Bodily Filtration (Today’s Daily Presence)

For today’s Daily Presence card, I chose the card focused on the lymphatic system. This is a body system I know little about in terms of how it actually functions. I’ve absorbed snippets of information, but, in investigating further, realized there is a lot I don’t fully understand. In order to pay mindful attention and honor an area of the body, I find more meaning when the biological processes involved are clear to me.

What I learned about the system is that it acts as a filtration setup for lymph, which in itself is a substance made of white blood cells that attack viruses and bacteria, as well as chyle which consists of fats from our small intestines. Lymph nodes are where the response to infections take place, so they swell when we are fighting off an infection because there are more white blood cells being produced. In addition, the lymph system helps to keep our body balanced in terms of fluids. Taken together, problems in these functions can spell trouble in terms of immune capacity as well as lymphedema (swelling) in affected areas of the body.

As I educated myself about how my lymphatic system functions, I found myself wondering how much it affects my experience of chronic pain and my general health and well-being. We can test our cardiovascular system with tools like a blood pressure cuff and pulsometer, but I am unaware of similar products to evaluate how well fluid is being drained or how well our lymph nodes are working to filter bodily invaders out. All I found in looking into this were “contrast MRI’s” and the like, although I’m sure basic bloodwork, with its white blood cell counts and all, gives some insight.

I also spent time looking into how to improve the function of my lymphatic system and was disappointed that there were few scientifically-reviewed practices available. One message I found repeated was the importance of drinking water to keep our bodies hydrated. If there are areas of poor lymph drainage, massage can be helpful but should be performed by someone certified in the process and only if a doctor recommends it based on a person’s medical status. Finally, the cardiovascular system is related to the lymphatic system, so improving cardiovascular health might help to reduce inflammation, which, in turn, may be beneficial to the lymphatic system.

All in all, I found myself both intrigued and frustrated by my exploration of the research on this topic as I do not feel as though I gained a full understanding of how it works or how to ensure I am doing what I can to improve its function. Whenever I get a professional massage, I feel queasy and odd for a few hours afterwards. I’m curious as to what my lymph systems “levels” look like after an experience like that. In thinking about my heart health, I will also consider now my immune system and how they interrelate. Finally, I find it highly relevant to how I work as a person to consider that our immune defense has a passive feel to it; to some extent, invaders are allowed to “flow” until they reach the filter, at which time all hell breaks loose and they get (hopefully) destroyed. To what extent do you bring conscious awareness to your lymphatic system? Does it represent anything on a spiritual or energetic level to you? Are there any actions you are taking to improve its function?

Habits of the Heart (Today’s Daily Presence)

Today’s Daily Presence card focuses on the circulatory system. In bringing mindful awareness to this part of my body, I chose to review habits in which I engage that can affect the health of one’s cardiovascular health. My goal in doing so is to examine more fully the context in which my system is operating and to consider where my energy will best be spent in promoting heart health. Habits are only one piece of the puzzle in regards to how well our circulatory systems function. Perfect habits do not guarantee perfect functioning, but I want to do what I can to mitigate other risk factors.

Exercise

I exercise several days a week by combining strength training, cardio and stretching. I feel that I’ve gotten quite a bit slower/less intense in my workouts in the last year or two, in part due to a shoulder injury and in part due to changing my medications so that my heart races more when I am working out vigorously. Once I get to about 130-140 bpm, I feel that I am not getting enough oxygen and have a hard time maintaining my pace.

Prior to the workout videos I’ve been using for years, I never been able to maintain any set exercise schedule, so I am hesitant to try to make alterations to what I’m doing for fear I will end up not working out at all. I have fallen into the practice of working out right after I eat lunch and then writing my blog post. I wonder if writing before working out would give me more time to digest and would therefor lead me to be able to push myself farther.

Diet

I have an addiction to junk food (I mean addiction here just as seriously as someone might reference an addiction to an illegal substance) and lose control over my eating as soon as I have anything deep-fried or sugary. I have to abstain totally and eat only home-cooked foods to stay on track. I’ve failed at this for several months and have gained 10 lbs, so I am now at least 20 lbs overweight. I feel that this is affecting my ability to exercise. I get my bloodwork checked each summer, so I have some time to hopefully get things on track again. My glucose does not run too high, but my triglycerides and cholesterol are a little over the recommended maximum, which can definitely affect my cardiovascular health.

A particular aspect of my diet I’ve become more aware of in recent years related to my circulatory system is the ratio of water to salt that I’m ingesting. I have orthostatic hypotension when I get dehydrated, which means my pulse rates shoots up from the 50’s to the 120’s when I get out of bed in the morning and I sometimes pass out if I stand up too quickly. I’ve found that I have to constantly drink water as well as have a little salt if I had any IBS flares, as I get imbalanced more easily than I thought I would. I also have to be careful not to overdo it on salty foods as I find my blood pressure rising when I do so.

Stress management

My favorite story (regardless of whether it is true) about Type A people is that heart doctors first investigated the connection between heart health and personality after noticing all the seats in their clinic had the edges worn off because patients were so impatient to get to their appointments. I am extremely Type A by nature and it takes deliberate, conscious effort to override the seat-wearing setting at which my body naturally runs.

All the work I’ve done on my blog the last few months is a testament to my attempts at managing my stress. Simply spending time writing posts like today’s slow me down and allow me to think, feel or behave in ways that reduce my anxiety and reframe my experiences. I still react with intense emotions to stressors, but thoughts such as “this is only one part of my life” or “I will handle this and it will end” are more likely to pass through my mind than ever before.

I will say that I was surprised to learn that everyday stress does not have the same direct link to heart health as the rest of the habits I’ve listed on this post. This makes me feel so much better because I’ve always interpreted my problems with emotion regulation to be horrific for my physical health, but conceptualizing reducing them as helpful but not life-or-death (in this regard) makes me feel calmer.

substance use

I am proudest of myself in this arena as I have not drank any alcohol for over a year. I never had a full-blown alcohol addiction, but I’ve had times in my life when I got drunk every weekend. I gained a lot of weight when this went on and became pre-diabetic, which motivated me to make a change. I am alright at watching my caffeine levels; I definitely have pulse rate issues if I over-indulge.

Conclusion

In sum, my diet stands out as the place where I have the most room for improvement. I at least eat a varied diet, some vegetables and fewer carbs overall than I have in the past, but I am consuming significantly more calories than my body needs and am, at times, eating food that is lacking in nutritional value. For me personally, my weight tracks very closely with my bloodwork and my overall health, so I would like to lose some weight and improve my physical stamina for exercise. I have gained and lost more than an entire person’s body weight at this point in my life, so perhaps I need to look at it as entering a period of healthier behaviors rather than conquering my issues once and for all. What habits do you consider crucial to your heart health? How do you make sense of your behaviors in light of their effect on your cardiovascular health? What changes, if any, would you most like to make?