After our podcast episode with lymphatic health expert, Lisa Levitt Gainsley, our eyes were opened to the importance of taking care of our lymphatic system. If you haven’t heard it yet, it’s definitely worth a listen! Lisa explained to us that just like our immune system, our lymphatic body is pivotal to our vitality. Luckily, there are many was to care for it that are practical, simple, and nourishing. In this month’s Routines & Rituals we invited Lisa Levitt Gainsley back — this time too share her personal daily practices to help all of us improve our lymph health.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you fell into lymphatic massage?
When I was young, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. It was the late 1970s and complementary medicine wasn’t as widely available as it today. My mother read a book about a hitchhiker who cured her cancer by incorporating a macrobiotic diet and healthy lifestyle, so my mom adopted that plan (along with chemotherapy, radiation, and multiple surgeries). We learned meditation and creative visualization as a family to help my mom through her painful procedures. When she died, I looked for answers on how to live a healthy life preventatively. In high school, I read books on Buddhism, Hinduism, and reincarnation and after college, I enrolled in massage school because I believed the healing arts are essential to wellness. I fell in love with my lymphatic massage class; the work was transformational and deeply healing for my trauma as well as my digestion and acne! I love that the work is grounded in science and physiology while at the same time feels like a moving meditation and is incredibly nourishing. One day, when I was taking the intermediate class, my teacher told us if we like this work and we continue we can get certified to work with cancer patients because lymphatic drainage is beneficial in dealing with the side effects of cancer treatment. It was that moment that stopped time for me. I knew I had found my life’s work.
What are some lymph health practices that people can incorporate into their daily or weekly routine?
There are a few pillars of lymphatic health that I outline in my book, The Book of Lymph. The first is lymphatic self-massage.
Massaging your lymph will help accelerate the release of congested toxins and allow you to feel lighter and brighter in your body. It can improve your digestion, reduce bloating and inflammation, and optimize every system in your body — including your brain and menstrual cycle.
The other pillars include breathwork, healthy eating, proper hydration, exercise, and taking proper care of your skin and nails by reducing the chemicals you put on your body and use as household products. Not to mention finding ways to bring joy into your life and reducing stress — which is so inflammatory. If someone has a lymphatic disease, then compression is an essential pillar to maintain limb size.
Why is making routine lymph care important?
Your lymphatic system is part of your immune system. Your immune cells are born and produced in your lymphoid organs which includes your bone marrow, thymus, and spleen and migrate to other organs including the appendix, tonsils, Peyer’s patch, MALT, and GALT. These are areas where there’s a higher amount of bacteria so immune cells cluster there to defend against unwanted pathogens.
Lymph runs like rivers throughout your entire body — its job all day long is to collect and purify excess waste in your body and absorb excess fat in the gut. It’s your first line of defense against food-borne illness and constantly provides surveillance in the lymph nodes mounting an immune response when necessary.
Since your lymphatic system regulates the fluid balance of the body — it’s essential to keep your lymph system running smoothly to keep equilibrium in the ecosystem of your body.
Do you have any other rituals that you practice daily, weekly, or monthly?
I am constantly massaging myself! In the morning, I typically massage my neck and face to reduce eye puffiness and brain fog. I start my day with lemon water to help the pH balance of my body and I make it a point to stay hydrated throughout the day, because proper lymph flow depends on it and it helps get glowing skin!
I move my body everyday. Musculo-skeletal movement propels lymph circulation, so even a walk around the neighborhood is beneficial for your lymph system. I switch between rebounding (which is fantastic for lymph), yoga (inversions and twists are particularly helpful to move lymph fluid from the lower half of your body back up towards your heart), Peloton, hiking, and swimming when the weather is nice. In the evenings, I usually massage my breasts and armpits. Because I am big breasted, I usually wear a wireless bra during the day, so I like to massage the area to increase lymph flow around my breasts and side torso. When I get into bed at night, I massage my stomach. Not only is it helpful for digestion, but it calms the nervous system and leads to better sleep (think brain-gut connection!). I know it sounds like a lot but I just massage myself for a few minutes here and there; it’s such a nurturing, intuitive touch experience that feels like a gift to myself.
Lisa Levitt Gainsley is a Certified Lymphedema Therapist, lymphatic drainage specialist and author of The Book of Lymph; Self-care practices to Enhance Immunity, Health and Beauty. Lisa has taught thousands of people how to improve their lymphatic health with self-massage. Lisa currently teaches workshops, virtual one-on-one sessions, and houses digital offerings online at The Lymphatic Message. You can also find her on Instagram @thelymphaticmessage.