Yoga for Lymphedema

My introduction to yoga was in college. To fill in my physical education requirement, my friends and I signed up for yoga. Why not? It should be an easy class, right?

The instructor filled every single stereotype of a hippie-dippy yogi that I’ve ever heard of; she smelled of patchouli oil, with straw-like long wavy hair straight out of a Woodstock movie. She preached about the benefits of vegetarianism and filling your soul with a “complete protein” of beans and rice. She wore tie-dye and long skirts that jingled.

Needless to say, as a college student, I would simply fall asleep during the 20 minutes of ‘corpse pose’ during her long diatribes. I hated the slow pace of the stretches and poses. I didn’t see any benefit and I didn’t see the point.  I thought to myself – this certainly couldn’t be considered exercise.

Now, over 10 years later, I look forward to my yoga. I took a complete 180 turn in my attitude towards the benefits – mostly because I’ve SEEN the benefits first hand.

Shortly after I was diagnosed in 2014, I began to do yoga as part of my wellness plan. I read all about the benefits of beating cancer through connecting mind and body, and I wanted to do everything in my power to give myself an edge on the cancer.

In a way, I found yoga and yoga found me.

And since I started doing yoga, my practice has changed. At first, I just started with a few poses and breathing exercises. Then I found some online yoga teachers and classes that I really loved, (see the post about my favorite online yoga group here) and so began my journey. Now, I use yoga as my exercise routine – some days, I do an hour of “super sweaty” yoga for cardio, other days I hold poses for strength or stretching.

Since my Complete Lymph Node Dissection (CLND) to remove more of my melanoma in 2016, I’ve noticed that yoga significantly helps my lymphedema. The stretching and muscle movements help to reduce the swelling in my left thigh, meaning the lymph in my left leg is flowing rather than staying stagnant.

The trick is to use pulses of muscle tension to propel the lymph under the skin. Holding a pose only holds the lymph in one place – so when using yoga to reduce lymphedema, hold for a few seconds, release and repeat multiple times for optimal drainage.

I’ve found these 3 poses help the most with my leg lymphedema:

You can find photos of all these poses and more at https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/photo-gallery/34721642/image/34721659/Downward-Facing-Dog

Downward Facing Dog

I always like to open up my yoga with a few Downward Facing Dogs. Your lymph system is like a highway – traffic upstream causes congestion downstream. Your lymph system collects lymph from all over the body, and it all converges into what’s called the thoracic duct. The lymph then drains into the left subclavian vein by your left collarbone. Standing or sitting means that the lymph has to work against gravity to get to the thoracic duct. Downward Dog helps to use gravity in your favor and clear out the congestion, thus allowing more lymph from the legs to get to the thoracic duct during the rest of your routine.

Warrior I

The vast majority of the lymph nodes in your leg are in your groin. Stretching the hip forward helps to massage these lymph nodes and get the lymph flowing. I personally no longer have the nodes in my groin, so it’s much harder for my lymph to cross this area. I also have scar tissue here from my previous surgeries. I find that stretching in this pose helps with both – my scar tissue has loosened up, allowing new lymph channels to form, and helping lymph to cross and drain. It has also helped to build my hip flexors, helping the muscles behind the skin to massage the lymph upwards.

Bridge Pose/Half Wheel

Bridge pose is the best of everything – using gravity, stretching, and massage to help drain lymph from the legs. It uses gravity to your advantage while building the hip flexors and massaging the lymph nodes in your groin. Use this pose with deep breathing exercises (which have been proven to help move lymph towards your thoracic duct) and you have a super combo to help reduce lymphedema in the legs.

 

What are your favorite poses to help reduce lymphedema?

Does YOUR yoga class accept coupons?

courtesy of http://www.kpfit.club/hatha-yoga/

I took a yoga class back in college to fulfill my PE requirements and I REALLY REALLY hated it. The instructor was a super patchouli-smelling granola-crunching tree-hugging lady who looked like she wandered off the streets of San Francisco circa 1967. She insisted that it was cruel to eat meat, and touted vegetarian rice and beans as a “complete protein”. We did some sun salutations, learned basic poses, and then we would lay in corpse pose for 20 minutes.

I never broke a sweat and fell asleep every class. It was sooooooo boring. I dreaded going.

I passed the class and threw in the towel on yoga. I told myself yoga was totally for wimps.

That was over 10 years ago (I’m leaving it at that because a lady never tells her age). I opened up to yoga again when I was going through treatment for melanoma. I didn’t have the energy to work out, and I felt myself wasting away.

I wanted to do something physical…but not TOO physical. And I also wanted to be able to create a more holistic lifestyle that help me focus on getting rid of daily mental stress.

So I gave yoga another shot. I got a book on poses and downloaded some apps. I actually started to enjoy yoga. I could put my body to (gentle) use and stretching helped my lymphedema. I started to see results and began to enjoy it more and more.

But I kinda got stuck. I wanted something more interactive and more physical now that I’m back to my old self. Yet, classes were out of the question. I refuse to shell out $15 a class for something that I wanted to incorporate into my weekly schedule. Even the cheapest monthly yoga classes I could find – $10 a class – that could be $50 a week! Did that math and said NOPE. No way.

So I scoured the internet. YouTube videos here, online classes there. None of them were great so I kept scouring.

And I hit the jackpot! Seriously – this is the BEST online yoga! It’s a group called “The Yoga Collective” and they film classes from their studio in California. It has everything you could ask for from an in-person yoga class but right there online! You can select your instructor, your level of difficulty, what area you want to work on, the length of time…ANYTHING!

It’s like having a studio instructor in your living room! And one that I can take with me while I’m traveling for work, which is HUGE for me.

I feel very sales-y touting this company, and I apologize if it comes off that way. But I can assure you – I have absolutely NO connection to them besides just being an insanely happy customer. If you want to try it out, they offer a 15 day trial for free. Absolutely free to try! How can you say no, you secret Yogis out there??

And I have to fill you in on a little secret. I found a Groupon for the group and got a year for about $12…YES $12!!! That’s the price of ONE class!! This comes out to a couple CENTS per class!! To add the cherry on top,  you can order your Groupon through Ebates and earn money back!! My inner coupon lady is singing “the hills are alive” and dancing an Irish jig right now!

I don’t think that my version of yoga is ANYTHING like the yoga I did in college. I consistency break a sweat while on the mat and don’t feel bad about the grass-fed burger I eat afterwards. I’m happy I re-found yoga to mold it into what works for me (and at a price that doesn’t break the bank!) I hope you ALL find what works best for you to live a long happy, healthy life.

Namaste.