Inspirational Articles

Healing Rhythms of the Drum

Healing Rhythms of the Drum

By Kathy Ryndak and Gord Riddell

Rhythm permeates every aspect of our being and lives whether it is inside of us or without. In utero, we are first introduced to the most natural of all rhythms - the lub-dub of our mother's heartbeat. Rhythm is the pulse of our circulatory and respiratory system as we breathe in and out. The rhythm of the ocean, its ebb and flow, naturally relaxes us. The universe is directed by rhythms whether it is cycles of day and night, the seasons, the moon and sun. Psychiatrist, Robert Assiogoli states "rhythm is the element which has the most intense and immediate influence on man directly affecting both the body and emotions."

Hand Drumming

The ancient practice of hand drumming is one of the most creative and pleasurable ways to tap into the healing nature of rhythm. The art of drumming which has been around since the beginning of time is slowly moving into our modern day life whether we play an African djembe, Latin conga or Middle Eastern doumbek. We are rediscovering what the ancients always knew: drumming can relax, energize or destress us, release pent-up emotions, induce trance and euphoria and foster a sense of community, creativity and playfulness.

Drumming as Meditation

Drumming is usually done to entertain. If we take it out of this context however, and slow the pace and volume down, it can be used to quiet mental chatter and induce deep states of relaxation and concentration. One of the reasons drumming can be considered a form of meditation is that it alters our state of consciousness, forces us to be in the moment, pay attention, not get distracted by extraneous thoughts and be aware of passing insights. Instead of flowing with the rhythm of breath or chanting of mantras, the repetitious beat of the drum guides us into a meditative state.

Drumming and Brain Waves

When we play drums, far more is happening than grooving to the beat of the drum. Layne Redmond, author of "When the Women were Drummers" states that "drumming can synchronize the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Through the rhythmic repetition of ritual sounds, the body, brain and nervous system are energized and transformed. When a group of people plays a rhythm for an extended period of time, their brain waves become entrained to the rhythm and they have a shared brain wave state. The longer the drumming goes on, the more powerful the entrainment becomes. It's really the oldest holy communion of all religious rites."

The right and left hemispheres of the brain usually operate in different modes, in different brain wave cycles with one hemisphere dominating over the other. Drumming induces a form of whole brain functioning also known as hemispheric synchronization where both hemispheres function equally and resonate on the same brain wave cycle, often alpha or theta.

The brain wave studies by researcher Melinda Maxfield proved that beating a drum at 4.5 beats per second takes us into the trance like state of theta, which is also about 4 cycles per second. Many benefits can be reaped from this: lucid thinking, integration of the unconscious and conscious mind, transforming emotions, creativity and transcending the self. Also, when the brain is in theta, sodium/ potassium ratios are balanced which rejuvenate the tired brain.

Drumming and Disease

In his book "The Healing Power of the Drum", psychotherapist Robert Friedman notes many diseases can be helped through the drumming. Alzheimer's patients can learn to play simple drum rhythms to improve their short-term memories and social interaction. The attention spans of autistic children can be lengthened through drumming. Parkinson patients and stroke survivors reclaim movement control and the tempo of their gait. Patients with speech disorders such as dysarthria have used paddle drums to improve the quality and rhythm of their speech. Drumming is used in rehab centres to help addicts detox and get "high" without the use of drugs. Since it can produce a state of alpha, it can also be used for pain management.

Stress Buster

Drumming can be used as a great stress buster. Drumming is a fun and playful experience and it is difficult to be stressed when we are enjoying ourselves. It helps to release negative emotions. It requires so much focus that we cannot worry or ruminate about the past or future. It demands that we be in here and now, reduces mind chatter which makes it impossible to worry or go to fear. By increasing alpha or theta brainwaves we attain a sense of well being and inner peace. The euphoria it produces is completely natural and drug free.

Releasing Emotions

Drumming can be used to express emotions whether you want to release alone or in psychotherapy. We can drum a multitude of emotions such as happiness, fear, sadness and anger. Friedman states "happiness is usually played as a series of rapid, syncopated beats. Fear might be expressed as staccato tappings. Sadness usually evokes slow, ponderous beats while anger becomes hard, loud and energetic."

Friedman discusses the concept of "Alchemical Drumming" to release unhealthy emotions whether it is anger, frustration or guilt into the drum. Through simply tapping a drum, negative emotions can be transformed into healthy ones.

There is nothing like drumming to bring one into a sense of personal power. It builds self-confidence and esteem. In one exercise we did, we drummed a repetitious beat for over a half an hour to put us in touch with the warrior archetype. This beat conjured up a sense of determination, power and perseverance helping to push through "whiny" thoughts like my hands are sore, my back aches or this is taking too long.

Shamanic Drumming

The frame drum is the Shaman's tool that helps him/her take flight. Through different tempos and beats and also different percussion instruments such as rattles and bells, we can journey to the underworld to dialogue with their subconscious, the middle world to connect to the conscious self or upper world to merge with the higher self. The drum takes the place of plant teachers to move into trance, bliss, ecstasy and altered state of consciousness.

Whether you drum alone or in groups there is a wide range of benefits from physiological, psychological, to spiritual to be experienced. The beat of the drum is also universal and is understood by all, moving us beyond cultural barriers. Drumming is innate to us; something all can do taking little practice. It balances, heals and rejuvenates. Gershwin certainly hit the mark when he wrote, "I've got rhythm. who could ask for anything more."