A session with Lisa Levitt Gainsley is somewhat of a phenomenon here in L.A. Her manual lymphatic drainage sessions can provide potent support for the immune system and help to resolve digestive and female health issues.
Gainsley holds a double certification in Lymphedema Therapy with over 25 years. Working with people with compromised immunity, she’s been helping others flush toxins and accelerate the detoxification process well before cleansing and detox became popular buzz words.
While working with cancer patients at UCLA Medical Center, Lisa saw the vital link between lymphatic massage and maintaining strong immunity (a story for another day!). In her quest to help people better understand their own immune and lymphatic systems, Lisa teaches lymphatic health through self-massage.
This month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and one of our key values at this time is prevention. Walk through Lisa’s simple self-massage technique above (How were we not taught this growing up? Food for thought!) and explore the deeper reasoning for the value of lymphatic massage below…
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month I’d like to encourage you to take some time and massage your breasts. You heard me right! I’m on a campaign to highlight the importance of massaging your breasts and your lymph nodes yourself…
As a Certified Lymphedema Therapist and Lymphatic Educator, I’ve worked with clients for over two decades who’ve seen a reduction in breast density on their mammograms, less fibrosis from scar tissue and improved range of motion after surgery with a consistent practice of lymphatic self-massage. I’ve also worked with clients who’ve gone through treatment for breast cancer and are at risk of developing lymphedema due to lymph node removal, surgery or radiation. When lymph nodes are removed or radiated, the lymphatic vasculature is inhibited and can lead to an accumulation of fluid in tissues that’s challenging for the body to drain.
The roots of lymphatic drainage massage run deep. Their origins lie in strengthening your immune system, clearing congestion, quelling inflammation, improving your digestion, your sleep, and even increasing lymphatic circulation in your breasts!
What’s all The Buzz about Lymph?!
Your lymphatic system plays a pivotal role in your immune health. Lymph contains excess fluid made up of cellular waste and white blood cells that protect you from viruses and bacteria in your body. Lymph runs like rivers throughout your body similar to your blood vessels. The job of your lymphatic system all day long is to regulate your fluid balance and circulate white blood cells that provide the first line of defense against disease.
Unlike the blood, your lymphatic system doesn’t have a central pump to move it like the way the heart pumps your cardiovascular system. Instead, lymph relies on small, smooth muscle contractions and pumping of nearby arteries to move fluid to areas in your body where you have lymph nodes; mostly clustered in your neck, armpits, sternum, abdomen, the top of your thighs, behind your knees and in your elbow creases. I refer to the lymph system as The Great Recycling System due to its systemic cleansing nature. Not only does lymphatic massage remove excess inflammation from your tissues, but it also absorbs fat in your gut and returns lipids to your bloodstream where it becomes fuel.
Because your lymph system doesn’t have a central pump to move it (like the heart and circulatory system), it needs you to encourage the release of daily toxins. You can stimulate lymph flow with exercise and dry-brushing, but you can learn how to perform lymphatic self-massage on yourself to activate your lymph system even more specifically.
The Importance of Breast Health
We aren’t taught to touch our bodies — but touch has been shown to improve symptoms ranging from anxiety to wound healing. The lymphatic circulation in your breasts drains out impurities in the fluid space surrounding your tissues (referred to as the interstitial fluid) and transports white blood cells along with bacteria and viruses to lymph nodes where macrophages and lymphocytes do their important job of mounting an immune response to harmful invaders so the fluid can return to the bloodstream once it’s been purified.
You have lymph nodes in your armpit called axillary nodes that drain lymphatic fluid from your breasts and some fluid from your arm and upper torso. Lymph nodes along your sternum also drain some breast tissue too. Your thymus is located near your sternum which is the lymphoid organ that plays an important role in maturing cancer fighting T cells.
Whenever I teach my clients self-massage, I always recommend massaging the lymph nodes first — this will create a vacuum effect on the lymph system.
When you get –or give yourself –a lymphatic massage you are working the fluid layer that removes excess stagnant toxins in your tissues that may be making you feel unwell, lethargic, heavy, achy, bloated, slow to heal, and congested from common colds and illness.
Your lymphatic system also clears environmental toxins and pollutants that get congested in your tissues. Your skin absorbs approximately 60% of what you put on it — which can overwhelm your lymph system. Choosing non-toxic skincare products is essential — just think about what kind of deodorant you’re putting directly into the lymph nodes in your armpit! If you can’t ditch that deodorant entirely then please choose one that only contains natural, organic ingredients. On that note, see if you can limit your use of underwire bras. They can temporarily hamper lymph flow around your breasts — especially since we are spending more time at home now, look into swapping them out for underwire-free bras.
