French women have a secret to staying svelte. And, most refreshingly, it’s a practice that boasts a wealth of life-giving health benefits as well.
Enter lymphatic flushing. I was introduced to it a decade ago during a two week-long stay in Hong Kong. My roommate during the trip had spent a summer studying in France, and claimed that her host mother was a 48 year-old Parisienne woman who “had skin like glass and the physique of a ballet dancer.”
Naturally, I was intrigued. Anytime I complained about feeling sluggish or bloated, she’d coo, “Oh, sister. Once you give lymphatic massage a try, you’ll never turn back.”
I’d soon realize she wasn’t lying. Once introduced into my self-care routine, I haven’t gone more than a week or two without showing my lymph some intentional love. Because I know I’ve got a powerhouse beneath my flesh, working as hard for me as I work for it. As do you.
Did you know that your body boasts two circulatory systems? One is the blood and the other is the lymph. In fact, your body has twice as much lymphatic fluid as it has blood, and if your lymph were to ever stop moving, you’d be dead in a matter of hours.
That’s right. Your lymph’s network of tissues, vessels and organs serves as your personal garbage disposal and filtration system. It’s essential to your well-being. And, by showing it some TLC, you can dramatically improve your digestion, immunity, hormonal function and mental health. You can also enhance your appearance–introducing a brighter skin tone, reduced bloating and cellulite. It might even up the ante on your weight loss goals.
So, if you’re ready to take a page from the French and become a more energized and radiant version of yourself, read on. Soon, your body, from the whites of your eyes to your waistline, will be glowing with gratitude.
First, here’s the lowdown on how your lymphatic system gets clogged up…
Every day, your body is inundated with a barrage of synthetic chemicals, heavy metals, phytoestrogens and pollutants. Glance around your home and you’ll spot a plethora of them. There are the cleaning sprays, fragranced candles and fabric softeners. Face and body creams. Plastics. Processed snacks and sodas. Also the environmental toxics that you’re exposed to each time you hop in your car to grab a cup of coffee.
Add to that the sedentary nature of our modern lives. When you’re curled over your desk or slumped on your sofa for long hours, your lymphatic system isn’t able to do its job. Which is also to say that you’re not only how you eat and think and consume, but how you do or don’t move.
The lymphatic system, much like your home’s plumping system, drains all of the waste produced by every cell of your body. It keeps your system pure and in flow.
Viewing it this way, can you imagine if your toilet stayed clogged–if you did your business on top of your prior business, day after day, without flushing? Yuck. No matter how many candles you burned or oils you diffused, the stench would swarm your entire abode.
In other words, when your lymphatic system isn’t functioning up to par (i.e. when the drains are clogged and old waste is piled high) and lifestyle and environmental toxins are continuously building on top of one another, your entire system becomes bloated, foggy, sluggish and unwell.
…and here’s how a clogged lymph might impact your mental health.
In a recent study by the University of Virginia, it was discovered that the brain is drained by a hidden network of lymphatic vessels. If these vessels become congested, it can lead to pathogens in the brain.
There’s also the factor of elevated inflammation and autoimmune vulnerabilities, which countless studies over decades have determined can lead to psychiatric symptoms and disorders. A clogged lymphatic system contributes to inflammation and compromised immunity.
So, if you struggle in the mood arena and are having a frustrating time finding the right protocol for your needs, you might look to your lymphatic system as part of your mental health care puzzle.
… and how improved lymphatic drainage can reduce bloating and cellulite.
In France, various forms of manual lymphatic drainage are the most popular ways to combat a puffy face and cellulite.
Here’s why: cellulite is not a type of fat. Fat is fat. The appearance of cellulite is simply (or, perhaps, not-so-simply) caused by pockets of fat pushing up through the connective tissue, or fascia.
The fascia looks like layers of spider webs, and when those layers become tight and restricted, oftentimes caused by injury and overuse, they become tangled and “glued” together. This binds the fat cells and creates the dimpled (and extremely common, by the way–reported by about 93 percent of women) appearance of cellulite.
So, then, where does the lymphatic system come in?
When the fascia is restricted, there’s typically swelling, inflammation, edema and lymphatic congestion. Which means that anytime the fascia is directly manipulated and released, by way of massage or other therapies, there’s manual lymph drainage happening. This eases bloating, reduces swelling and helps unravel the restricted areas, creating a smoother appearance.
