I’ve always had an interest in drumming.  I learned the violin as a child, probably because my mother was more accepting of the noise a violin would make in a child’s hands than the sound of drums in… well, in anyone’s hands.  The violin was elegant from my mother’s perspective; she probably thought of drums as belonging to rock ‘n’ roll hoodlums or hippies (If you’re not already getting the picture, my mother was a very prim, straight-laced woman).  We also had a piano in the house which my mother played.  But despite her best efforts, I’ve always been drawn to the sound of drums.  Maybe it speaks to a primordial instinct within me, the drumbeat reverberating inside me almost like a second heartbeat.  I started taking tap dance lessons last year, I think in part because it felt as though I was beating a drumbeat with my feet (and also because I love the old Fred Astaire movies).

But after going to a benefit concert in November where there were several performers playing traditional drums such as the djembe and Native American hand drums (see my previous post), my interest in drumming has been renewed.  So on Cyber Monday, I took a leap:  I found a great deal online for a Djembe, which is defined as a rope-tuned, skin-covered drum played with the bare hands, originally from West Africa.  I was nervous buying it unseen since I don’t know the first thing about drums, but my fears faded away when it arrived.  The drum was lovely, and it had a nice resonant sound to it when I tentatively tested it out.  The poodle ran and hid the first few times I played it, but she eventually decided that it was safe to return (i.e. maybe mommy hasn’t entirely lost her mind), and now just lies next to me as I play, occasionally shooting me a questioning look with her big raised poodle eyebrows.

I found some great videos by World Drum Club on YouTube that provided me with my first djembe lessons.  I was immediately hooked.  Now I make sure to practice at least a little every day.  I’ve found more great videos to watch to learn new rhythms, and I’m contemplating working up the courage to join a drum circle.

As I googled information about the drum, I ran across some interesting online articles about using drums for healing purposes.  I found a good summary article on aboutreligion.  The article states that therapeutic rhythm techniques have been used for thousands of years to create and maintain physical, mental, and spiritual health.  It lists many different therapeutic drum benefits including the calming, focusing, and healing effects of drumming on Alzheimer’s patients, autistic children, emotionally disturbed teens, recovering addicts, trauma patients, and prison and homeless populations.  Study results demonstrate that drumming is a valuable treatment for stress, fatigue, anxiety, hypertension, asthma, chronic pain, arthritis, mental illness, migraines, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, paralysis, emotional disorders, and a wide range of physical disabilities.  One study cited found that group drumming actually increases cancer-killing cells, which help the body combat cancer as well as other viruses, including AIDS.  

I was excited, but skeptical.  How could something as simple as playing a drum have such beneficial effects on the body?  According to the article, one theory as to why drumming is so beneficial is that drumming permeates the entire brain.  Vision for example is in one part of the brain, speech another, but drumming accesses the whole brain.  The sound of drumming generates dynamic neuronal connections in all parts of the brain even where there is significant damage or impairment such as in Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

I hadn’t realized any of this when I ordered my drum, but I had somehow sensed that creating my own energy through music might somehow help me.  I thought that not only would it help me relax, but maybe I could use it as a meditative device.  This idea apparently has some research behind it; a study by Barry Quinn, Ph.D., found that even a brief drumming session can double alpha brain wave activity, dramatically reducing stress.  The brain changes from Beta waves (focused concentration and activity) to Alpha waves (calm and relaxed), producing feelings of euphoria and well-being.  Alpha activity is associated with meditation, shamanic trance, and integrative modes of consciousness.

I definitely could use more alpha waves right now; having cancer is a seriously stressful situation to be in.  Not only is there the question of living or dying, but the stresses of the treatments themselves, the question of lumpectomy versus mastectomy, the financial drain (I have decent insurance, but there are so many things that aren’t covered, or are only partially covered), the inability to perform all of your job duties within the normal time frame, et cetera.   I would be very thankful for all the alpha brain waves I can get to counteract these stresses.  My monkey brain makes it hard to even sit for meditation on most days; maybe drumming will allow me to reach enough of a meditative state to return to daily sitting.

I feel thankful to the benefit concert for allowing me to see the possibilities of drumming up my own energy.  I will try to raise energy for my own healing process, and if I get good at drumming up energy, maybe I can eventually raise it for others as well.  That is, if the poodle can handle all the noise.