Deep cleansing breaths
One of the most rarely-discussed secrets to maintaining a healthy body is also one of the simplest: Just breathe.
Now widely accepted in Western medicine, the idea that conscientious breathing has more than one tangible health benefit is nothing new. Ancient philosophies like yoga and tai chi have always emphasized connecting body and mind with the breath. It puts your body in “relaxation” mode, lowering blood pressure. It circulates oxygen to the tissues. It lowers the effects of stress. It aids in better sleep.
It also serves as the natural pump for the lymphatic system:
“Your cells must have oxygen to survive moment to moment. To thrive, they rely on a complex exchange between the circulatory system and the lymphatic system. Blood flow carries nutrients and ample amounts of oxygen into the capillaries, while a healthy lymphatic system carries away destructive toxins. Proper breathing is the moderator of this exchange.” (1)
Exercise for prevention and management
You can engage the breath through exercise, of course. Carol Crochet, a physical therapist who specializes in treating lymphoedema at DeKalb Medical Center in Atlanta, GA, says, “Exercise causes your respiration rate to increase, so you breathe more deeply, and this stimulates your lymphatic system to move lymph fluid throughout your body.” Doing so helps the lymphatic system to perform better in its removal of bacteria and other matter.
Note that if you’ve been diagnosed with lymphoedema, your treatment plan, including exercise, should be approved by your physician or an occupational therapist who specializes in lymphoedema treatment. But studies are clear that exercise is one of the best ways to manage this condition.
Walking is a natural solution for many people. Yoga classes, low-impact aerobics, and swimming are favorites too.
The good news is that deep abdominal breathing (while sitting! Or even lying down!) can accompany your workout efforts with equally beneficial lymphatic results.
You can breathe more deeply while washing dishes, driving to work, applying your makeup, or sitting in a meeting. Or you can delve into your spirit with time set aside in meditation or prayer -- adding breath work will enhance those practices by connecting the body with the soul.
Count to four
Ready to try? Sit or lie down comfortably, and place your hands on your abdomen. Exhale once, fully, then breathe in while slowly counting to four, feeling the abdomen rise as your diaphragm expands. Pause for two counts if you can, and then exhale for four counts, drawing in the tummy as your lungs deflate. Pause again, aware of your breath. Repeat five to 10 times. Always return to your most natural breathing state if you feel uncomfortable or lightheaded.
It’s best to breathe through the nose, but some people find that even when suffering sinus trouble, a deep breathing exercise like the one described above can help clear passageways and bring comfort.
- Pick, Marcelle, OB/GYN NP, "Deep breathing, the truly essential exercise," [Online] Available http://www.womentowomen.com/fatigueandstress/deepbreathing.aspx, December 2005.
- “Pranayama,” [Online] Yoga Journal Online, Available http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/pranayama, August 20, 2010.
- Auton, Julie, “A Swell Condition That’s Not So Swell,” [Online] The Breast Care Site, August 20, 2010.