A young woman sits in a circle of empty chairs playing her djembe, a West African healing drum. Gradually other women arrive. They join the song, playing their own rhythms on a variety of different drums. No two rhythms are alike, and yet somehow they all go together. Over thirty people are now playing an amazing rhythmical symphony, painted above the driving rhythm of the first pattern. Their shoulders relax, their breathing becomes deeper, and their minds become calm and present. On the leader’s cue they all end together. 1-2-3-4-BOOM. Silence.
This drum circle empowers their spirits and heals their hearts. They are transforming themselves in the deepest way: without speaking, through music and rhythm. They leave refreshed, re-inspired, and re-connected.
“Sound” is within the very definition of health. According to Webster’s Dictionary, health is “being sound in mind and body.” Other terms, such as being at a “higher vibration” and being “in tune” point towards the role of music in wellness. The drum is a vibrational tuning fork, offering a mirror of what is truly inside our hearts, a rhythm that has been within us since our birth.
And the process of group drumming is quite possibly the next big method of creative fitness for stress reduction. There is healing value in playing music, expressing oneself rhythmically, and connecting with others. In fact, in a controlled study of 111 normal subjects, just one hour of group drumming showed a significant increase in circulating white blood cells and two specific cytokines, markers of cellular immune function (Bittman et al., Alternative Therapy, January 2001). Drumming successfully boosted the immune system.
For centuries, drumming has been valued as a tool of personal and community well-being. Shaman, healers in many cultures, rode the rhythms of their drums to the invisible worlds to bring back antidotes and totems for healing. Doctor and drummer were one and the same.
Modern day shaman called music therapists continue to lead their patients on vision quests of musical expression to their own inner healing resources. Used in this way, drumming is not so much a cure as it is a preventative measure, a vehicle of life-enhancement, spirituality, and empowerment.
Making music is becoming an integral part of the wellness movement, not as entertainment, but as a tool for healing, self-expression, and connection. Today, drum circles can be found in community centers, music stores, churches, festivals, and local parks. Some may be specifically for women or cancer survivors, while others reflect the truest diversity of humanity – young, old, disabled, able-bodied, all within a multi-cultural mix.
Why not begin today by rhythmatizing your life? Even on your own, you can include rhythm and drumming in your everyday health practice. Consider it the recommended daily allowance for achieving your highest functioning.
Getting Your RDA – Rhythmical Daily Allowance
#1: Get the Beat
The beat in music is the driving force, the contagious element, the energy. Choose a song with a beat you love to begin your day. Drive to work moving to the beat. Tap your fingers and feet to the beat of the song. When you’re at home, play a drum to the tune. When the tune has finished – and this is the essential part – don’t stop. Keep going; take that beat and make it your own. Improvise, play around with it, challenge it, allow yourself some freedom. Use the beat as a spring-board for your own improvisation.
#2: Modulate Your Rhythms
All day long, we adjust our tempos. We wait in traffic on the way to work, speed up to meet a deadline, or slow down if we’re tired and need to recuperate. Today, listen, look, and feel the rhythms around you. Listen to the rhythm in your speech and that of others. Look at the tempo of people’s walking. Feel your breath. Then take time to control and change the tempo and rhythm of these biological beats.
Whatever rhythm seems to feel most comfortable, put it onto your drum. Just take a few moments to be with the music and PLAY out your day. Put all the tempo and rhythm changes onto the drum, and then end with the steady place you found for yourself.
#3: Daily Decrescendo
Begin by sitting in front of your drum. Imagine any worries, concerns, issues that are causing stress in your life. Using your fingertips, nervously tap on the drum. Allow the sound to represent the issues boiling up inside you, pestering you, tapping at you. As you inhale your next breath, allow your tapping to become full hands-on drum rolling. Now, at the next exhale, change your playing to represent that exhale by rubbing your drum with your full hand in a swirling motion. Listen to the sound this creates on the drum. This sound, like wind rushing by, is a representation of the exhale of the breath, of the releasing of stress. Now, in a calm state, gradually begin to play your own rhythm. Notice what comes out of your hands when you maintain a calm state.
#4: Heartbeat Harmonics
Lub-dub, Lub-dub, Lub-dub. What happens when we take the rhythm of the heartbeat and play it on the drum? The external sound links to our internal state. We play a pattern that is so familiar to us, it pre-dates our consciousness and our birth. Today, take time to listen to your human pulse. Then play the heart-beat rhythm on your drum. Use this heart-beat rhythm as a meditation, as a return to the heart-centered place of healing and well-being. Allow it to connect your mind, body and spirit.
#5: Knocking on the Door
Whenever we knock on the door, we usually have our own rhythmic phrase, our unique rhythmical introduction. Today, begin your day with a tap on your drum. Introduce yourself with five minutes of playing, as if it were your unique way of saying “good morning,” knocking on the door of your life.
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 from more than twenty-five countries in the evidence-based REMO group drumming HealthRHYTHMS program. Christine has worked with many 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. Website – www.ubdrumcircles.com