The Therapeutic Benefits of Rhythm and Hand Druming
22nd September, 2008
“Rhythm lives within everyone and its not something special. People don’t have to have professional musical talents and techniques to express their rhythmical spirit. Everyone has a rhythmical sensibility within and how they express it differs from person-to-person. Rhythm permeates everyone’s life. It is in everything we do, we see we feel and it is within the circadian rhythm of our bodies as well. Rhythm is a fact of life”
From the cradle to the grave we are all exposed to the rhythms both inside ourselves and those of the world outside of ourselves The first cell to develop after conception is the heart and it is this pulse that signals a new life has begun. It is the beat of our own heart which accompanies us every step of our journey through life. Our first awareness of “other” is the rhythmic beating of our mother’s heart. When we first emerge into the world, as we are born, we begin a life-long balancing between the rhythm of life itself with it’s seasons and tides, ebbing and flowing continually around us; and the pulse of our own individual and internal life processes.
It is little wonder then that the drum and other forms of percussion have been used for thousands of years by all civilisations and cultures, past and present as a potent form of non-verbal communication for ceremonies, rituals and celebrations. Rhythm has the power to touch something deep and powerful within us all and speak to our most primal and true self in a basic language that needs no articulation with words.
As the 21st century unfolds, there is a collective discontent emerging which questions the suitability or sustainability of worshipping at the altar of financial profit, status and material wealth. As the very infrastructure of our economies begin to crumble they reveal the inadequacies of a system with little heart, soul or community. Greater numbers of people are reaching out to find a more meaningful way to live their lives and satisfy their spiritual yearnings. Many are finding that the ancient yet humble hand drum leads to personal transformation, psychological and physiological healing and when practiced with others, the creation of a spirit of community.
“If you could see your DNA, you’d see what your inside rhythm looks like. You are rhythm. You are made of flesh, blood, bones, – and rhythm. Rhythm is what keeps you alive.”
Inside all of us the rhythm of our breath is woven with the rhythm of our hearts. There is rhythm in our brainwaves and in the way our blood flows. There is a rhythmic cycle in menstruation and the constant firing of our neurons. Within each of us there is an unceasing symphony of life-supporting rhythms.
It is little wonder then, that the drum and the rhythms we create with it, seems to awaken our recognition of the spirit within each of us. We feed our body when it gets hungry but often remain unaware of the deep hunger in our spiritual lives as we try to negotiate the often impossible task of balancing the demands of the global corporate machine in which we all exist, with the needs of our own body and soul. The emptiness and hopelessness within our society serves as a sign and symptom that our collective soul needs to be fed. The drum helps us to remember our own rhythms, which are a reflection of the deeper pulse of nature itself.
“The soul is fed through the opening of ourselves to our innate connection to nature. The soul is fed by turning our attention within, through connecting with others in ways that reflect depth and purpose and through play and laughter. The soul is nurtured through connections of the heart. The drum provides all of these needs. The hand drum serves as a touchstone to our deepest nature. It is both a symbol of our spirit and a vehicle to transport us to it.”
The idea of the hand drum as a vehicle for healing is not new but the scientific research of the inherent healing properties of rhythm and hand drumming, in particular, is a modern innovation. Anecdotal reports and current research has shown that the hand drum and its rhythms have been instrumental in improving illnesses where medical science has had few answers.
We can use rhythm and the drum to awaken the many extraordinary qualities that drumming can provide, be it joy, release of pain, a feeling of connectedness and unification, a deeper connection to the spirit, or the creation of a rhythm community – all of which is possible through the beat of the drum.
Drumming can relax the tense, energise the tired and heal the emotionally wounded. Hand drumming can be consistently experienced as a way to create states of euphoria, promote play, release anger and other emotions and promote feelings of community and unity. There is a growing body evidence from scientific research which points to the drum’s ability to produce in people both physical and psychological well-being.