How it Works
A lymphatic massage is different from most massages you may be used to — it’s the opposite of a deep tissue massage that targets your muscles. A lymphatic massage works on the layer of inflammation that resides underneath the surface of your skin. In order to drain this excess fluid, lymph massage utilizes a light touch to mimic the undulating rhythm of the lymphatic capillaries and vessels that open and close as they move the fluid to areas in your body where lymph nodes are located.
In order to stimulate the lymphatic vasculature above the muscle bed, lymphatic massage strokes are light, slow, gentle and nurturing. The touch is a little more than a feather but not more than a dime. This is also why the touch is therapeutic and evokes the parasympathetic response of your nervous system (the rest & digest state) where healing occurs. By working in a one-way pattern towards lymph nodes, you will help your body eliminate toxins more efficiently.
When you massage yourself slowly and rhythmically, you will also be nurturing yourself. I like my clients to use their hands when they massage themselves for a couple of reasons:
- I want you to cultivate a loving relationship with your breasts. So many of us have so much judgement around our breasts – the look and feel – fear and disappointment. My goal is to connect you with your body and get you to love and accept your breasts.
- Breasts are rarely touched- sometimes by your lover, and sometimes by your doctor, and if you’ve had a baby, maybe by them too. And that touch isn’t usually therapeutic. I want you to become intimate with the landscape of your breasts and the terrain of your breast tissue. You may only be used to touching your breasts when you’re doing breast screenings — which can be scary! But I want you to cultivate loving kindness, and recognize that when you are massaging your breasts you are improving the lymphatic circulation in your breasts to help clear stagnation in the tissues and create a more harmonious and healthy landscape in your chest.
- When you use your hands to massage your breasts you can control the pressure and ensure you’re using a light touch. You don’t want to work too deeply – stay above the muscle bed so that you don’t press past the initial lymph capillaries just under the skin that will absorb that initial lymph fluid.
- When you use your hands you will increase your sensitivity and will eventually be able to feel a shift in the tissue quality. I ‘ve had clients tell me that the tenderness in their breasts subsided during their period – and others have said this massage helped alleviate puffiness near their armpits that accumulated during menopause. I’ve also seen scar tissue from surgeries improve.
When you cultivate a practice of lymphatic self-massage you are pouring self-love and acceptance into yourself. My mission is for you to utilize this self-care practice to inhabit your body with more ease and joy.
Finally, if you or someone you know has had breast cancer, please find a Certified Lymphedema Therapist to work with. The non-profits listed below have Therapist Referral Guides and are great resources.
I share simple self-massage rituals that you can do at home! Feel free to check out my instagram where I help you connect with the lymphatic healing waters within.
Additional Ways to Boost your Lymphatic System
Hydrate It’s vital that you drink plenty of water. Your lymphatic system needs water to move freely through your body, so don’t dehydrate your cells!
Exercise All forms of exercise increase lymphatic circulation because lymph depends on muscle movement for flow. Some of the best are rebounding on a trampoline, biking, swimming, dancing, yoga (especially inversions and twists) and walking.
Get proper sleep People underestimate the power of sleep! But your body needs rest to heal and repair your body.
Dry-brushing is a simple and affordable way to increase lymphatic circulation, improve appearance of cellulite and increase your energy. You can purchase a dry-brush at your local health food store or online. Brush towards your heart. I recommend dry-brushing 3x a week before you shower. Don’t dry-brush over open wounds.
Deep breathing Deep diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the largest lymphatic vessel in your body – the thoracic duct – which brings the fluid from the lower half of your body up towards your heart. You can do this each day by simply expanding your belly as you inhale and relaxing your belly as you exhale. Try it when you’re standing in line at the grocery store! See how fast the time goes while you boost your lymph system.
Use clean non-toxic skin care and home products This is essential! Hormone imbalances can be attributed to the hidden chemicals in products. Your lymph system picks up excess hormones that are too big to get absorbed by blood vessels and can overwhelm your lymph. Making changes to your products will reduce the toxins in the air you breathe and what you put on your skin. (AKA ditch the deodorant- or switch to a natural one)
Stop the stress cycle! Stress is insidious — it can wreak havoc on your digestion, your mind, your heart, your soul and your lymph. Find ways to mitigate stress whether it’s through meditation, a walk in nature, or connecting with friends.
Eat a clean, healthy diet Avoid processed foods, sugar, alcohol, tobacco, dairy, gluten and salt as much as you can! Incorporate anti-inflammatory herbs when you cook and eat more organic vegetables and fruits.
Consider compressionIf you’re at risk for lymphedema or if you have an achy, heavy limb as a result of cancer treatment, find a Certified Lymphedema Therapist in your area to work with. They can help fit you for a compression sleeve or pump.
Find Joy when we nurture ourselves and find simple ways to experience joy we increase our health and spread love and happiness to others.