I’m smiling at the news that the health benefits of sunshine may outweigh the risk of getting skin cancer from its rays.
Just in time for summer, new research has shown that exposing our skin to sunshine can lower blood pressure, cut our risk of heart attack and stroke, and perhaps help us live longer. High blood pressure is such a common condition (68 million Americans have it) that it leads to 80 times more deaths than skin cancer does. Now it turns out that when our skin gets sun exposure, a compound is released in the blood that actually lowers blood pressure. This effect is separate from the previously known benefits of Vitamin D from the sun.
Today we use the term “sun worship” to describe people who like to sit out in the sun and tan. But ritual worship of sun gods and goddesses goes back for millennia. People have long known and appreciated the life-giving force of the sun. It is the source of all energy and life on earth, through the process of photosynthesis and from the warmth it provides our planet. Sunrise and sunset are magical times of the day, when colors blaze across the sky. In yoga, we do sun salutations to open our practice by welcoming the sun.
So today I salute the sun for these life-giving blessings:
- Sunlight helps improve mood, and lessens the effects of seasonal depression. As Wilma Rudolph said, “When the sun is shining I can do anything; no mountain is too high, no trouble too difficult to overcome.”
- The sun provides Vitamin D, which helps us absorb calcium (keeping bones strong), and may protect against certain types of cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions.
- The sun powers our hot water heaters, homes, watches, and maybe someday, our cars.
- The sun gives order to our days, orienting us to time and space.
- Sunny days get us outdoors, so we get more exercise.
- The sun stimulates the production of melatonin, which helps us get a good night’s sleep.
- The sun gives us rainbows.
- The sun ripens and sweetens the fruit we eat. In the words of Galileo, “The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.”
And isn’t true that when the sun is shining, we feel as if it shines just for us? We bend toward the sun like flowers do, waiting to be opened up, growing just a little bit taller in its light.