Posted by: assuntina | February 17, 2010

Shoulder Stand and the Lymphatic System

Last Thursday in the Patcham class I realised that although I’m aware of the general benefits of Sarvangasana or the Shoulder Stand, there is one of them that I don’t fully understand.  In particular I had read a few months ago how this posture aids lymphatic drainage, which I know is good for supporting the immune system (and therefore a good pose to practice at this time of year when lots of colds and flu are still going round) but I don’t really understand why.  So I said I would email round the article where I had read about this.  Of course, the internet being the maze it is, now I can’t find the article, but it has prompted me to look it up properly and research it a bit more.

Problems with the lymphatic system make it harder for the body to fight infection and defend itself against germs like viruses, bacteria, and fungi that can cause illnesses. Those germs get filtered out in the lymph nodes, which is tissue along the network of lymph vessels where you find lymphocytes, a white blood cell. Some of those lymphocytes make antibodies that fight off germs and stop infections from spreading by trapping and destroying them.  I read somewhere that the lymphatic system is a bit like a sewage system, but I’m not keen on that analogy myself!  However you get the picture. At the end of the process, the veins under the collar bones take up whatever is left, so you can see how being upside down would help that along.

Lymph, like the blood returning to your heart via the veins, needs muscular movement and gravity to facilitate its return. Because the lymphatic system is a closed pressure system and has one-way valves that keep lymph moving towards the heart, when you turn upside down, the entire lymphatic system is stimulated, so strengthening your immune system.

 We’ve been working on shoulder stands in the Patcham class on Thursdays on and off since the beginning of autumn.  Shoulder stands or upside down poses (properly known as inversions) consist of head stands, shoulder stands, handstands etc and also anything where your head is lower than your heart.  We do plenty of downward dogs and standing forward bends in my classes and these also constitute inverted postures, but are not quite as powerful for giving the full benefits of an inversion. 

However, a full shoulder stand is not suitable for everyone *, and there is the alternative Legs up the Wall pose, or by its proper name Viparita Karani, a gentle and easy inversion that anyone can enjoy with no stress on the body at all.  Even better, at the Patcham community centre we have now acquired fabulous new velvet padded seats which are perfect for Viparita Karani or Legs on the Chair as we should now be calling it. This transforms the pose into a totally relaxing and blissful restorative pose, which as far as I’m concerned is perfect for this time of year.

*Not for you if you have unmedicated high blood pressure, neck problems, are pregnant or menstruating.

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