How do Qigong and Tai Chi help lymph flow?
This question comes from Brenda who practices as a physical therapist in New Hampshire and points to some of the “hidden” benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi practice.
The lymph system is the body’s primary detoxification system and one of the most important components of any Qigong practice (including Tai Chi). Lymph is circulated through the body in a combination of four ways: gravity, muscle contraction, smooth vessel wall elasticity, and abdominal breathing; which is subdivided further in aerobic and mechanical propulsion. Considering all of these methods individually, abdominal breathing is the greatest contributor to improving lymph flow.
Aerobic propulsion is a result of increased aerobic respiration at the cellular level. Remembering the Krebs cycle: O2 + C6H12O6 + BMR = CO2 + H2O + Ergs. Abdominal breathing has been shown to improve oxygen uptake up to 5x greater than shallow chest breathing. At the cellular level, increased oxygen availability activates the Krebs cycle resulting in enhanced intracellular water production. When the cell reaches its maximum holding capacity, water is diffused, with metabolic waste products, into the extracellular spaces now becoming lymph. Once in the extracellular space the lymph is then channeled into lymph reservoirs at the cisterna chyli and thoracic duct. Mechanical propulsion occurs when the diaphragm and lungs drop during the abdominal breath squeezing the cisterna chyli and thoracic duct respectively, which moves lymph into the subclavian vein. Metabolic waste products now in cardiovascular circulation are most efficiently released through exhalation of breath.
Active Qigong practices combine all four primary methods of lymph circulation. Many gestures dip the upper body to or below waist level, lift the arms overhead, and kick with the legs using gravity to propel lymph through the system. Alternating muscle contraction and relaxation phases necessary for Qigong movement pump lymph as well. Along with aerobic and mechanical propulsion, abdominal breathing elicits a parasympathetic shift resulting in vasodilation and facilitation of smooth vessel wall elasticity.
Aging and disease are a function of how well or poorly our body is able to detoxify itself. Toxins are not only what we put into our bodies but also what our bodies produce as a normal part of cellular metabolism, which intensifies during physical rehabilitation and healing. Rehabilitative Qigong & Tai Chi in this case supports both neuromuscular and metabolic healing, in effect supercharging your treatments!
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Originally published December 2014.