Summer, the season of the heart, illuminates as the culmination of our Attunement with the Seasons series, which brings us to this element: fire. As always, ancient medicine provides sound guidance in embracing, understanding, and absorbing the medicine of the heart through its season. Kathy Jensen of Mind & Body Connection in Sioux City sheds a vast orb of light on the many unique herbal protocols associated with each season in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). She explains that the blood is the mother of chi (or qi), that vital, life force energy carried, as a child, throughout the body by the bloodstream. This approach paints a unique picture of the cardiovascular system, aiding us in nourishing and healing the physical system and its emotions, neurology, and general energy.
As a clinical herbalist and longtime student and teacher of TCM, she stated that the season is not simply associated with certain herbs but that the Earthly season supports and has an affinity for certain medicine, movement, emotions, and energy. For example, hawthorn berries are a staple in TCM as a heart protector. Western medicine aligns with this finding by observing the polyphenols in hawthorn berries, which act as antioxidants, cleansing the blood of toxic free radicals. However, in following ancient medicine to its great depths, we find much more than this physiological benefit. In TCM, Kathy explains that summer is a time to listen to the heart’s deepest desires, connect with what we love, and heal with love. The heart and the element of fire are associated with the emotion of purified joy and creation, so the summer season also supports working with family and intimate relationships. Kathy states that Native American medicine also acknowledges these deeper qualities of the summer season, associating it with fire and the color red and the South direction, from which warm winds come. This is a time of action, as represented by the winds of the South and the fire element. In acknowledging these deeper concepts of the seasons and how they align with the body and the Earth, we can find our own unique and personal ways of attuning to the season of Summer.
One such example is music. Of course, a full seasonal cleanse, with its many protocols and disciplines, has deep healing qualities and provides a full hero version of alignment with the Earthly season. However, music provides a modern yet timeless alternative to the alternative medicine seasonal approach, specifically, playing musical instruments.
Sometimes, understanding and communicating the heart can prove to be a prickly challenge laced with miscommunication and confusion. Words like happy, sad, or excited can name an emotion but may not do justice to the raw expression of that emotion. However, as Zach Pickens, lead guitarist of the Sioux City band Port Nocturnal, states, “Everyone has a song that makes them cry” and explains that music provides a resource for tapping into emotions and inner human experiences that beg for more than words as their deliverance.
Pickens also provides an intuitive connection between his musical creative process and the true expression of the heart. “When I’m feeling something big, complex, or difficult and can describe that sonically, it allows me to fully feel, explore, and communicate it without confusing words to get it out there. Talking about my feelings doesn’t have the same effect.” According to Pickens, this ability to manifest genuine expression of his emotional life is further validated when he and his bandmates, Layne Medema (bass wizard/riff dealer) and Alex Rhymer, find themselves in their dark basement studio. “When we jam, each of us is allowed to play what we feel in real-time. One of us leads while the other two paint the canvas that’s been provided, playing to that feel, that vibe. It gives us a chance to understand each other without having to explain it.”
Pickens’ observations support the microcosmic storm of electrical activity in his brain when he plays guitar, especially improvisationally in a jam. According to Anita Collins, doctor of Neuroscience and Music Education, playing a musical instrument creates many connections in the brain, including centers for movement, sensation, emotion, audition, and visualization. She says this develops the level of connection across the left and right hemispheres of the brain, strengthening the music player’s ability to marry creativity with precision, planning with improvisation, and language with emotion. By tapping many different areas of the brain, playing music becomes a way to connect the mind, body, and heart. The brain is the center of the central nervous system and communicates with every system of the body, primarily through the bioelectrical activity informing the rhythm of the heartbeat. Thus, learning a musical instrument would not only be in harmony with ancient heart medicine but also has support from more Western styles of medicine.
Pickens, Medema, and Rhymer unite in their basement studio once a week, inside cushioned walls that create a womb-like echo chamber, a macrocosm of the heart’s warm, electrical, pulsing inner ventricles. Medema creates a deep well of driving force bass tones as he explores ancient Raga scales, representing the walls of the heart, reverberating and constant. Pickens rips streams of color and emotion dark and deep, representing the flow of blood and energy as crashing, tympanic skins reinforce each sound, giving it clear meaning. Rhymer’s every strike represents the heartbeat, supporting the hallucinogenic, blues-exploring, grunge sound of the trio speaking their own language. This collaboration even stands to represent the different areas of the brain lighting up, coming together as one storm and true expression of the heart’s energy.
TCM teaches us many ways to take heart medicine, especially in its deeper themes that guide us in connecting with oneself and each other. By playing the music of the heart, we can find an adapted yet authentic version of music as medicine.
For local sources of musical learning:
Ray’s Midbell Music
4230 S Lancelot Ln
Sioux City, IA 51106
Sioux City Conservatory of Music
1309 Pierce St
Sioux City, IA 51105
For a TED Talk on Music and the Brain with Dr. Anita Collins:
For an herbal consultation with Kathy Jensen, seasonal cleanse workshops or medicinal herbs:
Mind & Body Connection
1925 Geneva St.
Sioux City, IA 51104
By Emily Larson, Licensed Massage Therapist, Private Yoga Instructor, Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology & Human Performance, Instructor of Anatomy and Pathology for massage therapy students at the Bio Chi Institute, and mother to Noah.