At the Cellulite Investigation, we’ve heard from ballet dancers who work out 6 hours a day and have cellulite, marathon runners with 7 percent body fat who have cellulite —even Jillian Michaels admits she still has cellulite!
Some self-proclaimed cellulite experts (mostly men) assert that cellulite reduction is a simple matter of burning calories and building muscle. This advice plays on our self-doubt and insecurities. Most women who have cellulite also have an underlying sense of guilt associated with the perpetual idea that they should be exercising more and eating less. “It works, I promise, you’re just not doing it enough.” We could always exercise more. When is enough enough?
Healing cellulite is not a simple matter of exercising more. You don’t have cellulite because you are lazy or because you don’t work out enough. You have cellulite because you are a woman living in the modern era which just happens to be the perfect storm for cellulite.
Modern forms of exercise focus on exercising muscle. Even “cardio” is about exercising the heart, which is a muscle. But cellulite isn’t a muscle thing. It’s a lymph thing. So instead of focusing on exercising muscle, we are going to focus on exercising lymph.
If you’ve read our Cellulite 101 series, you know that impaired lymphatic flow is a primary factor in the formation of cellulite. The lymphatic system is a central component of many eastern movement traditions such as yoga and Tai Chi.
The lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump to help circulate lymph throughout the body. Instead, it relies on a type of peristalsis that is stimulated by a combination of skeletal movement and pressure changes in the thorax during breathing. Knowing this, it is not surprising that some women see dramatic improvements in their cellulite after taking up yoga; yoga is all about combining movement with breath.
Bikram yoga is particularly effective for cellulite because the heat of the room accelerates detoxification through the skin. You can get the same effect at home by hopping into the sauna before or after doing your favorite yoga workout. (I linked to some of my favorites in the images here.)
If you don’t have access to a sauna, this infrared sauna from SaunaSpace is the one I use. It is an affordable option crafted in the U.S. from hypoallergenic poplar wood, and it uses near infrared lamps. In Sauna Therapy for Detoxification and Healing, Dr. Lawrence Wilson recommends near infrared saunas over far infrared saunas because of their low EMF emissions. For more info, see EMF Exposure and Far Infrared Saunas.
For a sluggish lymphatic system, gravity can be a difficult factor to overcome. This is why lymph often accumulates around the ankles —lymphatic circulation isn’t strong enough to move it back up to the major lymphatic ducts near the heart.
Rebounding is widely credited as the supreme exercise for improving lymphatic flow. In this study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, NASA scientists conclude that the magnitude of biomechanical stimuli is up to 68 percent greater when jumping on a rebounder compared to running on a treadmill.
Alternative health specialists suggest the varying g-forces experienced while rebounding, including the instant of weightlessness at the height of each jump, help stimulate lymphatic circulation. But the science behind exactly how gravity affects lymph is not well understood. NASA recently accepted a research proposal to study this topic further, but Dr. David Zawieja, the author of the study and the director of the Division of Lymphatic Biology at Texas A&M, admits the cellular mechanisms regulating the lymphatic contractions are still unknown.
We don’t have to fully understand the science behind rebounding before we can investigate its positive effect on lymphatic health. A basic rebounder costs as little as thirty dollars or you can invest in a gym-quality rebounder like the Maxiums Pro for two hundred and up. The ReboundAir is another popular option.
Inversion poses are an important component of yoga. Headstands, shoulderstands, even downward dog is a mild inversion pose. According to Dr. David Coulter, as quoted in Yoga Journal
If you can remain in an inverted posture for just 3 to 5 minutes, the blood will not only drain quickly to the heart, but tissue fluids will flow more efficiently into the veins and lymph channels of the lower extremities and of the abdominal and pelvic organs, facilitating a healthier exchange of nutrients and wastes between cells and capillaries.
Headstands and shoulderstands can be hard on the neck, but viparita karani, or leg-up-the-wall pose, is a simple and safe yoga pose that will help drain excess fluid in the legs. It’s the yoga equivalent of the doctor’s orders to “put your feet up.”
Another way to incorporate inversions into your daily routine is with a yoga trapeze like this one from YogaBody. Also known as a yoga swing, it enables full-body inversions without risking added pressure to the neck and shoulders. It easily mounts in a doorframe using a standard chin-up bar or you can use it on a tree branch or exposed beam.
Here are some video tutorials for various poses you can do using a yoga trapeze. Traction Jackson and Double Diamond are especially good for targeting cellulite. Inversions on a yoga trapeze also help alleviate back and shoulder pain, but they are not recommended for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, or glaucoma.
Foam rollers have been used in rehabilitation clinics since the 1970′s but they recently started popping up in fitness centers across the country. Rolling individual muscles across a foam roller helps to loosen the muscle fascia (the interwoven fibers surrounding muscle tissue) and improve circulation. This explains why the rolling pin treatment is something of an urban legend amongst cellulite sufferers.
Foam rollers cost as little as fifteen dollars and come in a variety of sizes and densities. A basic high density foam roller is a good one to use on the legs. For the back, I love using my Rumble Roller. It has deep ridges that are especially effective at breaking up tightly congested areas (the two main lymphatic ducts are located behind the shoulder blades). Here is a video demonstration of how to use a foam roller.
In yoga, pranayama is the practice of using breath to awaken prana, also referred to as qi or the “life force.” Prana is not defined in physical terms, but some believe it is manifest in lymph, the oceans of the body. Since breath is one of the factors that stimulates the circulation of lymph, pranayama and other breathing exercises are powerful ways to support your lymphatic health.
There are many types of breathing exercises you can incorporate into your anti cellulite strategy. Yoga instructor Donna Farhi’s The Breathing Book: Good Health and Vitality Through Essential Breath Work is a classic resource on the topic. Dr. Claudia Welch, author of Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life, describes the pranayama practice of alternate nostril breathing as the most powerful quick technique known for balancing hormones. Breathwalk: Breathing Your Way to a Revitalized Body, Mind, and Spirit by Kundalini yoga masters Yogi Bhajan and Guruchara Singh Khalsa is a helpful resource that focuses on breathing exercises while walking.