By fostering relaxation, a yoga practice can reduce the incidence of lymphedema. “Since the lymphatic system is challenged whenever the body or mind is stressed,” says Peart, “achieving a deeper state of relaxation has a positive impact on the system.” In addition, she says, practicing yoga keeps the fluid pumping through the body, rather than accumulating.
Lisa Gilbourne, a seven-year cancer survivor and studio codirector of Bikram Yoga College of India in Jacksonville, Florida, learned the benefits of yoga firsthand. After being diagnosed with cancer at age 27 and receiving treatment, she returned to a retail job that kept her on her feet all day. She soon developed lymphedema in her legs, which worsened to an infection and unbearable pain. Switching to a desk job didn’t help the problem, but yoga brought almost instant relief. “Lymphedema is not something you can cure, you have to manage it,” Gilbourne says. “Doing yoga every day helps undo the effects of sitting and standing for long periods of time.”
If you’re considering starting a yoga practice either to prevent lymphedema or to treat it, it’s a good idea to work with a certified lymphedema therapist. (If you’ve already been diagnosed with the condition, always wear a bandage or a compression garment during any form of exercise.) And be sure to take it slow, advises Michelle Robinson, founder and yoga director of MindBodyZone in Fremont, California. “Simple poses like forward folding, lateral movements, and gentle breathing will help to stimulate the lymph flow.”
If your leg muscles begin to ache, elevate your feet or legs immediately, says Robinson. “The most important thing is to listen to your body and not to overstimulate or tire the muscles,” she cautions. “Overdoing it can cause a buildup of fluid, which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid.”
For more information, visit www.lymphnet.org.