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Book Report #7: The Healing Sun

Image by Jill Wellington from

Image by Jill Wellington from

Title:           The Healing Sun
Author:       Richard Hobday, PhD
Pages:           178
Publisher:   Findhorn Press, 1999 (There is now a 2021 version available)

Who would have thought you could write a book combining the three seemingly unrelated topics of vitamin D in human health, the history of sunlight therapy, and building and hospital design into one book.

Not me. But Richard Hobday did!

I bought this book about 15 years ago because I liked the title. It has been on the shelf, and in fits and starts I have picked it up and read portions. Turns out this book has a lot more to it, a lot more practical wisdom, than I had anticipated. I figured it was about getting a suntan. Well, it is and mostly it isn’t. We have been taught since childhood that the sun is bad and causes all sorts of cancers and problems. And yes, sun tanning, improperly practiced, can and will do just that, damage the skin.

But there is a big difference between suntanning and sunbathing, and Dr. Hobday attempts to explain how the sun’s energy can be put to good use for health, healing, and disease prevention. Just like anything else, the right amount at the right time goes a long way.

There is this idea in healthcare termed the “minimum effective dose”. Meaning, how much does it take to get the job done. If you are jumping a hurdle, you don’t need to clear it by 6″, you only need to get over the hurdle. The same is true in health and healing. How much is enough and no more? This is a key question when you live in a culture that proclaims loudly, “more is better”.  More is simply more and may actually be worse. Particularly in health. If sun is imperative for health, then how much is too much? How much is enough? What intensity? What duration?

Dr. Hobday attempts to answer these.

This book in three sentences:

  1. Sunshine is critical for health and long-term lack of sunshine can lead to a host of disease processes.
  2. Most cultures throughout history have had a sunshine component to all healing arts.
  3. The way our buildings, homes and hospitals are designed and constructed should maximize exposure to natural light and fresh air when possible.


I recently went with a friend and his wife to a cancer ward to speak with a physician about treatment options. One of the first things I noticed, was the examination room had no windows at all and therefore, no sunlight and certainly no fresh air. So, there we sat with masks on in a windowless, airless room talking about health!! I don’t know if it was because I was simultaneously reading this book or not, but the irony was not lost on me. Two of the most potent life-giving health promoting substances on the planet were completely absent! How far we have strayed from history and nature. Why don’t hospitals and hospital wards have fresh air and sunlight?

Dr. Hobday first tackles the link between lack of sunshine and the chronic degenerative issues and diseases common in our western culture. People spend too much time indoors, in controlled climates, he contends. This produces the net effect of decreased vitamin D synthesis in the skin. The decrease of vitamin D can be linked to almost everything from cancer to high blood pressure. We need vitamin D to function properly, and the sun is the best source. (In northern climates, like our own, vitamin D in the form of Cod liver oil, is the best source. We routinely have it available in our office.)  To make matters worse, we then go on “holiday” (Hobday is British) and spend way too much time in the sun, often getting burned. This all or nothing approach is what is causing us so much harm.

The second idea Dr. Hobday tackles is the history of sun therapy, aka heliotherapy. Nearly every culture has had some form of sun therapy attached to its healing methods. The idea that the sun is actually beneficial to human health is a rather ancient one. The Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Chinese have long understood the therapeutic benefits of sunlight and fresh air. Chapter 4 was indeed my favorite chapter. Hobday states, “Perhaps it is time to dust off a few old medical textbooks and find out what doctors did in the past.” (p. 86) I could not agree more. Our current medical system is filled with a sort of snobbery regarding therapies of the past, preferring the idea that new is always improved. We would do well to look backward, except for maybe leeching. (Editorial comment!)

The last bit of challenge Dr. Hobday encourages comes to how our buildings, homes and hospitals are constructed. Engineers and architects should be keenly brought up to speed on the idea that sunshine and fresh air should be incorporated, maximized, into every structure. This idea goes back to the father of architecture, the 1st century Roman Vitruvius, who implored those training in engineering and architecture, to have a grasp on building design for the health and well-being of its occupants. This included the maximum amount of natural light.  Indeed, there is an old Italian proverb, “Where the sun does not go, the doctor does.”

So, what does all this mean? Should we get out into the sun or not? Yes, and do so wisely.

Wise is gentle exposure, increasing over time. Morning sunlight is thought to be the best, without sunglasses, as the retina needs to inform the rest of the body and regulate circadian rhythms. Over exposure, meaning too much time and intensity, is deleterious. Frequent low level skin exposure to the sun’s healing rays is one of the most potent healing practices we have! And it’s free. If the recent pandemic has reinforced anything more in my thinking than this, I don’t what it is. Sunshine and fresh air would have been a boon to our communities. Hiding inside is the worst possible scenario.

So, get out there, in the morning if possible, and do it all year long.



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