I originally wrote this post for the incredible website The Midwife is In, a website dedicated to spreading information about sexual health, vaginas, pregnancy and birth. I've reposted this blog with permission. To view the original post, click here.
A strange series of events has come to light over the last few years - a number of my friends and family in their 20s and 30s have been diagnosed with breast cancer. This was terrifying to me, so to combat it I came up with a preventative care regimen to help me feel empowered in my own wellness. The ideas below are helpful for all people, with or without breasts, because what they truly address is lymphatic health.
A very large factor in breast/chest health is lymphatic health. The lymphatic system is part of both the circulatory and immune systems. It is a network of tissues and organs that help to cleanse the body of toxins and waste. The lymphatic system is also responsible for distributing infection-fighting white blood cells throughout the body.
For these reasons, many herbalists consider lymphatic flow to be a crucial part of overall health, and specifically breast health, since there is a large cluster of lymph nodes close to the breasts. Healthy “flow” in the lymphatic system ensures that toxins can be cleansed from our system and white blood cells can be pumped into it.
In addition to lymphatic congestion, energetic congestion can build up in the upper part of the chest and arms, manifesting as physical health challenges. We tend to carry heartbreak, loss, grief, and emotional trauma in our chests. These emotions are a natural part of life, but we are not meant to hold them within our bodies for a long time. If we don’t address them, they will pop up in some form or another. The exercises and herbs below can help you to release anything that is no longer serving you.
So how can you bring flow to your lymphatic system?
Breast massage is one of the best ways to love your lymphs every day. Anything that brings gentle motion to the tissue in your breasts and armpits is helpful.
A simple breast massage technique:
Take your left breast in your left hand and your right breast in your right hand. Move your breasts in a circular motion toward the center of your body 20 times. The motion should be gentle and pleasant.
Next, repeat in the opposite direction 20 times.
Send loving thoughts to yourself/recite an affirmation or a mantra.
Massage the tissue in your armpits by using your fingertips to rub in a circular motion, pressing firmly inward.
Do it after every shower. It can also be lovely to practice with a partner.
If you wish, apply a massage oil to your hands to rub into the skin on your breasts and underarms. You can find many oils to support lymphatic cleansing.
Herbs for Lymphatic Wellness
Herbs are a wonderful ally in preventative well-care. The can be consumed as teas, tinctures (an extraction into alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin), oils, and more. Whether consumed through eating or drinking, or absorbed through the skin, herbs have many beneficial properties. Here are some of my favorites for lymphatic wellness:
Poke root (Phytolacca Americana): Poke is a very strong cleansing herb. Its actions are concentrated in the lymphatic and glandular systems. It relieves lymph congestion and is anti-viral and anti-tumor. I call it “The Exorciser” because it swiftly and strongly, almost forcefully, removes toxins from the body. In fact, it can be harmful in large doses when taken internally. For this reason, I mostly use poke externally in the form of a massage oil or a salve. If you wish to take poke internally, only do so under the supervision of an experienced herbalist.
Violet leaf and flower (Violeta odorata): Violet is a blood purifier and detoxifier. It is a traditional treatment for cancer, especially breast cancer. Helpful for dissolving lumps, violet is excellent for fibrocystic breasts. Violet is high in vitamin C. It can be taken internally, as tincture or tea; it is also excellent as an oil for topical use. Violet, “The Lovely Lymph Lover,” is delicate in stature but powerful in its lymph-cleansing abilities.
Dandelion leaf and root (Taraxacum officinale): As a liver supporter, dandelion eases congestion in the entire body, particularly in the breasts. I’ve dubbed it “The Bitter BFF” because it’s naturally bitter flavor is one of your body’s top allies for wellness. Dandelion is a safe herb that can be used every day. It is widely available, inexpensive, and effective! NOTE: If foraging dandelion, PLEASE be sure that the plant is clean and growing in a unpolluted area.
Calendula flower (Calendula officinalis): Calendula is a long-used remedy for keeping breast tissue healthy. It is a gentle lymphatic cleanser that can be used daily, both internally and externally. Calendula is wonderful in tea or tincture form. As an oil, calendula will keep your skin glowing and can be helpful in dissolving lumps. It is a bright, cheerful plant that will spread sunshine throughout your body and spirit!
Yoga for Lymphatic Cleansing
Mindful stretching is another win-win option for lymphatic health: it feels great while you’re doing it, and it can support your long-term health. Woohoo! Some basic stretches:
Swinging Arms: Stand with feet hip distance apart. Raise your arms to shoulder level (so that they’re parallel to the floor) and swing them inward, crossing over your chest. Swing them outward, and back in again, alternating which arm is on top when you cross them. Swing them hard enough so that you feel the stretch, but don’t hurt yourself!
Child’s Pose with Arms Extended in Front: Kneel on the floor and lay your torso over the tops of your thighs, letting your back muscles relax and your forehead rest on the floor (you may want to do this on a mat or blanket). Extended your arms out in front of you, palms flat on the floor. Close your eyes and breathe deeply into your lower back. This is a posture of surrender and release. Imagine anything that is no longer serving you flow from your heart, down through your arms, out your palms, and into the earth. If you like, you can imagine the earth breaking it down, turning it into beautiful soil, and using that energy to grow a healthy, wonderful plant.
Reclining Spinal Twist:
Lay on the floor facing up. Draw your knees into your chest and give them a hug. Release the hug, and extend your arms out to your sides, forming a “T” with your torso. Palms can be face down or up. Let your knees gently drop to the left side of your body, resting on the floor. They may not completely reach the floor: that’s ok. You can let your feet rest on the floor and sink into that, or put an extra blanket beneath your knees. You want to be sure, though, to feel the stretch throughout your hips and back.
Once your legs are situated, turn your head to the right. Close your eyes and breathe deeply into your lower back and right side, feeling the stretch all the way up from your hips through your armpit and neck. Imagine any unhelpful energy or toxins being wrung out from your body as if from a sponge and being sent to your organs of purification, to be eliminated from the body.
After a few deep breaths, bring your knees back to center, followed by your head.
Repeat on the opposite side.
Additional Ideas for Lymphatic Flow and Breast Health
Some folks believe that going braless, even exercising braless, can aid in lymphatic flow.
Please give careful thought to the products you use on your underarms. The underarms are delicate areas that absorb everything you apply to them.
Remember, sweating is our best form of cleansing!
Generally, anything that brings FLOW to your body will support your health. This may include, but is not limited to:
Drinking lots of water and herbal teas
Pretending to be a fairy, fish, or butterfly
Coloring in coloring books
Dressing however you want to
Finding healthy ways to express anger and frustration
Expressing yourself with honesty and courage
Engaging in any form of art
Making choices that are right for you
Living your life as an expression of your authentic self