Deep Breathing and the Lymphatic System

Deep Breathing and the Lymphatic System

by Edely Wallace CDT, MLD, E-YTT 500

Lymphatic System and Deep Breathing

Deep breathing and the Lymphatic System are closely connected. However, the art of deep breathing goes beyond technique or mechanical movement. Breathing is our source of life. Breathing patterns also reflect the quality of life.

For instance, shallow breathing both under-oxygenates the body and creates physical and mental stress, which are triggered by the accumulation of toxins in the body. Shallow breathing slowly kills us as accumulated toxins overload our body. On the other hand, deep breathing heals us.

There are two functions that support the flow of the lymphatic system: skeletal muscle motion and deep breathing. While skeletal muscle motion is considered a major pump for the lymphatic system, the deep breathing is equally important. Or even more important.

Deep Breathing Or Diaphragmatic Breathing Is The Changing Factor In Lymphatic Flow

According to Dr. Foldi, the motion of lymphatic fluid within the large lymph vessels is not constant. However, it is “clearly dependent upon respiration” (“Foldi’s Textbook of Lymphology for Physicians and Lymphedema Therapists” – 2nd edition, p 551 )

Dr. Foldi goes on to say that inhalation helps fluid return in the superior vena cava (where the lymph fluid is dumped into the heart). Nevertheless, fluid return from the legs “is inhibited by inhalation because of the downward motion of the diaphragm in the abdominal area.” However, “during exhalation the cisterna chyli empties into the thoracic duct, allowing lymph to flow, in the next inhalation, to the venous angle” (which includes the superior vena cava).

The return of the lymph caused by inhalation and exhalation, at the same time, creates a suction effect that drains lymph from the legs, as Dr. Foldi also asserts. She also mentions that venous return works in a similar way.

In addition, Dr. Jack W. Shields, M.D., from California conducted a study at the 7th International Congress of Lymphology (Florence, Italy/1979) that settled the debate about the main propulsion of lymph flow – deep diaphragmatic breathing. He had the largest lymph vessel – the thoracic duct –  photographed while a person was walking and jogging on a treadmill and also taking a deep breath out of the treadmill. The deep breathing out of the treadmill caused the thoracic duct to “shoot like a geyser” while the lymphatic flow slightly increased on the treadmill.

“Deep diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the cleansing of the lymph system by creating a vacuum effect which pulls the lymph through the bloodstream” ~ according to Dr. Jack W. Shields, M.D., Lymph, lymph glands, and homeostasis. Lymphology, v25, n4, Dec. 1992, p. 147

Deep Breathing Effectively Allows Lymph Flow

It is important to know that our lungs are unable to move air in and out without an external stimulus. The skillful art of breathing depends mainly on the usage of the large muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen — the diaphragm.

During deep breathing, inhalation occurs by the contraction of the diaphragm that flattens and goes down towards the abdominal organs. Inhalation is an active movement, in which the internal organs are being pressed by the diaphragm. Consequently, the abdomen goes slightly forward.

Exhalation, on the other hand, is normally a passive movement. During exhalation, the diaphragm releases the abdominal pressure caused by the inhalation. It relaxes. At the same time, the diaphragm lifts and squeeze the lungs while it returns to its natural dome-like shape.

Both inhalation and exhalation produce a natural massage on the internal organs. Deep breathing does improve the functionality of the abdominal organs. But it also rhythmically squeezes and releases — as in a pumping motion — the lymphatic system throughout all abdominal organs.

Deep breathing and the Lymphatic System work in unity since long and slow breathing effectively promotes lymph flow. Deep breathing also especially assists those with lipedema and lymphedema. It helps eliminate toxins, improve metabolism, assist the intestinal lymph nodes to absorb fat, and also boosts the body’s immune system.

Deep breathing promotes health and healing because it helps to reduce lymphatic stasis.

Exhalation Is More Important Than Inhalation

In addition, there is more to deep breathing than meets the eye. Ultimately, to breathe deeply is to focus on the exhalation. All respiration starts with a careful and complete exhalation is an ancient motto.

Though it may appear counterintuitive, exhalation was always considered by ancient breathing practices from China, Japan, and India as the most important phase of breathing.

A full exhalation becomes a pre-requisite to a correct and more complete breathing pattern, according to Andre Van Lysebeth – yoga master and pioneer in Europe. The simple reason is that any receptacle can only be filled after being emptied. (“J’apprends Le Yoga” – Flammarion)

Unless a complete exhalation is done it is impossible to breathe in deeply, according to Van Lysebeth.

How To Do It?

A complete exhalation is accomplished with a gradual contraction of the abdominal muscles at the end of each exhalation. This helps the diaphragm lift and squeeze out most of the residual air of the lungs. Sequentially, a deep full inhalation can be easily accomplished.

A slow, long and silent exhalation also is the best way to breathe out. It truly cleanses, sustains, calms, and nourishes us.

Our goal is to learn how to pump the Lymphatic System more efficiently through correct deep breathing, through becoming aware of the importance of the exhalation, and through remembering to breathe deeply anywhere, without tension and stress. Deep breathing is our savior tool to restore and maintain health because our deep breathing and the Lymphatic System are one.

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