Although Winter is nearly two months away, colds and flus have begun to make their presence known: In the last three weeks, I have come across one woman already coping with the flu, and several others with hard-hitting, persistent colds. In previous posts, I have offered gentle home remedies and light practices to help you ease your way through sickness; in this article, I suggest an immunity-bolstering routine that will shore up your body’s ability to resist and, if necessary, battle seasonal bugs.
While the primary focus of this sequence is the smooth flow of lymphatic fluid and the stimulation of lymph nodes (which filter debris for its eventual elimination through primary organs), you will also notice that some of the positions and techniques contribute to healthy digestion. A sluggish digestive system mucks up the immune response, and when digestion is slowed or stalled, the body may not receive enough of the nutrients it needs to fend off a bug.
This practice can be done at any point during the day when you have time to give yourself focused, restful attention. As an early riser who structures her day to have a few hours to “get going” in the morning, I find that I incorporate many of the positions and techniques as a sort of wake-up or warm-up prior to a more in-depth session of movement. Consequently, I created a short routine that harnesses moves that address the lymphatic system; further, the modified inversion aids circulation, induces calm, and ushers in a feeling of physical ease. If you prefer to wind down with the routine at the end of your day, you may notice an improvement to the quality of your sleep.
To begin, find a clear spot against a wall, and choose a pillow for slight elevation. Scoot your bottom as close into the wall as possible, and hoist your hips up to rest on the pillow: Although a minimal rise, this gentle enhancement to your inversion will boost the results exponentially. Now that you are on your back, inverted and hips slightly lifted, allow your knees to bend into your chest for the first round of bodywork.
First you will massage the bigs toes: Roll them between two fingers; pull on them gently; pinch all around the toe. By doing this simple move, you will stimulate the Liver and Spleen (an organ that is part of the lymph system); further, the big toe reflexively attends to the cervical vertebra, thus helping to soothe a stiff neck.
Next, briskly rub all around the ankle, and then firmly, repeatedly pinch the inner heel and Achilles tendon. This continues the stimulation of the Spleen, and brings in the Kidney and Stomach energies. Then you will move seamlessly into kneading the calves as you work your way up to the knees.
At this point, you may notice that you are ready to straighten the legs and rest them up against the wall: Keep a bit of bend in the knees, however, so that you can descend your fingertips into the “cave” behind each knee. (Each hand will be on the lateral, or outer edge of its respective knee.) With your fingers, gentle knead and pinch behind and along the ligament next to the kneecap. This will open and energize the lymph flow found behind the knee.
Now, you may want to bend the knees again; bent or straight, open the legs so that you have full access to the inner thigh and groin (inguinal) region. Begin firm, rapid Swedish massage strokes (open palm, fingers together) from the inner knee to the groin. If you like, you may also make light fists and pummel up and down the entire line. End by tapping or pummeling the inguinal grease, where superficial lymph nodes lie.
Still with gentle fists or a “beak” (thumb and four fingertips pulled together and touching), tap the chest just above the heart. This will awaken the thymus, another organ of the lymph system. After this, extend both arms straight up toward the ceiling and shake them vigorously; you may also add leg shakes.
Next, with the legs resting straight up against the wall, keep one arm extended toward the ceiling. Use the other hand to insert the fingertips into the axillary (armpit) region, a major site of lymph node drainage. Massage firmly, and as you will feel the pectoral muscle naturally fall into the palm of the massaging hand, knead that muscle, too. Repeat the massage on the other side.
Special note: The armpit can be unusually tender. We rarely give it massage attention, yet it is the center of multiple muscular attachment points. Go easy at first, but do not be afraid to apply firm pressure to the area.
Now you are ready to move the lymph fluid from the hands, through the elbows, past the armpit, and ultimately into the neck. Use one hand to pinch and stroke each of the opposite fingers from tip to webbing; be sure to spend ample time on the web between the thumb and first finger, as key acupressure points for the Large Intestine lie in this area.
Continue firm, brisk strokes up the forearm. At the elbow, begin to tap rapidly all around the joint, then continue the brush strokes up the arm to the armpits. Massage the armpit again, and then repeat the hand and arm sequence on the opposite side.
After the arm massage, take your fingertips to the middle of the collarbone. Begin pinching along the collarbone outward, so that your squeezing fingers move in synch, yet away from each other. Come back to center; repeat outward two more times.
When you have completed the massage, again shake your inverted arms and legs. Then, slide the pillow out from underneath your hips, and adjust your bottom right up against the wall; legs also remain straight up and resting on the wall. Let your arms fall naturally to your sides on the floor, resting palms up. Stay here for 3-5 minutes to “seal” your practice. After you ease your way out of the position, take as long as you need to find your way to standing. This is the time to drink a glass (or two) of water, and to make a grateful toast to your body and its systems: Cheers to good health this Winter…