The skin is our largest organ. It acts as a waterproof, insulating shield to protect our bodies from extremes of temperature, sunlight, and harmful substances. It is also wonderfully packed with nerves for keeping the brain in touch with the outside world and is the main visceral medium through which we connect physically with others. Healthy skin condition, thus, is integral to both our physical and emotional health.
Psychodermatology is the discipline of exploring the links between psychological health and skin conditions. This approach has its roots as far back as 1865 when Hillier implicated anxiety as a root cause of skin disease in his research. Indeed, more recent research has found that emotional stress deeply influences the immune system, which can then result in cutaneous illness. Associations have also been made between stressful life events and the onset of various skin conditions. The skin disease best known to be stress-associated, and by far the most extensively studied for this association, is psoriasis, with 40-60% of cases found to be triggered by stress.
In additional to having the potential of being rooted in psychological distress, skin conditions can also ignite stress and anxiety given possible physical manifestations including pain, itching, and tightness. Moreover, skin conditions, depending on their nature and location, can be highly visible and therefore prompt body image difficulties and appearance-related distress. Thus, shame and the desire to hide are known correlates of various skin diseases.
There is now a growing appreciation of how skin diseases affects children and adults alike. Note worthily, people with real or perceived skin imperfections in key body areas such as the face, scalp, hands and genital area are particularly prone to stress. Blemishes on other parts of the body can also cause significant distress. People with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, acne, psoriasis, and particularly men and women with facial conditions are more likely to be experience reactive depression and to be at risk of suicide.
In a recent study published in AYU Journal (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27011717) the clinical efficacy of Apamarga Kshara Yoga, which is steeped in Ayurvedic tradition, was explored in the management of vitiligo. Vitiligo is a long-term skin pigmentation condition which causes pale, white patches to develop on the skin due to the lack of the chemical melanin. Some people only get a few small, white patches whilst others get larger patches that join up across vast areas. These white patches are usually permanent. Whilst it is unclear as to what exactly causes such a lack of melanin, it has been linked to problems with the immune system (autoimmune conditions) and nerve endings in the skin. Perhaps the most well-known sufferer of vitiligo was Michael Jackson, who indeed experienced acute psychological distress, including low self-esteem, on account of his skin condition.
Apamarga Kshara Yoga is a classical formulation in Ayurveda containing ‘Apamarga Kshara’, an alkaline ointment. In the current study, a total of 50 patients were randomised into two groups. Group A (n=25) were treated with Apamarga Kshara ointment and group B (n=25) were given another formulation, namely Rasayana Churna. Significant improvements were found in the symptoms of vitiligo in both groups, although the Apamarga Kshara Yoga group had statistically greater benefits.
The current study was based in Ayurveda and did not contain any yogic asana, meditation or pranayama. More research into the area of yoga’s benefits for various skin conditions is desperately needed. Thankfully, experts in the field including Hasmukh Jadav and Galib Prajapati, recommend that people with skin conditions should be reminded of the interplay between skin disease and stress, and that the importance of stress reduction through practices such as deep breathing, meditation and yoga should be emphasised.
Yoga’s benefits to people with skin conditions perhaps become clear when we consider that yoga stimulates the parasympathetic (‘rest and digest’) nervous system, which reduces the body’s stress respond. This, subsequently, can have a huge influence on the immune system. Studies have also shown that yoga can quell inflammation in the body, which is a common correlate of autoimmune disease of course. We are convinced of these benefits here at the Minded Institute and, therefore, explore yoga therapy for skin conditions extensively in our flagship 500-Hour professional training, the next of which begins in March 2017. To attend our Taster Day on 30th April in London, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to see you there!