As recently as 2013, lymph glands in the brain were confirmed and named the glymphatic system. Researchers are currently exploring a possible link between the buildup of cellular waste matter and conditions such as depression, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson’s disease, autoimmune issues, and more. So naturally, as students and teachers, many of us may be wondering: How do we get this glymphatic system flowing optimally, and what kind of yoga practices can help us get there?
Based on Halloween decorations and even some anatomy books, we often think of the skull as an immobile single bone, but it has many moving plates. The jawbone, which is attached to the skull, moves quite a bit over the course of the day—the processes of eating, talking, yawning, and clenching mean it’s one busy piece of machinery! There are helpful ways to support brain drainage using oil massage and nasya (oiling the nostrils), but something you can do every day is a deep head massage with a couple of massage balls, tennis balls, or your hands.
My yoga therapy clients absolutely love the practices below, and many have found them helpful with sleep issues (sleep is the time when the brain cleans house), vertigo, and migraines and other headaches, including earaches.
Let’s see if this exploration leaves you feeling more refreshed.
Optional props: two massage balls or tennis balls
First, imagine your head to be soft and malleable to help release tension. Shift your jaw front, back, and from side to side as you massage your head: Use the heels of your hands or a couple of massage balls and start above your temples with deep, firm, circular movements. Circle five times in one direction and five times in the other direction.
Then massage above your ears. Again, use deep, circular movements, five in each direction.
From there, move your hands behind your ears—to the back of your head, just below the skull—and massage.
It may be hard to apply deep pressure from a standing position, so if you have massage balls, it can be helpful to lie down and place them just under your skull as you rock your head from side to side. (If you are using your hands, you can make fists for a similar effect.)
Now move to the top of your head. Imagine you have a center part in your hair (maybe you do!) and place your fingers or massage balls on either side, starting at your hairline. Massage your hairline five times in each direction, moving your scalp in a circular motion with firm pressure. Then move back a few inches from your hairline and keep massaging (again, five times in each direction). Continue until you reach the spot near the top of your head that, if you were a baby, would be a soft fontanelle. (In Sanskrit this part of the head is known as the bindu visarga).
Eventually you’ll move to your face. When you do, you can tip your head forward a bit and use two fingers to deeply massage alongside the nose, making five circles in each direction along the edge of the tear ducts and above the eyebrows. (Note: If you were using massage balls before, you will set them aside now and just your hands.)
Then take both hands to your right ear. Tilt your head to the right and start massaging the lobe of your ear, followed by the edges of your ear as you move toward the firmer cartilage (the tragus).
Open your mouth when you reach the tragus and grasp it, circling it five times in each direction.
Repeat on the left side.
When you’re done massaging your ears, center your head over your shoulders and sense the “reset” or “reboot” this practice provided.
Whatever you call it, your mind hopefully feels clearer, and even if you haven’t had a great night’s sleep, maybe you feel more alert. Repeat this practice throughout the day as desired or needed. A healthier, clearer brain is worth five minutes or so of our time. Try this practice five days in a row and see what you think!