So, if you’re game to revitalize your lymphatic system and support your beauty, fitness and wellness goals, here’s how…
The good news? The following methods are backed by research and implemented by top health and fitness experts, and will no doubt support your quest for lymphatic rejuvenation.
Foam rolling. This practice does more than relax tense muscles. It also smooths away congestion, reduces inflammation, stimulates blood circulation, improves flexibility and unravels and rehydrates connective tissue. This revitalizes to your lymphatic system, because it helps the fluid move.
But these devices aren’t all created equally. Here’s a foam roller I’ve trusted for years to flush, release tension and rejuvenate my body.
Lymphatic massage, professionally or at home. You may have seen some of the before-and-after photos documenting the wonders of lymphatic massage. During a session, a practitioner uses gliding, compressing, stretching, and cupping motions to help the lymph move and flush. Especially for those who suffer with conditions like lymphedema, which is severe swelling by damage to the lymph nodes, it can bring about miraculous results. But it’s beneficial for everyone.
And you necessarily don’t have to pay upwards of $200 every week to reap the benefits of lymphatic therapy. This self-massage wooden tool can be used in the privacy of your bedroom and can bring about powerful results when used correctly.
Perform hip inversions. Getting your hips above your heart is a fantastic way to revitalize your lymphatic system. By using gravity to drain stagnant lymphatic fluid, inversions bring blood and lymph from your feet and legs up to your kidneys, where excess fluid and toxins can be flushed and stagnant energy is free to move.
Daily walking is deceptively powerful. When you take a brisk walk, your legs act as a natural pump that helps move the lymph fluid throughout the entire body–from your arms, necks and shoulders down to your ankles and feet. Health experts suggest walking each day for optimal health.
Rebounding works wonders. I’m in love with rebounding and have been for nearly a decade. For me, there are few cardiovascular exercises as freeing, stress-reducing and restorative. The bouncing motion of rebounding is an act of liberation for the lymphatic system. I recommend the JumpSport for optimal safety and longevity. Body By Simone has a stellar rebounding DVD that I’ve adored for years.
Hydration is non-negotiable. Without adequate hydration, your lymph can’t flow properly. Toss some alkalizing citrus fruit like grapefruit or lemon into your glass and aim to drink about half your weight in ounces, suggest experts.
Dry brushing daily can bring about profound results. Dry brushing has been around since ancient times, though it has recently surged in popularity as countless influencers and supermodels shout its beauty benefits. The idea is to get your circulation moving, effectively “tightening” the skin by stimulating it with a rhythmic and vigorous rub.
This is my favorite dry brush set, which was recommended to me by an integrative medicine doctor I interviewed for a story not long ago. It includes a smaller brush for the face, which can help decongest and refine your neck and jawline. Ooh la la.
Note: Always brush towards your heart, brushing each limb and along your torso for about 30-40 seconds.
Crawl into a warm mineral bath: Here’s another ancient practice that’ll never lose its luster. Soaking in a warm bath of magnesium salts can help re-mineralize your skin (many of us Westerners are magnesium deficient), as well as draw out impurities. Plus, studies have revealed the tremendous health benefits of hydrotherapy. Your body, including your lymphatic system and fascia, loves being immersed in water.
Eat in red for a healthy lymphatic system. Raw beets, baby. Chop them up and toss them into your salad. Throw them in your blender and make a creamy smoothie. Raw beets are powerful because they thin the bile for optimal fat digestion, thereby scrubbing away at the intestinal villi where the lymphatic vessels originate.
Other red foods are excellent choices as well, such as cherries and pomegranates, according to the principles of Ayurveda. Here’s a fabulous cookbook with delicious, whole food recipes to get your culinary inspiration flowing.
Supplements to support lymphatic detoxification. Mary Ruth’s Lymphatic Cleanse has phenomenally well-researched ingredients. I’ve been personally impressed with her products for years. Another option is Lymphatonic, which was recommended to me by my integrative medicine doctor. (My lymph nodes tend to swell any time I eat processed foods or drink wine for a few days in a row.) Within about 48 hours, I was leaning into my bathroom mirror, admiring a noticeable reduction in bloating and puffiness.
Because, let’s be real–nearly everyone is after the “je ne sais quoi.” And, after folding the above knowledge and practices into your daily or weekly self-care routine, your lymph will be flowing and your flesh will be glowing in no time. Maybe even sooner than you can book a flight to Paris.