The top seven results of a Google search for the terms “skin” and “yoga” are all about the most superficial aspect of skin – not the health of the skin, but how it appears.
Search results promise yoga for naturally glowing skin, 6 powerful yoga asanas for glowing skin, 5 yoga poses for beautiful skin and more.
In her book Yoga Cures: Simple Routines to Conquer More Than 50 Common Ailments and Live Pain-Free, Tara Stiles offers practices for four specific skin conditions: acne, cellulite, dark eye circles, and wrinkles.
Working under the theory that stress causes acne, Stiles prescribes stressful asanas—plank, chataranga dandasana, side plank, and bow. By simply learning to stay calm through challenging asanas, Stiles asserts, practitioners will limit the negative impacts of stress, thereby reducing acne.
We can appreciate this idea, and recognize that learning to stay calm in stressful situations is a general benefit of practicing many yoga asanas. But the truth is, the development of acne follows a significantly more nuanced course.
Most studies of exercise and skin health focus on the effects of sweat on skin tissues, which is generally beneficial unless accumulated sweat is left on the surface of the skin for too long. “Yoga detox” classes, which promise to rid the body of toxins and beautify the skin, perpetuate the myth that sweating is a significant means of detoxification. It isn’t.
Healthy skin depends primarily on a healthy diet and minimal exposure to the sun, and it is deeper than the skin’s most superficial layer. The appearance of our skin reveals information about physiological conditions, which tend to be overlooked or ignored by resources claiming that common skin issues can be treated with yoga poses.
Tempting as it may be to believe that a specific set of asanas or pranayama practices can “clear up” or heal our skin issues, skin appearance is the product of the functioning of every human physiological system.
So, is yoga good for our skin? The answer is yes, but not necessarily in the ways we’ve been told. Research shows that the best predictors for healthy skin are general health, properly functioning systems, and minimal sun exposure. Paired with a well-balanced diet, a regular yoga practice helps to ensure overall health, and is in fact a great place to start.
For those interested in taking things one step further, ayurveda treats skin issues through the balance of doshas. Pacifying treatments can be applied to each doshic constitution:
- The vata person, who tends to have dry and thin skin could drink warm water, eat sweet fruit, add oils to the diet, and receive abhyanga or warm oil massage.
- The pitta person, who tends to have reddish and warm skin, could avoid spicy food, eat sweet fruit, receive a cooling rose oil massage, and use cooling spices such as fennel in cooking.
- The kapha person, who tends to have oily and thick skin, could avoid sweet and fried food, receive daily abhyanga, cook with warming spices such as ginger, and exercise to stimulate circulation.
After all is said, we are left with what can done. If you want healthy skin, cultivate general health, in part with a well-balanced yoga practice. And rather than doing yoga on the beach, try doing it under a tree or in a yoga studio.
This article has been adapted with from Yoga Therapy: Foundations, Methods, and Practices for Common Ailments Pre-Order Here.