Everyday Ayurveda by Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya
One of the serious concerns today is low Vitamin D levels, which appears to be a risk factor for a host of diseases related to bone and calcium. Calcium is important for muscles, heart function, gut function, and transmission of neurological chemicals in the brain.
With such a rise in the past two decades of people showing very low vitamin D levels in the blood, scientists are tracking the how and why. When this fat-soluble vitamin, that is stored in the body easily, is not held inside, logic tells us it signals a deeper problem, especially because the body can produce it from sunlight and skin.
Increasing data on the benefits of basking in rays of the rising sun counterbalance the data on melanomas and the need for sunscreen and protection from the sun and low vitamin D. The Sanskrit sloka from the Matsya Purana, one of the ancient books of Indian philosophy, tells us that arogyam bhaskara-dichhet (early morning sun rays) are the giver of good health.
Considered the oldest systematic philosophy and science conceived by man and continuously followed through time to the present day, the Vedas are not a religion but rather a worldview of living in alignment with the subtle forces of nature. Written circa 25,000-10,000 years BCE, the Vedas describe forces only recently discovered by physics and chemistry. Several rituals emphasized the importance of the early rising sun, including Surya Namaskar, a series of yoga movements facing the morning sun, with mantras to be evoked facing it, like the one my mother does each morning.
While Eurocentric scholars like to term Vedas as mythology, it is no more mythological than quantum physics or entanglement theory or the electromagnetic field around the earth or the underpinnings of ecology. We cannot measure these scientific principles, yet we can see their effects. Likewise, we can see the effects of the recommendations in the Vedas. The Vedas are a seamless integration of a multitude of sciences that explain how to interact with the world around us.
Of course, biology tells us that the biosphere is sustained by the Sun, and weather patterns are deeply affected by the undulating heating and cooling during rotation and revolution of the earth around the sun. But there is something specific about the rays of the morning sun being more beneficial than its rays at any other time of day. The ninth chapter of the Atharva Veda describes twenty-two diseases that can be cured by the rays of the rising Sun.
The Vedas claim that the sun can heal heart problems, jaundice and anemia. Long ridiculed as far-fetched claims, science is now discovering the importance of those orange-red rays increasing vitamin D, produced by the skin from the sun, in modulating hormones and enzymes that affect the heart and blood. Indeed, premature babies are laid in incubators with both infrared and UV light. Infrared light provides growth of organs and tissues. UV light cures their neonatal jaundice. UV is ultraviolet light, at the highest frequency just beyond the violet color of visible light, around 380 nm in length. Infrared is infrared rays of light which are not visible but are at the lowest frequency and longest wavelength just beyond the slow red color of visible light, around 780 nm in length. Understanding their medicinal use is a topic of medical physics being explored by scientists around the world.
Ayurveda keeps it practical, advising you go find the morning sun if the weather allows. Its rituals protect and restore the body and allow laypersons who do not know science and technical aspects of light to benefit from the basic right to access nature’s powers. The communication between the sun’s rays and your tissues is on a subtle level not yet appreciated by modern sciences.
Over a thousand different genes, governing almost every tissue in the body, are now known to be regulated by the active form of vitamin D3, including several involved in calcium metabolism, endorphin and pain regulation, blood pressure through modulation of renin in the kidneys and the optimal functioning of the neuromuscular and immune systems. There is also a connection between vitamin D deficiency and the development of diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Vitamin D also induces cathelicidin, a polypeptide that effectively combats both bacterial and viral infections.
When people are exposed to sunlight or very bright artificial light in the morning, their nocturnal melatonin production occurs sooner that evening, and they enter into sleep more easily at night. This hormone from the pineal gland also plays an important role in countering infection, inflammation, cancer and auto-immunity. How does it know? Each day the trend of an earlier sunrise and a later sunset is clocked by the body and its rhythms in a spiral flow through time. Soon, scientific chronobiologists will discover what pre-scientific wisemen knew from watching cycles in nature.
Unprotected sunlight exposure has been discouraged mainly due to melanoma risk. However, reports also state that 0.1% of the human population is at risk of UV-light-related diseases, whereas 50% of the human population is at risk of other diseases from lack of sunlight exposure. In general, the intensity of UV rays at the end of the day is higher than at the beginning of the day due to latent rays in the atmosphere from the main part of the day. The safest compromise seems to be to take in sunlight when the UV Index is very low and the infrared index is high, which is in the earliest morning. Go watch the sun rise.
This column is dedicated to my colleague Alice, who has been healing chronic diseases in patients for three decades using color light therapy.
The South Asia Times Columnist Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya is a Fulbright Specialist 2018‐2023 in Public Health and Clinical Asst Professor of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York. Her bestselling book Everyday Ayurveda is published by Penguin Random House. [email protected] | www.drbhaswati.com