By Eddie O’Neill
I have been drumming most of my life and have been a professional percussionist for over 35 years. Although at first my interest in drumming was purely from a musical viewpoint, my interest in the healing properties of drumming came at an early stage. I can vividly remember one afternoon, just as I was finishing up after “practicing” on my drum-set, I noticed that I was feeling really good, relaxed and calm. I had always felt that way after drumming, but this time I really thought about it, and I was convinced that the drumming had a lot to do with the way I was feeling. This moment was the very first step I took in a very long journey of reading, researching, travelling and studying the health benefits of drumming / rhythm.
In my 25 years of travel and research, I discovered African drumming and healing practices, the ancient healing ways of the Celtic Shaman and his drum, the ritual healing Taiko drummers from Japan, the celebrating Samba drummers from Brazil, the Mother Earth worshiping drummers of the Native American Indians, the ancient Women Frame drummers from Mediterranean Europe who drummed for the Great Goddesses, and found a whole world of contemporary investigation and research into this ancient practice.
Drumming has been used for centuries in many cultures around the world to create and maintain physical, mental and spiritual health. In fact, drumming is one of the earliest forms of Holistic Therapy, encouraging naturally altered states of consciousness and meditation, endowing us with a greater sense of connectedness with self and others. From the Shamans of Mongolia to the Minianka healers of West Africa, therapeutic rhythm techniques have been used to cure illnesses such as stress, fatigue, anxiety and emotional disorders, as well as helping to build community and bonding amongst groups of people.
In recent times, this type of “drum therapy” is making a strong come back, in the form of “recreational drum circles” and is sweeping across the Atlantic from the USA (where it is currently recognised as the fastest growing Holistic / Therapeutic / Recreational pastime) with great speed. So what is this Drum Therapy?
Drum therapy is a method of utilising the immense power of rhythm and applying it to an individual or group of people to commence a healing process. This may manifest itself physically, psychologically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually or socially. The format used is normally the “drum circle” format, where people sit in a circle and play drums and percussion instruments together. Sounds like a lot of fun… and yes, it is.
Recent research on the subject of the healing benefits of drumming indicate that drumming accelerates physical healing, boosts the immune system, produces feelings of well-being, helps release emotional trauma and assists reintegration of self.
From a social point of view, drumming in a group drum circle is very empowering and provides a sense of connectedness with others and interpersonal support. It has also been noted that group drumming alleviates self-centeredness, isolation, and alienation and provides an authentic experience of unity and physiological synchronicity.
Drumming is very much like athletics and martial arts in so far as the constant repetition of playing repeated rhythmical patterns can put us in a transcendental state that athletes call “the zone” where we become very alert and focused and are able to react effortlessly and spontaneously to our surroundings.
Drumming together brings out the child in all of us and allows us to “play” once more, to make noise and express how we feel without using the spoken word.
Rhythm is an International language we can all speak, we only have to start a sentence with a pulse and the conversation will grow and flourish. A drum circle is all inclusive… young, old, all cultures, religions, genders, beginners or advanced. It is built on respect and harmony and is normally led by a DCF (Drum Circle Facilitator) in a recreational setting, or a Drum Therapist in a more therapeutic / holistic setting such as health centres, counselling groups or holistic gatherings. The most popular reason why people take up group drumming is to have some fun and to relieve stress. Drumming has been proven to increase our Alpha brainwaves, those brainwaves associated with feelings of well-being and euphoria.
If you have never tried drumming as a pathway to health and well-being, I urge you to try it sometime. Drumming is our way to connect with the powerful force that is rhythm. When you make that connection and begin your drumming journey you will discover that Rhythm is Life, and Life is Rhythm.
Eddie O’Neill is a Drum Circle Facilitator and Drum Therapy Student at Diploma level. He runs recreational drumming courses and rhythm retreats throughout Ireland. Visit www.rhythmretreats.com or call him on 0879151134 for more information.