Recently, there has been renewed interest in an ancient meditative practice called sungazing. The practice involves staring directly at the rising or setting sun to help focus attention and clear the mind and is believed to provide energy and promote healing. However, there is no scientific research to support those claims, and experts warn that sungazing, even for a short period of time, can be harmful, especially to the eyes and can lead to solar retinopathy, pterygium, cataracts and blindness.
Ancient cultures revered and worshipped the sun and its energy, and a connection between the sun and sight can be found in Greek mythology. The Greek god of the sun, Helios, was believed to heal the blind, and when the hunter Orion was blinded, the morning sun restored his vision. References to sungazing can be found in the early histories of Egypt, India, Southeast Asia, Mayans and Aztecs. Sungazing in more recent times became a popular form of alternative therapy around 1920, largely due to ophthalmologist William Horatio Bates’ endorsement of the practice as a cure for myopia and other ametropias. While current findings support the role of sunlight in myopia control, Bates’ sungazing method and theory are discredited. Oddly enough, or perhaps for the better, interest in sungazing came about around the same time that Sam Foster first mass-produced sunglasses. Now sungazing, also known as Sun Yoga, as a form of meditation is once again gaining popularity, although with what ECPs would consider to be weak caveats.
Sites advocating sungazing caution that it should be done only at sunrise and sunset, while at the same time encouraging building the gazing time from a few seconds to 30 minutes—more than enough time to harm the eyes! One site cautions to stop sungazing if the participant experiences blurred vision, sees spots, has discomfort, etc., and then suggests it isn’t being done properly if those symptoms occur. Not to mention that wearing contact lenses, sunglasses or other protective eyewear defeats the purpose, although squinting is acceptable.
It bears repeating that there is no scientific research that confirms the benefits of sungazing. Proponents of the practice, however, will tell you there isn’t any research that denies the claims of nourishment, reduced stress, better sleep and enhanced blood flow among others. As ECPs, we know the proven risks of permanent eye damage from looking directly into the sun. Here is one more reason lifestyle questions can provide important information about a patient’s eye health and provide us with an opportunity to educate them.
• Linda Conlin
Pro to Pro Managing Editor