In my last blog we talked about why a nature-focused approach is so important in modern and holistic medicine. I feel strongly that re-wilding medicine is really the answer to what ails humanity.
We desperately need to strike a balance between our inner and outer landscapes, and re-adjust our cultural values to reflect our biological realities. I’m not saying we all head into the bush and live as hunter-gatherers, but I am saying it is certainly time to rekindle our relationship with nature.
Many folks ask, “what does re-wilding medicine look like?”. Here’s my take on it:
1. Cultural forms are not biological norms
Humans are mammals, folks. And as such the laws of nature apply. If, for example, a child comes to my office and is struggling with an attention or mood disorder, the first thing I ask is how they are spending their time. If the child sits all day in a classroom, eats tons of processed and sugar-laden food, and spends 4-5 hours each day in front of a screen, I’m not surprised they’re feeling the way they are.
Sedentary behavior coupled with stimulants in food is a culturally constructed norm, and creates the perfect storm for mental and emotional disharmony. This is why we need to look at children’s health in the context of their everyday environment and societal influences.
2. Elements of nature are therapeutic
We sometimes forget that nature heals. The Japanese research field of Shinrin-Yoku (or forest bathing) has shown clearly the positive impact of outdoor time on human health. Time in nature can help reduce pain, improve mood, regulate immunity, and aid digestion, to name a few.
With pain medications and mood-enhancing drugs being some of the most commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals in the U.S. today, it’s fair to assume that nature can serve to be a good substitute. Taking it a step further we see that doses of nature vary, and that nature exposure, connection, and immersion can all help children heal from the outside in.
3. Poisons (almost) always cause harm
The modern world is full of toxins. Some of these are obvious, like BPA and pesticides, but others are more subtle, like screen addiction, chronic stress, and over-scheduled lives. All of these impacts can cause harm to a child’s body, mind, or spirit. And their effect is often cumulative.
Seeing the full range of “poisonous experiences” that can affect a child allows us to send a clear message to parents about areas of priority. Just as hunter-gatherer children learned to identify which berries to avoid in the forest, we can arm parents with information that helps their kids avoid harmful experiences at home, school, and play.
4. Time tracks change longitudinally
Medicine often views disease through a very narrow window of time. However, when we provide care for young children and work toward the prevention of adult diseases, we take a 50,000 foot view of human health and wellness. The Fetal Origins of Adult Disease (FOAD) model, Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), and epigenetic research tell us that chronic illness manifests after decades of accumulated stressors. It’s as if the human body becomes a ticking time bomb, of sorts.
Holistic healers and wellness professionals need to stop thinking about life experiences, beneficial or harmful, as purely separate and distinct events. Instead we can consider children’s ability (or lack thereof) to adapt to their local environment over an extended period of time, and work toward co-creating a landscape within which children and families thrive.
5. Dis-ease arises, and nature provides
It’s no coincidence that when allergy season strikes here in the Pacific Northwest that stinging nettles are in abundant supply. The stinging nettle plant has long been used as a remedy for the sneezing, watery eyes, and runny noses of spring time. But if we never pay attention, as most often happens, then we may not notice that the cure to our ailment is right alongside the cause.
This pattern appears time and again in nature. When treating children it is so helpful to remember that the right environment can offer the necessary healing balm for most any illness.
6. Human experience is nested
There are many layers of the human experience. Modern culture emphasizes just one – the physical. However, when we view people as a product of the natural world we quickly realize that for eon’s adults and children both have felt a deep sense of connection to their surroundings.
That connection invigorates our subtle body anatomy. It awakens and heals our mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies as well. When we encourage children to experience and appreciate the natural world from a young age, they have a greater chance of enlivening all 4 layers of their primal humanity.