Beyond Vitamin D – Sun and holistic health
As we explored in previous blog posts, sunlight is a vital factor for our circadian biorhythm and vitamin D balance. But there’s way more that the Sun can do for us – let’s take another look from a holistic perspective.
When we look back in history our modern, conflicted and even anxious, relation to the Sun is certainly an outlier. In this light, recent research on the benefits of sunlight can be seen as a rediscovery and confirmation of ancient wisdom.
This became apparent when Sun exposure was found to be a key remedy for rickets and tuberculosis, starting in the Industrial Revolution – a time when people used to cover their bodies from the Sun and sunbathing was virtually unheard of across Europe and North America.
Heliotherapy, the use of direct sunlight as treatment, has been known and used since antiquity, from ancient Egypt to Hippocrates and traditional medicine all over the world. The Hellenistic and Roman cultures had the solarium, which referred to an enclosed area for (therapeutic) sun exposure – before indoor tanning beds were cool.
Nonetheless the modern science of solar health benefits is worth looking into.
What does the Sun give us?
Life on Earth is hard to imagine without our solar provider. Most of all biomass, including our food, and many more resources are products of sunlight via photosynthesis and other processes. No wonder our health is linked so intimately to the Sun as well.
The Sun gives us light and radiant heat like an eternal and abundant generator. Sunlight spans the entire electromagnetic spectrum, mostly from infrared to ultraviolet wavelengths and visible light is only a small range thereof.
More than just heat
Light with longer wavelengths penetrates under our skin, which is one reason why infrared therapy can be so effective and pleasant. Along with this heating effect, sunlight has already been used as heat therapy for pain and injuries in traditional African medicine.
You might have heard that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” – while this quote takes sunlight in a metaphorical sense, it does indeed have disinfectant properties by heat and most importantly UV light and is used in water treatment.
In our bodies, sunlight seems to modulate our immunity on several pathways beyond just vitamin D synthesis. Sunbathing also helps to detoxify the body and skin, both with its actual disinfecting effect and by making us sweat.
Sunlight and eyesight
Another very important link between sunshine and human health is eye development. When we spend at least 10-15h per week outside under natural light, we can prevent myopia – short-sightedness – while enjoying many more benefits of the outdoors. Every additional hour per week seems to reduce the risk by another 2%.
Currently about 30% of the world's youth is already myopic, with trends indicating that this rate could rise to 50% by 2050 and myopia to become a leading cause of permanent blindness worldwide.
These stats emphasize the importance of applying this antidote of simply going outside, especially with our kids.
Sunlight and mood
We will all have experienced the impact of sunlight and darkness on our mood. As we explored in an earlier blog post, the natural rhythm of day and night is vital for our sleep cycle and biorhythm. But extended periods of little to no sunshine can really make us suffer, even in warmer winters.
This phenomenon can be defined as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and includes depression, lack of energy or moodiness. And guess what, when we substitute the missing Sun with light therapy and vitamin D supplements, people are or have less SAD.
To find the Sun when you need it most, use Shadowmap.
Spiritual practices with the Sun
The Sun has been worshiped all across human history. Many sun deities can be seen all over the world, demonstrating the close relationship we humans have always had with the Sun – not only linked to our health and the resources we get from it, but also to our spirituality.
The Sun salutation in Yoga might be one of the most famous examples and what better exercise to do in the Sun? The deep meaning ascribed to the Sun in Vedic tradition on the other hand is taught less often. Our star is seen as the eye of the world and pathway to the divine, mirrored by our inner sun – the heart.
In Ayurveda, naturally the Sun can be assigned to the fire element, that evolves from ether and air – giving sunlight the qualities of hot, sharp, dry and light. The ayurvedic solar energy varies throughout the day, with the early sunlight increasing kapha, the midday being pitta dominant and the evening Sun raising vata.
Surya Chikitsa or Color Therapy is another aspect of Ayurveda focussed on the healing properties of different colors of light for different organs and systems in the body. As sunlight consists of all colors of the rainbow, it can be absorbed directly by the body or in water, ghee, oil or honey. For this, the substance is placed in the Sun in an appropriately colored glass container and then stored for later use.
A more advanced ancient practice is sungazing. In this meditation form, you look directly into the Sun, starting with short intervals at sunrise and sunset, while experienced yogis might do so for the whole day. This is said to have a strong effect especially on the pineal gland - activating and purifying our third eye. Obviously sungazing comes with the risk of eye damage, at least when done incorrectly. Be advised!
No matter what your practice is, make sure to ask the Sun deity for good health!