Oak Edit

A Comprehensive Guide to Lymphatic Massage with Lisa Levitt Gainsley

January 10, 2024
Photos by: Bliss Braoudakis

If there’s anything we know about wellness, it’s that everything is inherently connected. When one system’s feeling good, the rest of our body benefits—and lately, we’ve been especially curious about a particularly buzzy facet of body care: lymphatic drainage massage. So we tapped author, podcast host, and certified lymphatic expert, Lisa Levitt Gainsley, to break down the basics (what exactly is our lymphatic system and why do we need to drain it?), share easy tips we can incorporate into our everyday, and explain all the glowing results we can look forward to. Keep reading—and don’t be surprised if it changes your life.

For those who may not know, what is our lymphatic system and what does it do?
Your lymphatic system is best understood as the circulatory system of your immune system. It’s the bonus set of plumbing that filters and removes excess waste, bacteria and toxins from your body. Just like your cardiovascular system, the lymph vasculature is made up of a network of capillaries, vessels, tissues and organs. One of the lymphatic system's main jobs is to transport waste fluid and immune cells throughout the body, absorb fat and proteins so they can be filtered out in lymph nodes before returning to the bloodstream. As we go through our everyday life, toxins can build up in the body and impact our overall health. Stagnant lymph fluid can be one reason you feel achy and sluggish, get more frequent colds, wake up with puffiness in your face or experience breakouts.
What aspects of our wellbeing are reliant on the function of our lymphatic system?
Nearly every system in the body is impacted by the lymph system—toxin elimination being the biggest function. It’s an essential part of the immune system, aiding white blood immune cells with the power to destroy harmful pathogens. It acts as a garbage collector, filtering out bacteria and toxins that can cause disease. It aids the digestive system by absorbing fat and fatty acids from your gut and transporting them back to your bloodstream making them available as fuel to your cells. It runs through the respiratory system, aiding the endocrine and reproductive systems and also maintains the fluid balance in your body by collecting, purifying, and draining excess fluids so your tissues don’t swell. Lymph sweeps immune cells through your body to weed out anything that threatens your well-being, making lymph your first line of defense against illness. This is how your lymph system keeps inflammation an underlying factor in many diseases—at bay. Lymph flows in one direction towards your heart, which is why self-massage, breath work, and exercise are invaluable to good lymphatic health.
What is lymphatic massage? Who should be doing it?
Everyone should be doing lymphatic massage! It’s basically a massage for your immune system. It’s a gentle, rhythmic massage that follows the specific drainage pathways of your body to increase detoxification. It’s a soothing massage that has a relaxing benefit to your nervous system as well. It’s recommended by doctors after surgery to accelerate healing. Your lymph moves slowly, but you can increase lymphatic circulation and elimination through self-massage, exercise and breathwork which can help reduce the toxic toll on your body and enjoy better overall health.
What kind of benefits can we expect to experience in our physical bodies?
Not only is your lymphatic system what keeps you healthy, but it can help you get glowing skin, reduce the appearance of fine lines, puffy eyes and acne. It can also improve digestion, diminish bloating and help your pants fit better! Traditionally lymphatic drainage massage has been used for its immune-boosting benefits including speeding up healing and recovery from colds and flus, athletic recovery, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and side effects from cancer treatment. Now lymphatic massage is being touted in the beauty circles to reduce water retention and assist in weight loss.
And mentally or emotionally?
People write to me weekly telling me how lymphatic self-massage has improved their mental and emotional well-being. Once you understand how the lymph system clears toxins, it makes perfect sense that it helps improve your state of mind.
If there’s one massage practice we ought to incorporate into our everyday, which is it and why?
Massage your Lymph nodes. That will create a vacuum effect of increasing lymph circulation systemically. Everyone could benefit from massaging their face and neck with their morning moisture routine to help reduce puffiness, soften wrinkles and accelerate the release of bacteria. More specifically, if someone suffers from digestion issues or menstrual discomfort I would have them rub their belly daily. If someone complains of dense breasts or tenderness, I would have them massage their axillary nodes in their armpits a few days a week too.
Beyond lymphatic massage, what are a few of your go-to tips for feeling your best?
Yoga, walking in nature, swimming, using my infrared biomat, being with friends and family, and taking an Epsom salt bath.

Three desert island skincare staples: Ilia Lipstick, Oak Essentials Dew Body Oil and Oak Essentials Hydra Eye balm.

Best beauty lesson: Get comfortable in your skin. The most beautiful people are the happiest people—it’s magnetic. Radiance shines from the inside out. Be kind and seek your soul’s purpose. Do lymphatic massage to clear out stagnation. Keep your body moving and you will be beautiful.

Most underrated beauty tip or tool: Lymphatic massage and dry-brushing—it’s so inexpensive, quick and easy. It will reinvigorate your skin, help with cell turnover and energize your entire body.

You feel your most beautiful when: I’ve just come out of the ocean on a warm day, and run up to hug my hubby and kids.

Recipe you can’t stop cooking: Turkey rice stew and Mushroom Tart. Both recipes I learned from Abundance & Co. cooking classes.

Current song you’re playing on repeat: Althea by The Grateful Dead.