A tube of sunscreen passes from one hand to another.

At Farm Yoga, Doing my Part to Prevent Skin Cancer

Recently I wrote about going back to backyard yoga, and now I bring you farm yoga! But there's a twist - this fitness class actually turned into an opportunity for skin cancer advocacy.

Farm yoga, why not?

I hadn’t gone looking for farm yoga, but I was intrigued last week by a sign at the Mill Valley Milk Store here in Hadley, Massachusetts. I just went to buy local strawberries and ended up asking the check-out person about farm yoga. She told me that her roommate Aaron teaches it every Sunday, and he apparently makes good use of the setting. For example, some cows walked by just as he was leading us in a pose. I can’t remember what the was, but I do remember him saying, “You can do such-and-such… or you can watch the cows.”

But let's talk sun protection

In terms of sun exposure, it was both better and worse than the backyard yoga that I'd previously attended. It was early in the morning – 8 a.m. on Sunday – which is not everyone’s cup of tea. But the sun isn’t as strong as it was later in the morning for backyard yoga. Yet while backyard yoga offered various shady spots, farm yoga was in a field… and there was only one shady spot.

It was hot, and the sun was strong

It was hot for the early morning. A woman took her mat out of the sun and put it in the shade. The shade was right behind me, and I had been going in and out of it. Eventually, I moved backward and asked if it would be ok to share the shade. Thankfully, she said, "of course."

I decided to be honest about my skin cancer

I didn't want to disturb her, but I did decide to whisper that I had had a lot of skin cancer and needed to get some shade. She whispered back that her parents had had several spots removed and she knew to be careful. I was so glad that she understood and allowed me to share some shade. You don’t want to go do something good for your well-being and, at the same time, do something detrimental like incurring sun damage.

I also decided to speak up

Afterward, while some of us sat in the field and chatted, I decided to perform a public service of sorts, so I pulled out my Neutrogena zinc sunscreen for the face. The people sitting there didn’t know that many dermatologists now recommend zinc-based sunscreen over other types. What’s more is that Aaron, who is in his 40s and grew up in Brazil, said he had never used any sunscreen at all.

He taught me something and now it was my turn

I adopted my scolding old-lady voice and said something to the effect of, “Young man, you need to start wearing sunscreen!” I am no dermatologist, but I know a thing or two about skin cancer. He stretched his legs out just as the woman next to him put her arm out. They both asked if the discoloration on their skin was something to worry about.

I'm no expert, but I did my part

I of course was not going to diagnose them, but I did point out that although many people think of dark spots as the only sign of skin cancer, it can manifest in other ways. For example, I told them that it was actually flakey spots that signaled my squamous cell cancers. I also told them about my actinic keratoses from sun damage that I blamed partially on my years of lifeguarding and sunbathing. This entire interaction took about 10 minutes, but I think it helped change some minds.

It was a small gesture, but I think it meant a lot

I gave Aaron my tube of zinc sunscreen and said jokingly, “here's my payment for the class.” Since it was a small tube, it wouldn’t have covered much, so I went back to my car and took out a larger tube of CeraVe mineral-based sunscreen. “If you catch it, you can have it,” I said. He caught it and thanked me, and I went into the store for more strawberries.

I think I made a difference

As his roommate was ringing me up for the strawberries, I told her about the sunscreen. She pulled some of her own out and said she only uses mineral-based products. Then she smiled and said she had been trying to get Aaron to use sunscreen for quite some time.

It was the least that I could do for the nourishing yoga class. As I left, she said, “Thanks for sunscreen-ing Aaron.” It was a new word to me, but I got the idea.

Do you ever talk to people you meet about sun protection?

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