We are all born with a need for rhythmic imput, as the universal rocking of infants in all cultures recognises. The rhythm of our first relationships as babies, affects how our brainwaves function and plays a crucial role in normal physical, emotional and intellectual development. Some of the psychological applications in which hand drums have been used over the last few years include; assisting people to release the emotional pain of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, releasing the pent up anger and negative emotions of “at risk” adolescents, promoting health in corporate employees through releasing day-to-day stress, and helping substance misusers in increasing their communication skills and social interaction. Drums have been used with a spectrum of major mental illnesses, such as bi-polar disorder and multiple personality disorder to increase self esteem and create feelings of accomplishment. There is also evidence that suggests that sufferers of both dementia and neurological disorders have shown great improvement after experiencing the rhythmic quality of hand and/or African drumming.
The rhythm we make with others is like an aural handshake and after a time can be experienced as a soul embrace of sorts. This embrace has encompassed entire rooms filled with people who have come together from all creeds and races, adults and children alike. The soul is fed by connecting heart-to-heart with your community. So what is it about the drum that creates this feeling of connection?
When people communicate verbally they are limited to one person speaking and others listening, this can and does leave a lot of scope for miscommunication, misunderstanding and misinterpretations between people. When a group of people are drumming together, everyone is speaking through their own drum whilst listening to the drum rhythms of the others around them. What occurs is a symphony of intertwining rhythms in which everyone is speaking, everyone is heard and the rhythm each person is making, their sound, is an essential part of the whole.
“When a group of people get together to play a rhythm for an extended period of time, their brainwaves become entrained to that rhythm and they have a shared brainwave state. The longer the drumming goes on, the more powerful the entrainment becomes. It’s really the oldest holy communion.”
Entrainment is the tendency of people and objects to synchronise to a dominant rhythm as Layne Redmond outlined in the above paragraph. But it has applications for self help it would be useful to explore as well. If a person is feeling lax and tired and reflects that, they may choose to play a slow steady rhythm that resonates with how they are feeling or instead they may play a fast rhythm that moves them into a new experience of heightened energy and vigour. If a person feels stressed and wants to relax, then they can choose slow and steady beats that entrain a lower speed which is translated into an inner experience of authentic peace and well-being.
As we begin making the same choices that the ancients did, choosing natural modalities for healing, we find ourselves feeling healthier more of the time and more closely attuned to and with our inner rhythms and inner needs. The forgotten wisdom of the past becomes embodied in the present as a gift for the future.
Drumming and Reducing Stress
Q. Can a drum help to relieve stress?
A. Yes. Here are some of the ways it does just that:
• When people drum they are usually having fun. It is difficult to feel stressed when we are having fun because we are feeling playful.
• Drumming is a “here and now” experience. When we hit the skin of a drum we do so in the present moment without thoughts about the future or the past, which is where most of our stress has been shown to originate.
• It is more difficult to hear our own thoughts when engaged in the “here and now”. When we drum, we are fully engaged in the present moment we no longer hear our thoughts as we are more focused on the “doing something”, rather than the “thinking about” it. Drumming has a wonderful ability to cut down the incessant mind chatter we experience as we go about our day. Negative, self-defeating thoughts are especially harmful to our mental and emotional well- being.
• The drum has the capacity to release negative feelings. Stress is composed of negative feelings which we find we can let go of when we are creating rhythm.
• Can help people to find inner peace. The experience of drumming for lengthy periods of time has the ability to induce feelings of joy and well-being.
• Drumming increases the “alpha brainwaves”. These particular brain waves are associated with feelings of profound well-being and often euphoria. People experiencing mental stress have been found to have little or no alpha brainwave activity. Drumming is a fun way to increase positive feelings.
• Drumming can help people to relax. The rhythm of drumming can be helpful for people who experience difficulty with, or who are unable to, relax and tune out the demands of their outer world. In its extreme form this is known as hyper-vigilance. These people often become alcohol and other substance abusers. Research has shown these people can be enabled through rhythm to create brainwave activity and reduce their need to self-harm in this way. Alpha brainwaves double after 30 minutes African drumming.
• Blood pressure is also reduced by playing rhythm. Blood pressure falls dramatically after a drum session and stress levels are experienced as more manageable if they exist at all.
This is a small sample of the often profound benefits to health and well being reported by those people who have regularly used the drum as a therapeutic tool and thereafter for the pure pleasure of banging that drum!
Adapted from, The Healing Power of the Drum, Robert Lawrence Friedman (2000) White Cliffs Media Inc.
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