Confessions of an Ayurvedic Counselor: Part 1, Tanning

I admit to using tanning beds. There, I’ve said it. Why you ask would an Ayurvedic Counselor who writes about the necessity of using natural methods to prevent disease be exposing his body to an electronic artificial light? Before you judge me let me provide you with some background. First, I live near 49 degrees northern latitude in the notoriously cloudy Pacific Northwest, and during winter it can be quite dark around here. Second, I’ve noticed that during these dark winters I don’t have nearly as much energy as I do during the bright summer months. Like many people in the northern latitudes I experience a mild case of SAD every winter, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. There are many small steps I take to try and counter the darkness here during the winter months. I purchased and regularly use a blue LED device for light therapy while working at my desk. I take vitamin D liquid drops daily that are made of cholecalciferol, an extract from sheep’s wool. I’m moving away from supplements and this is the only one remaining that I take these days, but that will have to be the subject of a future post. I also have an apartment with a very large west-facing window overlooking the bay, and of course I exercise as much as possible. If you haven’t gathered by now, the purpose of using the tanning beds is to combat the winter blues, not to get a golden tan. It is important to note that my current dosage is only 6 minutes every 7 days, which equates to about 2.5 hours over the course of the six darkest months of the year. I started with 8 minutes and found that made my skin dry. It’s still a work in progress, and I may ultimately determine that the risk outweighs the benefits, but for now I do know that it works. Yes, it does work, especially the day of the session. In fact, the first couple of sessions I made the mistake of going during the evening and had difficulty falling asleep those nights. That makes sense, doesn’t it? It is as if you are sending a very strong message to your body that says “time to wake up now with the rising sun”, but it’s evening and you should be sending your body the opposite message. A morning tan would definitely be ideal, and may even be better than a cup of coffee.

From my perspective, this is a difficult subject to write about because it is a stretch to call tanning with artificial lights a natural therapy. However, I did receive the idea from an experienced Ayurvedic Practitioner, and there are a few lessons that can come from this discussion. First, it highlights the changing of the seasons and how we often ignore, or fail to realize the affect that the season can have on our mind and body. Everyone knows what day Christmas is and when the New Year starts, but how many people realize when winter solstice is? Today is the shortest day of the year; I think that is at least worth noticing. Second, consider the massive pharmaceutical industry, and how many millions of people are taking anti-depressant medications. I’m willing to bet that 6 minutes of tanning is less dangerous than the side effects from taking pills every day. Now lets return to my other strategies to counter SAD. There’s no doubt that living in a bright apartment with large windows is a natural remedy, and the same can be said of exercise. My blue LED light seems relatively harmless, so not much to discuss there either. The vitamin D drops are extracted from sheep’s wool, so while they are natural, they do undergo some processing that makes them questionable to me. Again, I’m moving away from supplements these days and towards whole foods, and there are ways to incorporate vitamin D into your diet. If you eat animal products, then be sure to select animals that live on pasture and have access to sunlight so they can create vitamin D in their bodies. There are many other reasons to choose pasture-raised animals, but for the purpose of this post that is enough for now. Finally, if you do tan for light therapy, be sure to apply some high quality plant based oils to your skin afterward to counter any dryness. The lady at the tanning business aggressively tried to sell me lotion from a full shelf of products they were selling. Out of curiosity I read the label and saw a huge list of difficult to pronounce chemicals, so I made the easy decision to pass on her offer. The funny thing is the top of the label had a warning in bold letters “For External Use Only”, which made me wonder what happens after the lotion is absorbed internally through your skin. Well, that sounds like the subject of a future post, until then…