DRUM YOUR WAY BACK TO HEALTH
By Coach Kat, Mar. 19, 2019, copyright Bronwyn Katdaré 2019
You may have noticed that babies have an innate sense of rhythm, using wooden spoons to bang on upside-down pots or bouncing in rhythm to music before they can even walk well. You may have also seen rabbits thumping out a message to fellow rabbits with their back feet, apes and chimpanzees self-percussing for many reasons, and insects rhythmically waving their antennae in communication with each other.
Few things last the test of time, throughout all ages and cultures. Few things are so integral to all species, both large and small. Few things unite physical, psychological, and spiritual health to the universe the way drumming does.
“Where I come from, we say that rhythm is the soul of life, because the whole universe revolves around rhythm, and when we get out of rhythm, that’s when we get into trouble.” ~Babatunde Olatunji, Nigerian drummer, educator, and social activist
Drumming is fundamental to human communication, likely pre-dating the human use of the mouth and vocal cords for speaking. Because babies have an unprompted sense of rhythm, you may start to wonder whether this form of expression is in our DNA, and it well might be! 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, according to researcher, author, and natural health and wellness expert, Sayer Ji.
To understand the transformative power of drumming you must experience it! The best way to do this is by participating in a drum circle. Drum circles usually consist of drummers of all experience levels, sometimes dancers or people who feet the rhythm of the dance coming into their souls so they just get up to dance to the beat, and a circle leader who may start a beat, lead chants or songs, or teach drumming. The best part about drum circles is that everyone naturally falls into sync, whether drumming, dancing, singing, or playing another instrument. The songs may become harmoniously complex or stay beautifully simple. The potential benefits of drum circles are immense, often resulting in a feeling of deep connection to self, to other, to community, to Earth, and to an ecstatic openness to Life and Being.
Scientists have recently taken to studying the effects of drumming as a therapeutic intervention on a wide range of diseases, emotions, and psychological states. Drumming may be an ideal therapeutic modality for addressing psychospiritual and emotional issues that are difficult to treat chemically. In a Parkinson’s and drumming study entitled, "DRUM-PD: The use of a drum circle to improve the symptoms and signs of Parkinson's disease (PD),” researchers noted that “physical therapy can improve motor function in patients with PD. Music performance may be used to improve motor skills by rhythmic entrainment. Drumming has long been a part of traditional healing rituals worldwide and is increasingly being utilized as a therapeutic strategy.”
The study evaluated the effects of group West African drum circle classes twice per week for 6 weeks on Parkinson’s patients’ quality of life, symptoms, motor findings, cognition, and mood. Drummers had significantly improved Parkinson’s Disease Questionnaire PDQ-39 scores from baseline to 6 weeks whereas the non-intervention control group’s scores were unchanged. Walking performance was significantly faster at baseline for controls and not significant after 6 weeks. The drummers trended toward improvement in walking from baseline to 12 weeks. The study concluded that, “Drum circle classes significantly improved quality of life in patients with PD.”
A study published in PLoS scientifically validates what drum circle participants have experienced first-hand: group drumming produces significant changes in well-being, including improvements in depression, anxiety, and social resilience. The World Health Organization identifies depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide and that psychiatric medications cause severe side-effects,permanently causing dysfunction in the body's self-healing mechanism. Could group drumming provide a drug-free solution to psychological disorders?
In “Effects of Group Drumming Interventions on Anxiety, Depression, Social Resilience and Inflammatory Immune Response among Mental Health Service Users,” Fancourt and Perkins, et al enrolled 30 adult recipients of mental health services who were not receiving antidepressant medications in a 10 week program of drumming versus a control group of 15. The two groups were matched for age, sex, ethnicity, and employment status. The control participants were informed that they were participating in a study about music and mental health. The treatment group received weekly 90-minute group drum circle sessions over the course of 10 weeks and used traditional African djembe drums. Twenty percent of the session time involved instruction and talking while 80% was direct participation in drumming. The control subjects, though not given access to the drumming sessions, were enrolled in community group social activities (ie., quiz nights, women’s institute meetings, and book clubs). Both groups were monitored for biomarkers related to immune status and inflammation, such as cortisol and various cytokines, to track the biological and psychological changes associated with the intervention.
In summary, at 6 weeks, the drumming intervention group experienced decreased depression and increased social resilience; at 10 weeks, they saw further improvements in depression with significant improvements in anxiety and mental well-being. These changes continued to be maintained at the 3 month follow-up point. The drumming intervention group also saw their immune profile shift from a pro-inflammatory to an anti-inflammatory response.
Globally, more than 300 million people are affected by depression and antidepressant medication in the United States has increased by more than 400%. Perhaps nothing can make a deeper impact on feelings of well-being and contentment than genuinely connecting with other human beings and coming together through song and dance. Group drumming may produce positive psychospiritual changes that support drug-free and side-effect free improvements in areas beyond symptom suppression.
Considering that the benefits associated with conventional treatments for depression may actually result from the placebo effect and not from the pharmaceutical chemicals themselves, as well as the fact that antidepressants can cause severe adverse effects including suicidal ideation, the findings of Fancourt and Perkins, et al become all the more promising.
An interesting and important discovery from this study is that group drumming down-regulated inflammation within the immune profiles of study participants. Could the dysregulation of inflammation be a root cause of a wide range of psychiatric disorders, and anti-inflammatory interventions be a solution? The link between inflammation and depression (in addition to bipolar disorder and anxiety) explains how anti-inflammatory herbal remedies like turmeric have been clinically proven superior to common antidepressant medications like Prozac.
You may have heard that we are born with everything we need and that the Earth provides what we need when we suffer from dysregulation and dis-ease. We are born with rhythm in our genes and in our bodies for a reason, for a need. Find a community drum circle in your area or simply grab a drum (or use your hands on your thighs) to make some healing music!
(Bronwyn Katdaré is a certified holistic health coach, Reiki practitioner, Shamanic healer, drum circle leader, and sound empowerment facilitator. She is a member of the SFU World Drumming Ensemble and support team member at Jim Donovan’s Summer Rhythm Renewal).