I’m a bird nut. It’s a little embarrassing but possible to find me out in an open field or local park decked out in a harness with my binoculars and camera, sporting a goofy hat and lots of sunscreen. My hope is to catch a glimpse of some unusual bird to photograph or add to my life list.
It’s interesting though, that depending on the season, bird behavior changes dramatically. The best time of year for viewing, in my opinion, is the spring. The birds are migrating, nesting, and a little bit…crazy. They’re everywhere, active, and easy to see. As summer progresses, the birds calm down some and you have to look a little harder, and in the fall they get a little anxious about fattening up for the coming migration or for hunkering down for the winter. During the winter, my best bet is always checking out which birds are hanging out at the feeders, and who shows up often depends on the mix of seed available.
We humans act a little like the birds, especially those who live where seasonal changes are dramatic. Here in Minnesota, the first spring day that the temperature climbs into the 40s, you can find people out in droves wearing shorts and t-shirts. After the long and cold winter, like the birds, they too get a little crazy. We calm down a little in the summer—still active but not quite so manic. As winter approaches, many of us humans want to slow down and gain a little weight—long-ago vestiges of when we really had to survive the cold, dark months.
Clearly nature has its own patterns and processes, and seasonal changes are only one example. It seems though more and more that researchers and innovators are tapping into the wisdom of nature for the benefit of mankind. For example, a great deal of research has highlighted the health benefits of spending time in nature. The practice of simply walking in the woods, dubbed Forest Bathing, can decrease stress, increase immunity, and lower your blood pressure.
A second example appears in Tom Friedman’s newest book, Thank You for Being Late, in which he describes a world in which technology, climate, and markets (how we make and buy stuff) are changing so rapidly that we humans are struggling to keep up. One of his solutions is to turn to Mother Nature for answers. He mentions Janine Benyus, the originator of the idea of Biomimicry—imitating patterns and processes from nature to benefit mankind. Some examples of innovations that come from nature include Velcro being the brainchild of burrs, drones engineered after flying insects, and sonar developed from dolphins. Biomimicry is found in advancements in areas such as medicine, engineering, agriculture, communication, and architecture, to name a few.
You may be wondering what Biomimicry has to do with Chinese medicine, and the simple answer is a lot. Much of Chinese medicine theory is based on patterns found in nature, and therefore could be considered Biomimicry that’s a couple thousand years old. Some examples:
-When you get sick, your diagnosis is described as bad weather in Chinese medicine. Have a really high fever? You have heat. Hot flashes? Also a kind of heat. If you’re experiencing a lot of swelling or retaining water, you probably have dampness. Dizziness, vertigo, tics, twitches, or tremors? That would be described as wind—symptoms describing movement where there should be none.
-Like most animals, we have seasonal tasks. While I smile at those people out in their shorts and flip flops when the snow is still melting, we really are supposed to get out and expend some energy during the expansiveness of spring and throughout the summer. During the fall and winter, our task is to conserve energy, eat really nourishing foods, slow down, and survive.
-In Chinese medicine, energy is described as moving through pathways. We need enough energy to power our bodily functions, and that energy needs to flow freely. We describe energy as flowing in pathways much like streams or rivers. If you find this concept a little too “alternative”, think of blood flowing through your vessels, sensation moving through neurons (nerve cells), and food moving through your digestive tract.
-Practitioners of Chinese medicine and locavores alike posit that you should be eating what is local and in season. In Chinese medicine, what’s growing now and near you supports seasonal tasks. In the spring we look to baby greens and early vegetables, but switch to more cooling foods in the summer, like melons, tomatoes, and cucumbers. During the fall, our local foods become warmer and heartier, such as root vegetables, squash, and dried beans to help us bulk up for the coming winter.
-Healing herbs are a staple of Chinese medicine. In her book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, Janine Benyus describes the behavior of some primates who will walk miles to find a specific herb to deal with intestinal parasites. Herbs have been used to heal humans for thousands of years, and for a good reason; they’re effective and safe. There are many modern medications that are made from herbs, however with a difference. Scientists isolate a single active ingredient from a plant and distill it down into a very powerful drug, which is effective but comes with a lot of side effects. Given the choice, I’ll start first by tapping into nature’s medicine chest.
The bottom line is that drawing from nature’s advice can offer a wide range of health benefits. Whether you’re walking in the woods, tending your vegetable garden, trying an herbal remedy, or hunkering down by the fire this winter, when you pay attention to the patterns and cycles of Mother Nature, you will see that she is wise and that she has your back.