An Ayurvedic Guide to Safe Sun ExposureJun 26th
Summer is the time to get outside—but first, we need to know how to safely interact with the sun. In this article, we share Ayurvedic strategies for healthy, balanced sun exposure.
The Nature of Summer
In most of the northern hemisphere, summer means sun. Whether you crave it or fear it, our experience this time of year is largely defined by our interaction with this celestial body.
And it’s a complicated relationship. On one hand, sun exposure can improve our mood and provide us with Vitamin D. On the other hand, overexposure can lead to sunburn (and potentially skin cancer) and create an overabundance of Pitta (fiery energy) in the body.
Ayurveda teaches us that health is a matter of balance, so our relationship to the sun should follow suit. In this journal entry, we’ll cover a handful of Ayurvedic strategies that you can employ before, during, and after sun exposure. By doing so, you’ll enjoy the best of summer while remaining physically, emotionally, and spiritually balanced.
Before Sun Exposure
Don’t Skip the Basics: This is what most of us think of when it comes to sun protection–and for good reason. Using non-nano mineral-based sunscreen and wearing long layers along with a wide-brimmed hat are easy, effective ways to minimize the harmful effects of sun on both the skin and our internal systems.
That’s because sunscreen and clothing do two things: First, they reduce the amount of UVA and UVB light that reaches our skin. That’s important because these two kinds of light are strongly correlated with a variety of skin cancers.
And second, mineral-based sunscreen and long layers reduce the amount of solar heat that is absorbed into our body. This is important because summer is Pitta season and too much additional heat from the sun can easily throw us out of balance.
(Fun fact: The temperature readings you get on your favorite weather app, television channel, or radio station are actually taken in the shade. The temperatures you experience in the direct sun are hotter–often by a significant margin.)
It’s More than Skin Deep: While it’s critical to consider skin health, it’s equally important to consider the effect of sun and heat exposure on our overall health and balance. Sun and heat can quickly throw your entire system (including your mental health) into imbalance, especially if you naturally have a lot of fiery energy..
According to Divya’s teacher Vaidya Mishra, the best way to prepare for the summer sun and heat is to make sure your vibrational and physical channels are open and balanced. Otherwise, the fire in your body will become stuck and begin to accumulate in various locations and organs. These blockages create excess heat (and stress!) and can lead to further imbalance in the body.
The best way to prepare your vibrational and physical channels for summer is through a spring detox. But whether you’ve detoxed or not, once summer begins you should focus on cooling, Pitta-pacifying foods and practices that support open and balanced channels.
Foods like zucchini, greens, and fennel are great for cooling the body from the inside out. We especially recommend pairing them with our Soothing Kitchari. Coconut in any form is incredibly balancing in summer. It’s also important to eat only when you’re hungry. If the heat reduces your appetite, you might want to adjust your meal schedule to 10-11 am breakfast/brunch and 5-6 pm dinner, with an optional fruit snack in the afternoon.
Equally essential are practices such as meditation, pranayama, acupuncture, and certain forms of energy healing. These practices provide powerful support for the body, and for the vibrational and physical channels in particular. According to Vaidya Mishra, “Nothing will work, no dosha pacification or balancing will have an effect, unless the channels are in good condition and able to carry physical or subtle materials all over the body.”
Finally, it’s important to be well hydrated before, during, and after sun exposure. Prepare yourself by drinking spring water, Divya’s Hydrating Drink (taught to her by Vaidya Mishra) or fresh coconut water.
During Sun Exposure
Timing is Everything: As much as possible, schedule your outdoor time before 10am and late evening. These are the coolest times of day, which is important for balancing Pitta (the moon’s rays are especially cooling). It’s also the part of daytime when there’s the least amount of UV radiation, which is important for avoiding skin damage.
It’s also wise to minimize your direct sun exposure during the hottest part of the day (roughly 10am-2pm) for the same reasons. If you must be out at this time, stay in the shade as much as possible even if you have good coverage from clothing.
In addition, polarized sunglasses can protect your eyes and help keep Pitta in check.
Practice Self-awareness: Simply put, listen to your body when you’re outdoors in summer. It will let you know when the sun and heat are pushing your Pitta out of balance. This is important because, not only do you want to minimize overheating in the summer, those same signals will alert you that you’re at risk for sunburn or sunstroke as well.
Continue to drink hydrating, cooling liquids for the duration of your outdoor time.
After Sun Exposure
Coconut, Coconut, Coconut: Even after you step indoors, the body is still working to cool and rebalance itself. For that reason, it’s important to maintain hydration after sun exposure, especially with coconut water.
Coconut oil or rose water can be applied on the skin to help cool the body (It can also be applied, along with sunscreen, before sun exposure as well).
If you experience sunburn, apply coconut oil, cultured ghee, or the inside of fresh aloe leaves daily until the burn has healed. They each help remove excess heat, which prevents further damage and reduces the likelihood of peeling skin. A lukewarm (not cold) shower or bath is also a great way to draw heat out of the body.
Finally, if you feel overheated, stressed, or you’re struggling with turbulent emotions (all signs of potential Pitta aggravation), meditation and slow deep breathing will help settle the nervous system and restore balance to the vibrational channels.
If you’re interested in learning more about staying balanced in summer, read this article by Divya’s teacher Vaidya Mishra. It’s filled with great information and includes a comprehensive list of foods, supplements, spice mixes, and teas for pacifying Pitta.