From slowing the decline in fatal brain disease, to generating a sense of oneness with one another and the universe, drumming’s physical and spiritual health benefits may be as old as time itself.
Drumming is as fundamental a form of human expression as speaking, and likely emerged long before humans even developed the capability of using the lips, tongue and vocal organs as instruments of communication.
To understand the transformative power of drumming you really must experience it, which is something I have had the great pleasure of doing now for twenty years. The below video is one of the circles I helped organize in Naples Florida back in 2008, which may give you a taste of how spontaneous and immensely creative a thing it is (I’m the long haired ‘hippie’ with the gray tank top drumming like a primate in the background).
Anyone who has participated in a drum circle, or who has borne witness to one with an open and curious mind, knows that the rhythmic entrainment of the senses[i] and the anonymous though highly intimate sense of community generated that follows immersion in one, harkens back to a time long gone, where tribal consciousness preempted that of self-contained, ego-centric individuals, and where a direct and simultaneous experience of deep transcendence and immanence was not an extraordinarily rare occurrence as it is today.
This experience is so hard-wired into our biological, social and spiritual DNA that even preschool children as young as 2.5 years appear to be born with the ability to synchronize body movements to external acoustic beats when presented in a social context, revealing that drumming is an inborn capability and archetypal social activity.[ii]
Drumming has been proven in human clinical research to do the following six things:
- Reduce Blood Pressure, Anxiety/Stress: A 2014 study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine enrolled both middle-aged experienced drummers and a younger novice group in a 40-minute djembe drumming sessions. Their blood pressure, blood lactate and stress and anxiety levels were taken before and after the sessions. Also, their heart rate was monitored at 5 second intervals throughout the sessions. As a result of the trial, all participants saw a drop in stress and anxiety. Systolic blood pressure dropped in the older population postdrumming.
- Increase Brain White Matter & Executive Cognitive Function: A 2014 study published in the Journal of Huntington’s Disease found that two months of drumming intervention in Huntington’s patients (considered an irreversible, lethal neurodegenerative disease) resulted in “improvements in executive function and changes in white matter microstructure, notably in the genu of the corpus callosum that connects prefrontal cortices of both hemispheres.”[ix] The study authors concluded that the pilot study provided novel preliminary evidence that drumming (or related targeted behavioral stimulation) may result in “cognitive enhancement and improvements in callosal white matter microstructure.”
- Reduced Pain: A 2012 study published in Evolutionary Psychology found that active performance of music (singing, dancing and drumming) triggered endorphin release (measured by post-activity increases in pain tolerance) whereas merely listening to music did not. The researchers hypothesized that this may contribute to community bonding in activities involving dance and music-making.[x]
- Reduce Stress (Cortisol/DHEA ratio), Increase Immunity: A 2001 study published inAlternative Therapies and Health Medicine enrolled 111 age- and sex- matched subjects (55 men and 56 women; mean age 30.4 years) and found that drumming “increased dehydroepiandrosterone-to-cortisol ratios, increased natural killer cell activity, and increased lymphokine-activated killer cell activity without alteration in plasma interleukin 2 or interferon-gamma, or in the Beck Anxiety Inventory and the Beck Depression Inventory II.”[xi]
- Transcendent (Re-Creational) Experiences: A 2004 study published in the journalMultiple Sclerosis revealed that drumming enables participants to go into deeper hypnotic states,[xii] and another 2014 study poublished in PLoS found that when combined with shamanistic instruction, drumming enables participants to experience decreased heartrate and dreamlike experiences consistent with transcendental experiences.[xiii]
- Socio-Emotional Disorders: A powerful 2001 study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that low-income children who enrolled in a 12-week group drumming intervention saw multiple domains of social-emotional behavior improve significantly, from anxiety to attention, from oppositional to post-traumatic disorders.[xiiii]
New to drumming and want to try it? Fortunately, drum circles have sprouted up in thousands of locations around the country spontaneously, and almost all of them are free. You will find them attended by all ages, all walks of life and all experience levels. The best way to find one is Google the name of your area and “drum circle” and see what comes up. Also, there is an online directory that lists drum circles around the country: http://www.drumcircles.net/circlelist
Original Article: http://wakeup-world.com/2015/04/07/6-evidence-based-ways-drumming-heals-body-mind-and-soul/
[i] Shinya Fujii, Catherine Y Wan. The Role of Rhythm in Speech and Language Rehabilitation: The SEP Hypothesis. Front Hum Neurosci. 2014 ;8:777. Epub 2014 Oct 13. PMID: 25352796
[ii] Sebastian Kirschner, Michael Tomasello. Joint drumming: social context facilitates synchronization in preschool children. J Exp Child Psychol. 2009 Mar;102(3):299-314. Epub 2008 Sep 12. PMID: 18789454
[iii] Magdalena Babiszewska, Anne Marijke Schel, Claudia Wilke, Katie E Slocombe. Social, contextual, and individual factors affecting the occurrence and acoustic structure of drumming bouts in wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Am J Phys Anthropol. 2015 Jan ;156(1):125-34. Epub 2014 Oct 18. PMID: 25327570
[iv] W Tecumseh Fitch. Four principles of bio-musicology. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2015 Mar 19 ;370(1664):20140091. PMID: 25646514
[v] Ryan Remedios, Nikos K Logothetis, Christoph Kayser. Monkey drumming reveals common networks for perceiving vocal and nonvocal communication sounds. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Oct 20;106(42):18010-5. Epub 2009 Oct 1. PMID: 19805199
[vi] W Tecumseh Fitch. Four principles of bio-musicology. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2015 Mar 19 ;370(1664):20140091. PMID: 25646514
[viii] Felix A Hager, Wolfgang H Kirchner. Directional vibration sensing in the termite Macrotermes natalensis. J Exp Biol. 2014 Jul 15 ;217(Pt 14):2526-30. PMID: 25031457
[ix] Claudia Metzler-Baddeley, Jaime Cantera, Elizabeth Coulthard, Anne Rosser, Derek K Jones, Roland J Baddeley. Improved Executive Function and Callosal White Matter Microstructure after Rhythm Exercise in Huntington’s Disease. J Huntingtons Dis. 2014 ;3(3):273-83. PMID:25300331
[x] R I M Dunbar, Kostas Kaskatis, Ian MacDonald, Vinnie Barra. Performance of music elevates pain threshold and positive affect: implications for the evolutionary function of music.Evol Psychol. 2012 ;10(4):688-702. Epub 2012 Oct 22. PMID: 23089077
[xi] B B Bittman, L S Berk, D L Felten, J Westengard, O C Simonton, J Pappas, M Ninehouser.Composite effects of group drumming music therapy on modulation of neuroendocrine-immune parameters in normal subjects. Altern Ther Health Med. 2001 Jan;7(1):38-47. PMID:11191041
[xii] R L Maurer, V K Kumar, L Woodside, R J Pekala. Phenomenological experience in response to monotonous drumming and hypnotizability. Mult Scler. 2004 Aug;10(4):417-24. PMID:9385724
[xiii] Bruno Gingras, Gerald Pohler, W Tecumseh Fitch. Exploring shamanic journeying: repetitive drumming with shamanic instructions induces specific subjective experiences but no larger cortisol decrease than instrumental meditation music. PLoS One. 2014 ;9(7):e102103. Epub 2014 Jul 7. PMID: 24999623
[xiiii]Ping Ho, Jennie C I Tsao, Lian Bloch, Lonnie K Zeltzer. The impact of group drumming on social-emotional behavior in low-income children. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med.2011 ;2011:250708. Epub 2011 Feb 13. PMID: 21660091