Here in the West, Dec. 21 marks the beginning of winter, but in traditional Chinese medicine, the solstice brings winter’s pivot. At this time, we experience the world at its most yin: dark and inward. All elements of nature, including us, turn in. It is the time for the deep nourishment of our bodies, for stocking up on sleep, for healthy warming foods, and for reflection. Many of these practices are as easy to integrate as ever thanks to shelter-in-place orders.
From the darkness, we will begin to see more and more light—and we must let the sun shine in. Regular and smart sunbathing can relax nerves, regulate hormones, repair DNA, boost moods, improve sleep and eye health, increase muscle tone and more. Heliotherapy, or sunshine therapy, has been used to treat depression, tuberculosis, Parkinson’s and neonatal jaundice. The sun’s light is also a powerful bacterial antiseptic and can speed up the healing of open wounds and diaper rash. Between 50 and 75 percent of Americans are low in Vitamin D, which is vital for immune health. In fact, deficiency in Vitamin D is associated with increased and worse incidences of a variety of cancers, including melanoma. Over 2,500 studies indicate this. Vitamin D3 from the sun is water soluble, so it can travel in our bloodstream and support more systems. Vitamins D1 and D2, which we receive from supplements and food, are typically fat soluble and therefore more limited. Because of our modern indoor lifestyles, we have to make an effort to get our daily dose of D3 from our solar star.
The sun is an extremely powerful force and should certainly be treated as such, yet our bodies have natural defenses that allow us to interact with it safely. A sunburn is one of the body’s ways of letting you know it has had too much sun. When we block this natural reaction with SPF, it’s easy to stay out in the sun too long. Not to mention the toxicity of chemical SPF, which studies indicate is largely responsible for the destruction of our coral reefs. What do they do to our bodies? Your skin has natural SPF that works even better: melanin. Start bathing in sunlight now, at the pivot of winter, to gradually increase your skin’s melanin so that you can be naturally protected under the high summer sun. To support this process, eat high antioxidant and pigmented foods, such as chlorophyll, leafy greens, berries and colorful squashes. Drink plenty of clean water, and tan in the morning hours as opposed to noon and later. Also, nix the sunglasses. Our eyes need to interact with the sun in order to receive certain benefits, such as the regulation of hormones like melatonin. This interaction is successful in the shade, but not when wearing sunglasses. The recommendation for those whose eyes are incredibly sensitive to sunlight is watching sunrises and sunsets. It could be worse!
From the darkness, call the light into your bodies and beings. Sun safely and enjoy.
Clarie Segrist is a chef, dancer and somatic movement artist who lives in Forest Knolls.