Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sunburns: Breakdown (Part 1)

This doesn't have anything to do with yoga but a lot to do with my life. As a red head I get sun burns regularly. Summer or winter. Sunshine or overcast. I am far from a specialist about sun burns but I thought I would share a little bit about what they are, best ways to prevent them and how to treat them. (edit: this post got pretty scientific so I'm sorry if any of this is confusing. Please check out the sources I have notated for deeper explanations.)

Originally I was going to start this post talking about ultraviolet radiation but I thought maybe I would give you some background on our body's way of protecting ourselves from it first. In the bottom layer of our skin we have cells called melanocytes. These cells produce melanin and insert the melanin into melanosomes (specialized cellular vesicles). The melanosomes are then transferred into skin cells in our epidermis. Once in a skin cell melanosomes accumulate on the cell nucleus where they protect the nuclear DNA from being damaged by ultraviolet radiation (UVR). (source) Melanin protects the nuclear DNA by absorbing UVR and dissipating the energy as harmless heat. (source)

Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is produced naturally by our sun and artificially by sources like tanning bed bulbs. There are 3 types of UVR rays: UVA, UVB and UVC.

UVC has the shortest wavelength and the most energy, but it doesn't reach the Earth's surface because it's stopped by ozone in the Earth's atmosphere.

UVB light is between UVA and UVC in wavelength and energy and is the primary cause of sunburns. UVB light can cause direct DNA damage. Direct DNA damage happens when the radiation excites DNA molecules in skin cells, causing adjacent thymine bases to bond with each other, instead of across the "ladder". This "thymine dimer" makes a bulge, and the distorted DNA molecule does not function properly. (source). When this happens either type 1 cell-death is triggered, the DNA is repaired by our body or the cell is replicated with the damaged DNA. When the damaged DNA is replicated a DNA mutation will be present in the new skin cell. This mutation can result in cancerous growths. From what I can tell these growths form the two most common types of skin cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. For more information on skin cancer go here.

UVA has the longest wavelength, the least energy, and the most penetrating power of the 3 types. Of all the UV light that reaches the Earth, about 95% of it is UVA. (source) Studies have shown that increased exposure to UVA rays can cause pre-mature aging of the skin and indirect DNA damage. From my understanding indirect DNA damage causes malignant melanoma (for more details go here). Melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer but it is the deadliest causing 75% of skin cancer related deaths (source).

Tomorrow's post will talk about sunscreens (what's in them, natural vs. artificial, recommendations), how they work and what to do if you find yourself looking a little red after a day outside.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Yin Practice

I figured this would be an appropriate post after my last one since I struggle a lot with Yin.

Here is a bit of a background on yin yoga for those who are not familiar. Regular asana practice focuses on our muscles. On the strength and flexibility of these muscles. It isn't always but it can be a demanding practice. Poses like chaturanga and utkatasana focus on building strength. Whereas poses like uttanasana and prasarita padottanasana focus on building flexibility in the muscles. This is called our yang practice. Our active practice. Yin on the other hand is more of a passive practice. Yin yoga focuses on stretching our connective tissues, specifically our ligaments and tendons. It does this by holding postures for longer periods of time (anywhere from 2-8 minutes). When holding postures for this amount of time it forces us to become passive, to not use our muscles. When our muscles are no longer active we can get a stretch in our joints and spine. (To find our more about yin yoga go here) As with the rest of our life, yoga requires balance. Balance between our muscles and our connective tissues. Most asana classes will have a yin section at the very end but the poses are not held as long as in a yin class.

As much as I love how open and relaxed my body always feels after a yin practice, the practice itself, the whole 75 minutes is always a really hard struggle for me. One of the many reasons I love yang yoga is that you don't hold the poses for very long. Therefore my mind always has something new to focus on. On average a yin pose is held for about 5 minutes. This gives my mind time to a-wander or b-focus on how much I don't want to be in the pose. I'm not sure if everyone else feels this way during a yin practice but I know that I'm in the pose properly when it starts to feel like I'm old and I don't know how I'm going to get out of the pose. Which starts the ball rolling into a mini panic. I start to fidget and sweat a lot. I find myself saying "get out of this pose now, now, NOW!".

I want to clarify that I am never in pain in yin, you should never be in pain in any yoga practice. I just find it to be the hardest practice I can do mentally. I really hope this doesn't intimidate readers to try this out. Like I said above, I reap amazing benefits from my yin practice. I just wanted to throw my mental struggles with yin out there so that someone else will realize they are not alone if they have a hard time with yin as well.

And since I haven't posted any photos for a long time I thought I would show you some of the regular yin asanas.Anahatasana (image source) stimulates the meridian lines that run along the spine (urinary bladder lines) and along the arms. It especially helps to open our chests (heart and lungs). (source)

Dragons (image source) stimulates the stomach, spleen, gall bladder, liver, kidney and urinary bladder meridian lines. (source)

Saddle (image source) stimulates the stomach, spleen, urinary bladder and kidney meridian lines. (source)