The first time I heard about drumming—aside from children playing single drums to learn cognition—I thought it was the freakiest thing out there. As the years have gone by (and I won’t say how many) drumming has become more prominent in today’s healing world. Scientific studies now show that drumming supports us physiologically, emotionally, and spiritually.
While on retreat out west I decided to investigate what the hype was all about and attended a drumming circle. Although the environment was a little different then the concrete walls of New York City the impact that drumming made on me remains the same.
I found that drumming tapped into the beat of my heart; it reminded me of hearing my child’s heartbeat while in my womb. The beat of the drum slowly became hypnotic, my body began to move rhythmically along with it, and within moments I was transported to another place in time. It was peaceful, calming.
Sayer Ji, Founder of GreenMedInfo.com, wrote an interesting blog called “6 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Drumming.”1 It makes perfect sense that through ancient rhythms we are transported to a time before the written word—perhaps even to a time before the spoken word was fully developed.
Drumming was used to generate cohesiveness and connection in a time when the needs of the tribe were more important than the needs of the individual. Ji asserts that drumming brings us to a time when “… a direct and simultaneous experience of deep transcendence and immanence [Divine presence and the connection to this presence] was not an extraordinary, rare occurrence as it is today.”
Meditation allows me to experience that kind of transcendence. By the end of my retreat I was fortunate enough to experience first hand how powerful it is to have a transcendental experience with drumming in a community.2
So just what is the science? When it comes to our health, drumming may:
- Improve cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, stress and anxiety levels, and blood lactate (lactic acid that can cause pain and inflammation).3
- Support brain health by enhancing executive function and improving callosal white matter microstructure in people, specifically in people with neurological conditions like Huntington’s Disease.4
- Reduce pain by activating the production and release of feel-good endorphins in people playing music or drumming.5 Endorphins promote a sense of well-being, and can improve mood, boost immunity, and help us feel connected to others.
- Reduce stress hormones by decreasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol levels drop, it can give the body’s natural killer cells a boost, which in turn boosts immunity.6
I was also fascinated by the part of Sayer Ji’s article that discussed drumming’s positive effects on socio-emotional disorders in children who come from low-income families. I’m encouraged that something as simple and ancient as rhythm and community can affect us beneficially on so many different levels.
- Ji, S. Six Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Drumming, http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/6-ways-drumming-heals-body-mind-and-soul.
- [xiii] Gingras, B., Pohler, G., Fitch, T. 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
- Smith, C., Viljoen, J., McGeachie, L. African drumming: a holistic approach to reducing stress and improving health? Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine: June 2014-Vol 15-Issue 6-p. 441–446, doi: 10.2459/JCM.0000000000000046.
- Metzler-Baddeley, C. Improved Executive Function and Callosal White Matter Microstructure after Rhythm Exercise in Huntington’s Disease, J Huntingtons Dis. 2014;3(3):273-83. doi: 10.3233/JHD-140113.
- Dunbar, R. Performance of music elevates pain threshold and positive affect: Implications for the evolutionary function of music. Evolutionary Psychology 10(4): 688-702.
- Bittman, B. Composite effects of group drumming music therapy on modulation of neuroendocrine-immune parameters in normal subjects. Alternative Ther Health Med, 2001 Jan;7(1):38-47. PMID: 11191041.