Yoga for Lymphedema

Just as I was pondering what to write for my blog on ‘one of the illnesses that I know’, my sister came home one day telling us that she needed to go for another operation on her ‘Lymphedema’ ailment. Immediately I know what I should write for the blog! Perhaps yoga could help her condition?Β 


My sister was diagnosed with ‘Lymphedema in the lower left limb’ seven years ago. Although the first operation managed to drain out the excessive fluid in her leg and contain its swell, she still needed to wear a compression stocking regularly in order to reduce the risk of aggravating the lymphedema.


What exactly is ‘Lymphedema’? Lymphedema is actually an over-accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the body. Over time, the body cannot effectively transport excess lymphatic fluid, and the potential for infection exists. Either caused by heredity or by injury, lymphatic obstruction may lead to bodily infection and elephantiasis, if treatment is not given timely.Β 


However good news is, lymphedema is treatable and various medical treatment options such as compression, surgery, laser therapy and decongestive therapy are available for treating this condition. The lymphatic system helps detoxify the body and is important in our immune system function.


Practicing yoga can help regulate our body’s functions and improve function of the lymphatic system. Relaxing yoga poses and breathing exercises help to boost our immunity and enhance the body’s cleansing ability. Slow-moving, rhythmic movements in yoga and breathing may help prevent lymphedema because they encourage lymph flow. Practising yoga keeps the fluid pumping through the body, rather than accumulating.


A patient with lymphedema in the legs may also benefit from performing deep abdominal breathing exercises, which stimulate the thoracic duct, so that the lymph fluid from the legs ultimately drains. With increased lymph fluid flow and drainage, lymphedema in the legs decreases.


We must bear in mind to avoid aggressive leg stretching poses that may damage the lymphatic vessels. Patient with lymphedema should exercise in moderation and avoid exhaustion and dehydration. Hence, no hot yoga, power yoga and Bikram yoga should be practiced in her case.Β 


The following yoga poses are suitable for lymphedema patients:


Viparita Karani (Inverted pose)

Viparita Karani is a yoga inversion pose that is performed by lying on the floor and raising your legs up against the wall. This is particularly helpful in the case of swollen feet where the flow of the fluid accumulated in the feet will gravitate towards the body. The pose will reduce swelling of the legs commonly associated with lymphedema.


Ardha Uttanasana (Half Standing Forward Bend)

Ardha Uttanasana regulate the bodily functions and relieve the physical exhaustion often experienced in those with lymphedema. Performing of Ardha Uttanasana helps to reduce swelling.


Marjariasana (Cat Pose)

Marjariasana is beneficial in regulating bodily functions, which can help those with lymphedema.


Pranayama (Yoga Breathing Exercise)

Pranayama de-stresses and detoxifies the body. As stress and body toxicity aggravate lymphatic obstruction, by performing Pranayama we can blot out these lymphedema causal factors from our body.


While yoga is beneficial for lymphedema patients, there are a few things that they should always remember while practicing yoga.

  1. Be gentle – creating strain within our muscles will make it harder for the fluid to circulate.
  2. Wearing compassion stocking – wearing the stocking while practicing yoga provides support for the legs and promote the flow of lymph.
  3. Practice conscious breathing – breathing strengthens the diaphragm and its movement, which in turn promotes lymph flow. It is important to breathe in between poses so as to lessen the strain on our body during transition, as well as after the practice.

I had excitedly shared with my sister on how yoga practise can improve her condition. I hope with these informative knowledge on how yoga can aid in the treatment for Lymphedema, I am able to help her in the road to recovery.