Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Drum Circle


Beating Stress

It’s interesting how things come full circle. When Africans first arrived on the shores of America, they were prohibited from owning or using, "drums or other loud instruments." The use of the drum was of course not understood completely and only seen by landowners as a threat to the established order of oppression. Currently however, many are witnessing the emergence of drum circles across the landscape of America. Both community and facilitated drum circles are rapidly gaining wide popularity. Community circles involve free-form drumming, are often open to the public and are entirely improvised in-the-moment. Facilitated drum circles may have a specific focus, like an educational kids' circle, a team building session for corporate executives, or a therapy session for special needs populations and done or accompanied by a music therapist.
Facilitated drum circles are more highly organized, accompanied by a protocol which sometimes involves other steps as well, in addition to drumming, such as guided imagery, discussion, and so on. Rather than a teacher, the leader is referred to as a facilitator, and it is his job to make the music making process as easy as possible for all.

Healing Drums
Drum therapy is an ancient approach that uses rhythm to promote healing and self-expression. From Asia to the Minianka healers of West Africa, therapeutic rhythm techniques have been used for thousands of years to create and maintain physical, mental, and spiritual health.

Current research is now verifying the therapeutic effects of ancient rhythm techniques. Recent research reviews indicate that drumming accelerates physical healing, boosts the immune system and produces feelings of well-being, a release of emotional trauma, and reintegration of self.

Other studies have demonstrated the calming, focusing, and healing effects of drumming on Alzheimer's patients, autistic children, emotionally disturbed teens, recovering addicts, trauma patients, and prison and homeless populations. Study results demonstrate that drumming is a valuable treatment for stress, fatigue, anxiety, hypertension, asthma, chronic pain, arthritis, mental illness, migraines, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, paralysis, emotional disorders, and a wide range of physical disabilities.


Drumming induces deep relaxation, lowers blood pressure, and reduces stress. Stress, according to current medical research, contributes to nearly all disease and is a primary cause of such life-threatening illnesses as heart attacks, strokes, and immune system breakdowns. A recent study found that a program of group drumming helped reduce stress and employee turnover in the long-term care industry and might help other high-stress occupations as well.1


Chronic pain has a progressively draining effect on the quality of life. Researchers suggest that drumming serves as a distraction from pain and grief. Moreover, drumming promotes the production of endorphins and endogenous opiates, the bodies own morphine-like painkillers, and can thereby help in the control of pain.2

A recent medical research study indicates that drumming circles boost the immune system. Led by renowned cancer expert Barry Bittman, MD, the study demonstrates that group drumming actually increases cancer-killing cells, which help the body combat cancer as well as other viruses, including AIDS. According to Dr. Bittman, “Group drumming tunes our biology, orchestrates our immunity, and enables healing to begin.”3


Drumming creates a sense of connectedness with self and others

In a society in which traditional family and community-based systems of support have become increasingly fragmented, drumming circles provide a sense of connectedness with others and interpersonal support. A drum circle provides an opportunity to connect with your own spirit at a deeper level, and also to connect with a group of other like minded people.

Group drumming alleviates self-centeredness, isolation, and alienation.

Music educator Ed Mikenas finds that drumming provides “an authentic experience of unity and physiological synchronicity. If we put people together who are out of sync with themselves (i.e., diseased, addicted) and help them experience the phenomenon of entrainment, it is possible for them to feel with and through others what it is like to be synchronous in a state of preverbal connectedness.” 6

Rhythm and resonance order the natural world. Dissonance and disharmony arise only when we limit our capacity to resonate totally and completely with the rhythms of life. The origin of the word rhythm is Greek meaning “to flow.” We can learn “to flow” with the rhythms of life by simply learning to feel the beat, pulse, or groove while drumming. It is a way of bringing the essential self into accord with the flow of a dynamic, interrelated universe, helping us feel connected rather than isolated and estranged. 7

In 1991, during testimony before the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart stated:
Typically, people gather to drum in drum "circles" with others from the surrounding community. The drum circle offers equality because there is no head or tail. It includes people of all ages. The main objective is to share rhythm and get in tune with each other and themselves. To form a group consciousness. To entrain and resonate. By entrainment, I mean that a new voice, a collective voice, emerges from the group as they drum together.


Drumming helps reconnect us to our core, enhancing our sense of empowerment and stimulating our creative expression. “The advantage of participating in a drumming group is that you develop an auditory feedback loop within yourself and among group members—a channel for self-expression and positive feedback—that is pre-verbal, emotion-based, and sound-mediated.” 9 Each person in a drum circle is expressing themselves through his or her drum and listening to the other drums at the same time.

Everyone is speaking, everyone is heard, and each person’s sound is an essential part of the whole.” Michael Drake

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