I hope this meets you doing well so far in your new year. There is a lot going on in my world this year with my son turning 1 in a few months, workshops, trainings, trips (see you soon Austria and Germany!) and teaching locally. Ever so grateful for my yin practice in times like this. I’ve been doing the poses in this sequence fairly often because they help boost the lymphatic system.
Do you know about the lymphatic system? It’s an amazing drainage system within the body that works as the first shield of defense against disease. It’s composed of a network of nodes and vessels that filter and move lymph fluid, which contains antibodies. It removes the bad bacteria and keeps all the good stuff. The tricky thing about lymph is that it moves from the feet toward the neck, which is not how we are normally oriented. So the yoga practice can be very beneficial in getting our lymph moving, thereby improving our immunity.
There are certain poses that stimulate the lymphatic system and I love to teach them in these cold winter months as a way to encourage health and wellbeing when we tend to be stagnant more than not (aka – snuggled up on the couch). So, here we go! Thought I’d share a sequence I recently taught to help you along in your healthy and happy life.
Prior to the movement below, spend a few moments (maybe a couple of minutes in an easy meditation) focusing on the breath. Noticing the quality of the inhales and exhales. Start to think of your breath as a filter. As the breath moves in, pull in the good and as it moves out, release what is no longer needed. This can be something very physical for you, or perhaps it is more introspective as you consider thought patterns, mindsets, feelings you want to filter out and something more nourishing to take in. Our mind, heart and spirit “bodies” matter just as much as our physical bodies.
This is really more of a dynamic stretch, but it’s a nice way to encourage some movement in the fluids of the body as you work into these extra tight spots in the shoulders and neck.
To do the movement, start by placing the fingertips onto the shoulders. On an exhale, bring the elbows toward each other in front of you as you slightly drop the chin to the chest. Hold for a breath or two, then transition the elbows up toward the sky. Again, hold for a breath. On an exhale open the elbows wide as you squeeze the shoulder blades together. Breathe into the chest and upper back as the chin lifts slightly off the chest here. Then, create a quicker and more circular movement through all of these spots. Do about 10 rounds. After you’re done, relax the elbows downward and turn your head side to side or experiment with some neck stretches.
Take a moment in a seated position with the hands resting in the lap to feel the vibration of your blood flowing beneath the surface of the skin.
Supported Fish (5 min)
Position a bolster or blanket parallel with the short edge of the mat so that it can rest directly beneath the shoulder blades as you come back to a reclined position into your supported fish pose. The arms can drape down to the floor or stay resting on the belly or chest. Take whatever shape of the legs that you prefer here. Spend several minutes settling in and allowing for gravity to do all the work for you. Breathe deep breaths and encourage the muscles of the face and neck to really surrender in. At the end of five minutes, gently interlace the fingers behind the back of the head and slowly draw the chin up and toward the chest to deepen the stretch in the back of the neck. If your neck is healthy, slowly turn the head side to side to experiment with different sensations you feel in the neck. Try to keep the head heavy into the hands here.
Cat / Cow (2 min)
Slowly make your way off the bolster or blanket. Rest on your side in fetal pose for several minutes and then move onto the hands and knees into a table position. Create movement that feels nice in your spine, shoulders, wrists and hips here. Anything goes. A simple cat and cow (arching the spine as pictured above) might feel nice.
Toe Squat (3 min)
When ready, curl the toes under and start to sit back toward the heels. You can place a blanket under the hips to help with any discomfort that might accompany deep flexion at the knee joint. Keep the hands forward or walk them up your thighs to rest in your lap as you lengthen the spine. Take deep breaths wherever you are. Ensure the pinky toe does its best to come along for the ride! Wouldn’t want it to cry wee wee wee all the way home, now would we?! (mom joke, sorry..)
To amp up the stretch a bit, inch the knees forward to deepen the angle in the feet as you take the flexion in the toes further. Your feet are very interconnected with the health of the body as a whole so it’s important we care for them! Direct your breaths into the spaces you feel this most and notice if you feel a powerful release at the end of this!
counterpose – Down Dog (1 min)
When your time is up, make your way forward and back into table. Gently pat the feet to the floor and roll out the ankles. For a deeper stretch, lift the hips up and back into downward dog. Pedal out the feet and roll the ankles there.
Dangle (5 min)
Walk the hands back to the feet from dog and widen the stance to whatever distance feels appropriate for you to maintain for several minutes. I like to take mine slightly wider than hips distance. Rise up about halfway as you breathe in and on your exhale, fold forward into a dangling position. Let the weight of the torso hang toward the floor. Especially pay attention to the head and let it dangle here. The back can round if you don’t have any pain in the spine. Otherwise, keep the knees bent and let the chest rest onto the thighs. Arms can rest toward the earth or you can take a variation.
Squat (3 min)
When the time is up, rise up halfway and turn the toes out and the heels in. Sit down and into your squat pose. You can land onto a prop for support or let the hips hover, just make sure you can really settle into the pull of gravity as you do so. Take any arm variation you prefer. Spend this time allowing the spine to be upright and feel the body pulse a bit after that deep inversion you were just in.
If time allows, repeat these two postures one more time through!
Supported Bridge (5 min) / Legs up the “Wall” (2 min)
Come to your mat into a seated position. Place your bolster or block at your side and roll onto the back. Bend the knees and place the feet to the floor. Elevate the hips and slide your prop under the hips. Take the arms and legs wherever they feel most comfortable. Stay here for a few minutes and then shift your weight so you can start to elevate the legs up toward the ceiling for a supported legs up the wall position. Keep the legs still or roll out the ankles and slowly shake out the legs to encourage the lymph movement.
Supported Legs up the “Wall” Variation (5 min)
Reposition the blocks to the top of the mat at their highest level. Place the bolster horizontally across them and then elevate the legs up onto your new setup. This gentle inversion works to ground you and stabilize the energy you were able to generate on the mat today.