Davie Bicker Pixabay feet on sand beach water retention

Holding it in – what water retention in the body can tell you

In Health and Healing, Health and Nutrition by Judy PeteraLeave a Comment

Does your body retain water? It’s surprising to me as a bodyworker to discover just how few people realise whether they are or not…

If exercise is not always your friend, and the kilos have slowly been piling on over the years, chances are you might be retaining water. However, being heavy-set is not a definitive indicator. I’ve had very lean bodies on my table with the same issue. Water retention isn’t always visible. There’s a sense of fullness in the skin and a dry heat that can be felt first, especially in the hands or feet, but also legs, ankles and/or face. You may even find that firm massages are painful.

Lymphatic system

If you’re not already familiar, let me introduce you to your lymphatic system. It’s a network of vessels through which lymph drains from the tissues into the blood. It helps rid the body of toxins, waste, and other unwanted materials. And it transports infection-fighting white blood cells throughout the body. Notably, it doesn’t have a pump like the circulatory system (ie, heart).

Under your skin

Allopathic medicine would suggest that water retention is genetic, and doesn’t offer a lot of satisfying answers about why the body does it. But I’d like to offer an alternate answer. Being a firm believer in thoughts creating reality, I take ‘swelling’ to be a self-protection mechanism, both literally and figuratively. What is the body protecting itself from? Probably some form of inner conflict.

The lymphatic system (responsible for holding onto fluid) is just under the skin. Are you letting things ‘get under your skin’? Do you allow yourself to get easily irritated by the little things? Are you quite sensitive to others’ opinions and emotions? You’re not alone. And you were probably conditioned that way from an early age. But unlike the idea of being trapped into a genetic disposition for the rest of your life, understanding that you can change your thoughts, and hence change the way your body responds, is so much more empowering.

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Let’s get physical

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do the practical things as well. You may need to increase your intake of water: 2 litres a day is optimal, a little more if you’re partaking of diuretics such as coffee or alcohol. Eating fewer inflammatory foods (sugar, dairy, meat, etc.) would also be beneficial. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners can administer some wonderful herbs related to particular imbalances in the body that can cause water retention. Dry body brushing can be a very helpful daily practice.

Woman dry brushing her leg Cottonbro Pexels

And then there are bodyworkers who offer lymphatic drainage massage (a very light, deeply relaxing, but effective treatment) to help shift the fluid from where it’s held – through the nodes towards the ducts – so that the body can eliminate the wastes stored there and assist the immune system. It can be helpful during detoxes, after long flights and drives, during pregnancy. And it’s especially good post-surgery (once incisions are healed) to reduce swelling, improve healing, prevent excess scar tissue, and reduce bruising.

Emotional unpacking

However, practising mindfulness within ourselves (bringing our attention to the present moment without judgement) whenever feelings of being undermined, irritated, unjustly treated, helpless, unsupported, or when you’re supporting others and neglecting yourself, is more powerful than you know in bringing that deeper balance into your body. Doing this is an ongoing task. It requires a strong desire, the ability to focus softly and a change in perspective. Recognising the source of the feeling, practising relaxation (before it arises), taking time outs and deep breaths, getting some exercise, talking to someone who can hold space, and practising forgiveness are just some things that you can do.

And realise – your body speaks to you in gentle tones before it gets louder. Hearing it in the earlier, subtle stages, can be a huge blessing. My hope is that you’ll honour it and listen.

Please check with your remedial massage practitioner before making bookings whether they offer lymphatic drainage massage and are comfortable massaging post-surgery.

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Lead image: Davie Bicker, Pixabay. Body brushing image: Cottonbro, Pexels.

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