What is it?
A light massage that targets the lymphatic system (which moves fluids through the glands and lymph nodes) instead of the muscles. The technique, called Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD), is widely used in the medical and spa fields. In spas, the massage includes gentle skin-stretching strokes to rev up the sluggish lymph system. Doing so is considered a staple practice for reducing swelling,relieving fatigue, or helping the body detox (removing waste from our own metabolic processes, not heavy metals or pollutants), which why it's included in spa fasting, cleansing, and smoke-cessation programmes.
Emil Vodder, a Danish physical therapist, and his wife Estrid, a naturopath, developed the system of MLD in the 1930s, and their method is still taught to spa therapists at Dr.Vodder Schools around the world. Not all therapists practice the Vodder style; some learn lymphatic drainage through a course in massage school, or through training in Ayurveda or naturopathy. (A completely separate160-hour training is required in for medical MLD.)
What's it feel like?
Manual lymphatic drainage involves very light strokes. Some of the basic moves are "stationary circles," "pump," and "scoop"-no kneading or deep muscle work. It's essentially a draining process intended to firm and tone skin and to improve health, explains Jillian Wright, the owner of Glow Skin Spa in New York, who sees great improvement of dark under-eye circles with the Vodder method in facials, as well.
MLD can offer some relief for fluid retention brought on by travel, menstruation, or pregnancy. Also, some spas may begin the massage by dry brushing the skin, which is another means of accomplishing lymphatic drainage. Although herbal oils that promote detoxification are sometimes used, oil's not a big part of this massage, since there's not much friction created.
It's so much better than the name implies. Although the pressure's light, I've encountered several therapists who are lymphatic-drainage fanatics (particularly at The Montage, in Laguna Beach, California) and can provide additional advice for good health. I go for this massage as a jet-lag remedy, as a balancing treatment when I'm kicking carbs (again), or when I'm starting a week at a destination spa to help reset my habits.