The first self care practice I would like to share with you is one that I personally love; Dry Brushing.
Lets dive in!
Dry brushing is a technique practiced in many ancient cultures. It is found in the Aryuvedic Medicines of India, in ancient Japan, and ancient Greece to name just a few. In modern day medicine dry brushing has been utilized by lymphedema specialists working with clients to help with edema and lymphatic issues caused by things like scar tissue formations after surgery and cancer. In this short article I will speak to the positive effects of dry brushing for preventative everyday use.
What is it?
Dry brushing is just as it sounds! It is a practice of gently brushing dry skin (no oil, moisturizer, essential oils, etc.) in a specific pattern on the body before showering. You can use a variety of brushes. Long handled or palm held, with many different natural and synthetic fiber materials and levels of coarseness. Because everyone has a different body shape and skin type, the type of brush that works will vary from individual to individual. The goal is something firm, but not too coarse. The intention is not to scratch the skin, but to polish it.
Here are five beneficial reasons to include dry brushing in your daily routine:
1) Lymphatic system health
The lymphatic system is a network of tissues, vessels and organs that work together to move a colorless, watery fluid called lymph back into your circulatory system (your bloodstream). Lymph nodes are located in clusters. Like gathering stations, where substances are processed and broken down before heading back into the blood stream.
Here are the main functions of the lymphatic system in the body:
- Maintains fluid levels in your body: As just described, the lymphatic system collects excess fluid that drains from cells and tissue throughout the body and returns it to the bloodstream, which then is recirculated through the body.
- Absorbs fats from the digestive tract: Lymph includes fluids from the intestines that contain fats and proteins and transports it back to the bloodstream.
- Protects your body against foreign invaders: The lymphatic system is part of the immune system. It produces and releases lymphocytes (white blood cells) and other immune cells that monitor and then destroy the foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that enter the body.
- Transports and removes waste products and abnormal cells from the lymph.
2) Skin care and Exfoliation
The skin is largest organ of the human body and has many wonderful functions. It is our body’s first level of immune defense. Protecting our inner structures from infections, toxins and allergens. Gentle daily brushing will help maintain skin health by increasing circulation to the skin and remove dead skin cells. Leaving you with softer, smoother, healthier skin. The practice also gives you the chance to observe and examine the skin on your body. You can pay attention to moles, scars, and tissue health. For example, especially dry patches you were not aware of. For this reason, I suggest dry brushing in front of a mirror.
3) Can support digestive system health
Our bodies are often quite responsive, even to subtle stimuli. By brushing the abdominal area in the direction of elimination, you can potentially stimulate peristalsis (healthy rhythmic muscle contraction) of the large intestine and encourage your lower digestive tract to function more optimally. While this may not be the most effective tool for promoting healthy elimination, it is worth mentioning.
4) Can reduce the appearance of cellulite
When looking deeper into mainstream/ modern dry brushing, I noticed that reduced cellulite appearance seemed to be quite a popular reason for dry brushing. I just want to preface this note by saying that cellulite is normal and common, and that I wish for all of us (myself included) to soften our hearts towards ourselves, and find compassionate and patient love for the bodies we are in. After all, its the only one we have!
So, how can dry brushing potentially reduce the appearance of cellulite? Cellulite forms in the layers of tissue between skin and muscles. Subcutaneous fat cells become adhered or puckered by fibrous connective tissue, creating dimpling. While you are dry brushing your body, the friction is not only causing exfoliation of the outer layer of skin, but also increasing circulation (blood and lymph) below the skin and towards the muscles. This increase in circulation is nourishing for cells, reduces stagnation and can also help soften the connective tissue fibers which are holding the fat cells in their positions. It can cause those areas to plump and appear smoother as the fresh blood and lymph are drawn there. In a way it is like waking up and refreshing sleeping tissue.
On a personal note- I find this practice temporarily effective over the areas of my body that have cellulite. It temporarily softens that which has formed. Which is pretty cool from an anatomy point of view! The temporary aspect reminds me that body maintenance is a continual relationship of cause and effect. Also, I am reminded that the concept and process of stagnancy is something to pay attention to. While cellulite is generally harmless, stagnancy in other areas of the body and life can cause quite a lot of discomfort and pain (physically, mentally, emotionally). This is a good reminder to keep moving, keep trying new things, and try to approach life with child-like, curious eyes, as often as possible!
5) Bring an element of ritual to your shower
Creating a daily cleansing ritual for yourself is like giving yourself a loving gift each day. In my opinion, this is reason enough to commit to dry brushing before each shower!
Truthfully, if you shower or bathe, you already have some version of a daily cleansing routine for self hygiene. Perhaps something time efficient and effective, that you have been mastering since the time you began to bath yourself. By slowing down and bringing awareness and intention to the steps you already do, a routine shower can become a meditation… a mindfulness practice.
By creating a clear beginning and ending, a routine begins to transform into more of a ritual. What this could look like:
- Lighting a candle and blowing it out when you are finished
- Putting some nice music on while you dry brush, shower and moisturize. Perhaps instrumental.
- Begin and end with a kind affirmation of selfcare that fits for you. For example: “I love and take care of this body”
- Similar to the above example, you can repeat a mantra to yourself for the entire length of the practice. A mantra is a meaningful word or phrase which holds your attention and intention as you care for yourself. For example: “I am whole” or “Love” or “flow”
You will need:
Access to a shower
Natural oil/ natural moisturizer
An undisturbed frame of time
Dry brushing most immediately affects the superficial structures of the lymphatic system. That is, the superficial vessels and nodes. Gentle strokes are made towards the regions where nodes are found in clusters. For example, the neck, arm pit, and groin. (see image below)
- If you have had any lymphatic tissue removed in surgery, your lymphatic system and its ability to filter and process lymph may be altered in that area. Moving lymph towards neighbouring healthy node clusters is often suggested. However, it is important to speak with a Doctor or lymphedema specialist for more specific instruction in this case.
- Exercise additional care when working with skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. In instances where the skin is inflamed, or open dry brushing should be avoided. Brushing over an open wound could introduce bacteria to the site and lead to infection.
There is no set timeline on how long to brush for. It can be anywhere from 3-5 min all the way up to 20. Just remember to be gentle and POLISH, not scratch.
After you have completed your invigorating full-body dry brush, step into your shower and allow water to remove the dead skins cells. It is highly suggested to end your shower with cool or even cold water after a dry brushing session. Dry brushing can leave the skin quite dry, so once you are out of the shower it is important to moisturize! Using natural oils such as coconut, sweet almond oil or sesame oil are terrific for this step. To continue the circulatory benefits of the practice you can try applying your moisturizing agent in a stimulating fashion. Create friction on the skin with vigorous, open palmed application.
I wish you health and wellness along your self care journey,
Stay tuned for the next article in the Radical Self Care Series:
“Cold showering for optimal health”
Waller, Pip. (2010). Holistic Anatomy, An Integrative Guide to the Human Body. Berkeley California: North Atlantic Books.