I never feel more grounded than when I’m doing the Tree Pose in yoga class. I stand tall and secure, my knee perfectly angled against my thigh, my posture lean and my focus centered on one spot on the wall. Tree Pose does more than just strengthen my abs: It helps me concentrate on my balance — and it’s just plain restorative overall.
Here are seven more health lessons we humans can learn from trees and plants:
Water helps them heal after they “overdo it”
Overfeed your plants with fertilizer, and they’ll get sick (you’ll see wilting and brown tips). But you can revive said plants by giving them lots of water — and that’s a great trick for humans, too. Not only can you cure a hangover by drinking lots water, but you can prevent one from occurring in the first place if you guzzle a sufficient amount of agua before you indulge. And another thing: If you drink water before meals, it can keep you from overeating, according to research from the American Chemical Society.
They protect themselves from getting too much sun
Plant cells contain pigments that prevent them from burning, and some plants — such as sagebrush and certain cacti in the Southwest — are also covered with hair that shades them. Other plants, such as the lithops (which is found in southwest Africa), have an incredibly strong SPF-like covering that shields them from the sun’s rays. “It’s a much slower response than our stepping out of the sun,” notes Amy Litt, Ph.D., director of plant genomics at the New York Botanical Garden, “but they have the same light requirements that we have.” Plants know that getting too much sun can be harmful.
They take action to ward off stress
When researchers shone light on plants for an hour, then exposed them to a virus, they found that the plants protected themselves with a chemical reaction. The plants even altered their “immune” response depending on the color of the light in question! Imagine if we humans could adapt to new stressors that efficiently… Our own immune systems would certainly be stronger, and maybe we would even stress less!
They do all they can to stay hydrated
Desert-dwelling plants can store ridiculous amounts of water. The lithops, for instance, fills itself like a water bottle during droughts, then camouflages itself as a rock so animals scrounging for plants can’t find it, says Litt. Succulents, cacti and other desert dwellers (agave, aloe, elephant trees and many euphorbias) also store water so they don’t get dehydrated. You’d be wise to follow in their well-hydrated root-steps, so to speak.
They listen to their instincts
While we often don’t go with our guts, plants do, says psychiatrist Jon Leiff, M.D., author of the blog Searching for the Mind. For instance, research has found that mustard plants can somehow predict when dew forms in the morning — and when mildew is about to attack. Right when the spores start flying in the air, the mustard plants mount a perfectly timed defense. This is kind of similar to how we humans get a gut feeling and tell ourselves, “Don’t go with that person” or “This situation might be bad for me.”
They don’t overdo their sodium intake
We’ve all gone on high-sodium binges at times. (I’m thinking of my favorite — Doritos). Then our bodies retain water, and we feel bloated. Though saltwater will kill most plants, there are some plants (such as creeping succulents) that can tolerate some salt. They take in a moderate amount of it, then their “salt glands” excrete the excess on to the surface of the leaf, says Litt. Apparently they know when enough’s enough.
They help each other out
Panpsychism is the view that all things have a mind-like quality. Want proof that plants have intelligence and even a sort of sense of community? They use underground networks to warn each other about predators. The moral here is that no man (or plant?) is an island: It’s healthy to reach out for support.