The central nervous system, which has as a principal function keeping the organism informed about what is going on outside it, develops as the inturned portion of the general surface of the embryonic body. The rest of the surface covering, after the differentiation of the brain, spinal cord, and all the other parts of the central nervous system, becomes the skin and its derivatives – hair, nails, and teeth. The nervous system is, then, a buried part of the skin, or alternatively the skin may be regarded as an exposed portion of the nervous system. It would, therefore, improve our understanding of these matters if we were to think and speak of the skin as the external nervous system, an organ system which from its earliest differentiation remains in intimate association with the internal nervous system.
Montagu, 1986, cited in Badenoch 2018.
The Skin is the Portal to the Brain
Though we may not realise it, our skin is the portal to the brain (Badenoch, 2018). From early embryonic development within our mother’s womb, through our first skin-to-skin contact and exposure to the world around us, up until the very last time we feel the warmth of a loved ones embrace, it is our skin that absorbs the nutrition of the environment around us and continually informs our neurobiology. More aptly, from the moment of our physical creation to the moment of our physical death, the completeness of our sense of Self, and the being that we see ourselves to be, is informed and regulated by the way in which we sense, perceive, interpret, and respond to our environment. We are inseparable from the world in which we live and breathe.
One particularly vital element of the world in which we live and breathe, as it relates to the environment we provide for our mind-body for optimal health and well-being, is the exposure we give ourselves to sunlight. Sunlight, or specifically exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, is an imperative way in which our body maintains homeostasis. Sunlight is not only the regulator of our circadian rhythm (our wake-sleep cycles) through its effect on the production of melatonin, so too sun exposure is one of the keys in the production of healthy levels of serotonin and vitamin D through its effect on the skin and gut biome.
More specifically, adequate exposure to sunlight triggers mind-body awareness of light/dark day/night balance. This in turn signals the brain to release certain neurochemicals that generate our physical and mental states – including levels of alertness, digestion, mood, and pain – which in turn affects the diversity of our skin and gut microbiome; this diversity of microbiota in turn affects the totality of our immune system and our inherent ability to promote protection from prolonged inflammatory responses. As can be derived, the totality of our health and wellness is a cyclic continuum in which sunlight cannot be underestimated.
How do we rediscover the value of sunlight?
We in the Western world are beginning to discover our neglected senses. This growing awareness represents something of an overdue insurgency against the painful deprivation of sensory experience we have suffered in our technologized world… Personal frontiers seldom, if at all, permit the passage of a deeply felt communication across them. The human dimension is constricted and constrained. Through what other media, indeed, then our senses can we enter into that healthy tissue of human contacts the universe of human existence. We seem to be unaware that it is our senses that frame the body of our reality.
Montagu, 1986, cited in Badenoch 2018.
To rediscover the mind-body value of sunlight is to bring mindful awareness to it. By practicing meditation while getting as close to full-body skin exposure or as much “all-over” sun as possible you are allowing your skin to absorb the UV light required for healthy production and regulation of melanin, vitamin D, serotonin, T-cell movement, microbiota, as well as the production and regulation of LH and FHS (luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone) in women.
Melanin and Melatonin
Melanin is produced in the skin through UV light and is the chemical precursor to melatonin production. By maximising sun exposure mid to late morning our bodies circadian rhythm appropriates the regulation of the release of melatonin which in turn signals the bodies inherent sleep cues (Source).
Sunshine plays a fundamental role in the production of Vitamin D, and indeed approximately 90% of the Vitamin D that we get comes from sunlight. Vitamin D is an essential element in skeletal, nerve, and immune health. Moreover, it has been shown that Vitamin D assists in the normalisation of women’s menstrual cycles, sleep/wake cycles, mood regulation, and energy production. There is an abundance of literature that suggests in order for the body to absorb sufficient Vitamin D both the skin and the eyes must be exposed to approximately 5-15minutes of UV-B rays per day depending on the colour of our skin (Source; Source)
It has long been known that serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with mood disorders. Assisting in the regulation of emotional disposition, serotonin is produced mainly in the gastrointestinal tract (the gut) and is highly influenced by our microbiome however, the mood-enhancing effects of serotonin are triggered by our exposure to adequate levels of sunlight (Source).
Immunity & T-cells
Recent research has shown that sunlight has the potential to increase immunity assisting the body to heal approximately four times faster. The mechanism of such is separate to the absorption of Vitamin D and indeed research revealed that sunlight, or exposure to UV light, energises the T-cells within our skin and potentially within the internal immune system by increasing their vibration and movement (Source).
It has long been known that our skin and gut biome are inherently connected, as such it should not come as any surprise that exposure to sunlight affects the diversity and disposition of our gut microbiota. Recent research has shown that “humans with low [Vitamin D] levels display overt changes in their intestinal microbiome in response to [Narrow Band Ultraviolet B] skin exposure and increases in [Vitamin D] levels, suggesting the existence of a novel skin-gut axis that could be used to promote intestinal homeostasis and health” (Source).
Luteinizing and Follicle-Stimulating Hormones
Studies have been conducted, and there is evidence to suggest the influence of sunlight in the regulation and normalisation of women’s hormonal health, specifically as it relates to promoting the regulation of cycle length, reducing PMS, and assisting in the pain reduction of menstrual cramps (Source; Source).
With this evidence-based information in mind, and with the knowledge that this research indicates the potential of sunlight to assist in the prevention and management of more specific ailments such as digestive disorders (irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut); skin disorders (psoriasis, eczema, jaundice, acne); cancer prevention (hodgkin’s lymphoma, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer); mood disorders (major depressive disorder prenatal depression, seasonal affect disorder); as well as multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and infertility, we can acknowledge the potential for a daily practice of meditation undertaken in sunlight.
Indeed, it is now comprehended that the practice of mindfulness meditation with full-body skin exposure, or as much “all-over” sun as possible and allowing the skin to absorb essential levels of UV light which will in turn boost in the diversity of the microbiota, the movement of T-cells, the increase of Serotonin, Vitamin D, and Melanin for the regulation of sleep/wake cycles, digestion, menstruation cycles in women, as well as enhanced immunity and disease prevention. Accordingly, we have recorded, and provide for you, two complimentary meditations:
In this time of isolation, and indeed as we move into shorter days, do take the time to focus on your health and well-being. Remember, we are inseparable from the world in which we live and breathe – a world in which the healing potential of sunlight is readily available.