You’ve tuned in to week three of our series on meditating your way to itch-free skin. Another week of meditation work calls for another extension to your meditation sessions. Add just a few more minutes—you should be up to around 10 by now. If you’re just now joining us, click back to week one and week two of this challenge to learn how to get started.
We’re not talking about nixing your psoriasis treatment protocol in favor of a mind-body approach to healing. But since stress is a common trigger for psoriasis flare-ups, per the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, it makes sense that reducing stress via something like meditation can allow your body to be in a place where you can really maximize your treatment strategies. It’s something Reena Ruparelia, of Toronto, Ontario, knows well. The lifelong psoriasis warrior discovered meditation a decade ago on a silent retreat (meant to ease her work-related stress) and she’s never looked back. Meditation helped transform the way she thought about her skin so much so that she became a meditation coach to help other people harness mindfulness to reduce stress and improve both their mental health and skin health.
Evan Rieder, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Health in New York City, often recommends mindful breathing techniques to his psoriasis patients to help them get a handle on their stress, which is a very common trigger for the skin condition. He recommends incorporating deep breathing exercises three times a day, so even if it’s just a minute or two each time, it can help reset your body and brain. This week, Dr. Rieder explains some of the specific techniques he recommends that you can do anytime, anywhere.
Goal: 10 Minutes-a-Day of Meditation
Wondering how you’ll fit this extra meditative time into your day? Try splitting those 10 minutes up, which means you’ll be meditating more often but for short durations. Maybe set aside a few minutes in the morning and then another few in the evening. Or try for midday, when you could really use a calming breath or two. Better yet: Do it all three times.
Since you’re adding more time and potentially more sessions, you may be looking for something else to do besides just breathing. There are far more meditation techniques than just breath work—though you’ll use that in everything else you do, which is why it’s best to focus on that when you’re just starting. We already talked about imagery, but other more physical tactics like body scanning, progressive muscle relaxation, and positive affirmations can all add to your stress-relieving routine and maximize the benefits for your brain and body.
Make a Mantra
Mantras are the proof of the power of positive thinking. For Ruparelia, getting a handle on her psoriasis and preventing it from consuming her thoughts required a lot of work retraining her thinking. Breath work was a good start, but she really had to dig deep and detangle her thoughts and beliefs about herself and her skin to get to a place of acceptance and self-love. Mantras are a great way to redirect your thinking and change your outlook in the moment, and ultimately, long term.
For example, Ruparelia shares that she used to have a ton of social anxiety. “I have psoriasis on my hands and I was working in HR, so I had so much anxiety about meeting new people, shaking hands, networking,” she shares. “I thought, ‘What will they think when they see my skin?’” Same thing whenever she had to wear a dress to a wedding or social event. So, she started doing breath work and repeating positive affirmations over and over to herself. “I remember riding a bus for the first time in shorts, holding onto the railing and saying, ‘I love and accept myself.’ I had to keep doing it because I was so nervous.”
For Ruparelia, this had a real “fake it till you make it” effect. “Meditation helped me with calming some of those immediate overwhelming sensations, and I started to convince myself that I believed the things I said if I said them enough,” she says. “Putting on the confidence was like putting on a costume and [I used my thoughts] to remind me that everything was OK.” Research shows that anxiety and depression are common in people with psoriasis (and can exacerbate the condition), so it can be especially helpful to have these coping tools on hand to reduce negative feelings and stop you from spiraling during a flare. Of course, while meditation can definitely help, it’s important to talk with your health care provider about any mental health symptoms you're experiencing so they can help you get the treatment you need.
Do a Body Scan
The body scan is an easy add to your breath work that will just get you focusing on how your body feels. Again, you’re not there to judge, just simply to observe how your body feels today in this very moment. Ruparelia recommends adding the body scan to your breath work if you’re curious to explore more in your meditation routine. Start by scanning the top of your head, then move slowly to your torso, to your legs, and to your feet. Your meditation app likely has some guided body scans that can help you get started.
Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Dr. Rieder recommends this to his patients who need some help reigning in stress levels. It involves tensing one group of muscles at a time as you breathe in, and then relaxing them as you breathe out, before moving onto the next muscle group. You start with your hands and move up your arms to your head and then back down your torso to your legs. So instead of focusing just on your breath, you’re also focusing on bringing awareness to your body.
And it’s really effective. “What happens is there's a feedback mechanism that happens on the HPA axis, which is the axis of stress. In times of stress, that gets upregulated and anything you can do to break down that cycle is good,” he explains. When you breathe deeply or do progressive muscle relaxation, you’re essentially disrupting that feedback loop that happens when you’re stressed, he adds.
If you can, Dr. Rieder suggests using this technique twice a day: Once in the morning before you start your day, and once before bed to help you wind down. “People are often not able to finish their muscle relaxation because they fall asleep,” he says. Sounds dreamy... and worth a shot!