man drumming

By Christine Stevens

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

From biology to the brain, rhythm seems to play a significant role in igniting the circuits that lead to transformation and awakening.  Yet we wonder why humans have been drumming together for centuries, keeping together in time, moving from the individual –focus to social bonding.  Could it be that enlightenment is just a few beats away?

Your Body on Drums

Since 2001, research has demonstrated the health benefits of drumming, including mind, body, and spirit.  A cascade of evidence began with a seminal study performed by Dr. Barry Bittman, MD at the Mind-Body Wellness Center in Meadville, PA.  Researchers took blood samples before and after a one hour group drumming program and compared it to control conditions of listening to drum music and resting.  The results were surprising, given that the subjects (112) in the study had never drummed or even played music before. The study showed that drumming could modulate the immune system and reduce stress on a cellular biological level, by increasing NK cell activity and cytokine activity, orchestrators of the immune system.

A Prescription for Enlightenment

What made drumming so successful in creating these changes?  The authors identified seven key factors woven into the drumming program;

  1. Laughter – Ask yourself, when is the last time you laughed? Studies show that children laugh 400 times a day and adults, a mere 4 times a day.  By combining laughter and joy with the beat of the drum, we learn to stop taking ourselves so seriously.  That’s why we say we “play” music.
  2. Camaraderie – There is a sense of togetherness generated by a shared rhythmic experience. By engaging in a group experience, total strangers began to feel a bond with each other.  That camaraderie is cooperative, not competitive like a sport team.  Everyone wins as the group learns to jam in rhythm, getting in sync.  If you’re drumming alone, befriend your drum and you can experience a duet.
  3. Personal Expression – Drumming is permissive. You don’t have to worry about a wrong note or holding a tune.  Rhythm allows creative expression, improvisation, as if each person is sharing their story from a unique core.  Where else can you feel that freedom?  How else can you transmute emotions and feel a release, without words?
  4. Music Making – It turns out that playing a drum is a lot easier than learning violin, taking piano lessons, or even trying to remember the lyrics of a song. Drumming is probably the easiest most immediate instrument, allowing a portal into the experience of creating music, not just being the listener or audience.  This is significant.5.  Spirituality – Spiritual experience and connecting to a higher power, great mystery, divine creative energy, (choose your word for sacred, holiness) has been shown to improve health
  5. Spirituality – Spiritual experience and connecting to a higher power, great mystery, divine creative energy, (choose your word for sacred, holiness) has been shown to improve health
  6. Guided Imagery – Our minds are wired for visualization. As subjects closed their eyes and drummed, they were guided in an imagery of being in nature, feeling connected with the rhythms of the earth.
  7. Exercise – Turns out that drumming is a workout. Researchers have shown that 4 minutes of hand drumming on a djembe from West Africa is equal to 4 minutes of exercise on an incline bicycle in terms of metabolic units burned.  (METS).  Our bodies are wired for rhythm.  Rhythm is the medicine for the body.  We cant hold still when a groove is going.  That’s a good thing.

Awaken Your Rhythm

As I designed the online course, Awaken Your Rhythm for The Shift Network, I combined seven key modules focusing on learning the four elemental sounds, improvisation for self-expression, rhythm mantra for meditation, movement for rhythm embodiment, using your voice to chant with the beat, drumming for healing and learning a few world rhythms.   Check out this course online and join the rhythmic symphony of awakening.

You can also view my Drumming for Healing workshop, my YouTube channel and a free video tutorial below:

Drumming for Healing – Shift Network

YouTube Channel

FREE Video Tutorial – Four Essential Rhythms of Life

Articles sources:

About the Author

Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC, MA holds masters degrees in both social work and music therapy. She is author of Music Medicine, The Healing Drum Kit and  The Art and Heart of Drum Circles. The founder of UpBeat Drum Circles, she has appeared on NBC, PBS, KTLA, and is a featured speaker in the DVD Discover the Gift. She has trained facilitators world-wide in REMO HealthRHYTHMS, worked with Fortune 500 companies, survivors of Katrina, students at Ground Zero and most recently, led the first drum circle training in a war-zone in northern Iraq.

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