-way valves, similar to those in your veins, prevent backflow. Skeletal muscles, particularly your calf muscles, also pump lymph by contracting and relaxing as you move.

A “respiratory pump” helps pull lymph from your belly to your chest. When you inhale, you create a negative pressure in your chest, which draws lymph upward through the thoracic duct.

Do yoga inversions help drain lymph?

They can. Because gravity tends to pull fluid toward the earth, turning yourself upside down assists the drainage of lymph from your lower body.

Do you need to invert to circulate lymph? Absolutely not. Your body has plenty of other ways to do that. However, inversions can help. That’s one reason why even a simple inversion like resting your legs up the wall can feel so good after a long day of being on your feet

Illustrations:

Sami Taipale via Flicker under Creative Commons license

Blausen 0623 LymphaticSystem Female” by BruceBlausOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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