‘It’s about being in the moment’ | health beat

A throbbing drumbeat fills the room.


Soon one person, then another, joined in, tapping brightly colored hand drums.

Within a few bars, they found the rhythm, smiling and tapping their feet as they swayed to “Lovely Day,” Bill Withers’ upbeat tune.

On this particular late summer morning, the forecast announced rain and clouds. But the energy in the art studio at Spectrum Health Rehab and Nursing Facility on Fuller Avenue was all sun.

Residents of the Rehabilitation and Nursing Center are there for short-term rehabilitation or long-term care due to injuries, strokes, or other chronic illnesses. Most are in wheelchairs.

But for 60 glorious minutes, they didn’t need to be anywhere but in the moment.

That’s the key to Mindfulness Music, a collaboration between Spectrum Health host artist RaNae Couture Expressive Arts Programprofessional musician John Nowak and Artists Creating Together, a local non-profit organization.

“It’s about being in the moment,” said Couture, an artist and nurse. “We just focus on the music and each other. The music evokes a lot of different memories.

Drumming offers physical health benefits. For people with reduced mobility, the movement engages the lymphatic system and helps flush toxins from the body.

And it releases feel-good chemicals in the brain.

“So that lifts your spirits,” Couture said.

“We will laugh”

Wearing a yellow striped shirt, Nowak, 29, exuded energy and positivity as he moved around the room.

“You look strong today,” he told one resident, smiling as he drummed with each attendee.

And he brought along a few tools of his trade: a Bluetooth speaker, a trundle drum kit, an acoustic guitar, a vinyl sample from his vast collection of classic 45s.

After “Lovely Day,” he strummed another familiar tune:

“I also see trees of green and red roses / I see them blooming, for me and for you / And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”

With gentle encouragement, the residents sang along, adding a few drumbeats for good measure.

“What makes your world wonderful today? Nowak asked.

“My son,” said one of them. “Grandchildren,” said another. “To be outside.”

Residents look forward to visits from Nowak twice a month, and the feeling is mutual.

“We had so many great times together,” said Nowak, who finds he enjoys it as much as the residents. “It has been a real treasure for me as a professional, a musician and a person.”

Nowak has been drummer for the band Desmond Jones for nine years. He schedules his visits to Spectrum Health between tours and recording sessions.

For him, music and mindfulness go hand in hand.

“Music is inherently conscious because we listen and we participate and we engage,” he said. “It’s an hour a week when we forget everything that’s going on. We are engaged with each other.

Making music together also helps residents bond with others. It lets them know they’re not alone, Couture said.

“It really improves their mood, lowers their stress and anxiety to just be in the moment,” she said.

Positive vibes

Nowak got to know the residents well, indulging in easy banter.

Sandy Fasburg, 56, showed her a necklace she recently finished. She’s been taking art classes with Couture since moving here 10 years ago after being injured in a car accident. She enjoys practicing art and participating in Mindfulness Music.

“I’m happy when I hear music,” Fasburg said. “John is a good person. He makes me happy when I see him.

Eric Aufrance, 57, worked as an electrician until he suffered a serious stroke around 10 years ago. His speech is limited to one or two words at a time, but he fully participates in the music.

“Eric is our rock ‘n’ roller,” Nowak said.

Nowak encourages participants to choose music from their favorite artists.

Aufrance held up a replica of AC/DC’s “Fly on the Wall” album cover that he painted based on one of the many albums Couture keeps in the art room. Another favorite is the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

And once the music starts, the joy sets in.

“You have no choice but to commit to this present moment,” Nowak said. “If I have any control over this present moment, it’s going to be loud, we’re going to smile and we’re going to laugh.”

Music and memory

Towards the end of the session, Nowak pulled out a box of 45 classics. He encouraged residents to pick their favorite and he spun everyone’s choice on a spinner.

“I love connecting music and memory,” Nowak said. “I just have to find the right song and all of a sudden I’m talking to people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond at their high school prom.”

One memory evokes another.

When their meetings were virtual, for example, Nowak asked attendees about their first car. Next, he shared Google images of the year, make, and model.

For attendees, the benefits go beyond nostalgia, Couture said. Remembering special moments from the past is therapeutic.

“It connects them to this youthful energy,” she said. “They feel it again.”

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