In my previous post, Clearing the Filters Part 1, I wrote about the importance of maintaining the "filters" of the body (lymphatic system) and mind (thoughts and emotions) through asana and meditation. But what happens if there is a breakdown of the flow and congestion becomes total standstill?
The role of scar tissue on circulation
Breast cancer-related lymphedema is a known side effect of some cancer treatments. Not everyone develops swelling in the affected arm, but once it begins, we don't have any cure, only palliative treatments (as of this writing). Our best approach is to identify those who are at higher risk and be sure they do all they can to prevent it.
I mentioned before that the lymphatic system runs throughout the body and that the nodes are located in strategic locations: face and neck, armpits, chest, abdomen, leg pits. These are places where we move just doing everyday things like breathing and walking, which is important because the lymphatic system doesn't have its own pump. Without any extra encouragement, there is some organic movement of lymph through these nodes, and since the lymphatic vessels run up against the blood vessels, if the heart rate increases, the blood pushing through those neighboring vessels nudges the lymph along, too. But we still need to move - effectively - to keep the filters clear.
During breast cancer treatment it is common for a patient to receive surgery and radiation on or near the lymph nodes. Surgery and radiation harden tissue, which makes circulating blood and lymph more difficult. It is important not to begin moving too soon, but once cleared, patients recovering from breast cancer treatments need to move their affected side using gentle massage, stretching and isometric exercises. If swelling begins, it's vital to get to a lymphedema specialist as soon as possible to keep the congestion to a minimum. Besides deep breathing, massage, stretching, isometric exercises and aerobic exercises, there is another more unique way I've found to move your lymph.
Love your lymph
Do you recall your first crush? Or the first time you looked on your child with love? Remember the physical sensations associated with these memories? Heart racing, tingling along your skin, and the desire to be close to or caress the other one's skin. All of these physiological responses move lymph very effectively. Try this exercise:
Close your eyes and imagine someone who you love; feel the smile form on your lips as you think of this person; feel your breath and heartbeat change; notice any sensation along your skin.
Breathe in and out slowly and smoothly, savoring this time with this person.
Bring your hands up to your face and neck and gentle caress your skin in a loving way, as you would your loved one.
Rest after a few minutes and observe any changes in yourself.
Scar tissue in the mind
In the previous post I mentioned that at the beginning on my sitting practice I meditate on forgiveness. This evolved organically after years of watching my thoughts and noticing patterns. They were a bit like movement patterns, in that I continually avoided certain trains of thought and stuck to the grooves that I knew. It was as if my mental "body" had scar tissue which affected my mental "mobility". At first these areas appeared as vacancies: I was guided to use certain mantras and I found I could not remember all of them, and the ones I forgot were consistent. Then the patterns took on a quality of resistance: I would watch as judgmental thoughts blossomed out of the guided practice; the critic would tell me how stupid this was, what a waste of time, etc. But after some time and lots of consistent practice, I noticed a softening. This was the fertile soil that allowed me to plant the seeds of my forgiveness practice. Since I can't know yet what I don't know, I'm sure there are other places of vacancy, resistance and the opportunity to soften waiting for me to discover. Having a regular sitting practice allows me the chance to find them.
Clear your filters, using a combination of awareness and compassion, every day.