Try Drumming for Better Health by Linda Buch
Q: I recently saw a wonderful movie, “The Visitor,” where the main character is changed emotionally by getting into drumming. I have heard about “drum circles” and how healing they can be. Any information on this would be appreciated. — J.G., Denver, Colo.
A: The simple act of people drumming together is on the rise in schools, hospitals, nursing homes — sometimes led by certified drumming facilitators, other times spontaneously among people who just want to make music together.
Drumming is a primal compulsion. Whether it is done with the fingers when nervous or when tapping out a beat on the radio, drumming is a natural human impulse and one that is growing in popularity among all age groups and abilities.
“From the first time I participated in a drum circle, I recognized something profoundly moving about the experience,” says Dr. Barry Bittman, a neurologist and CEO and medical director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center in Meadville, near Pittsburgh.
The current popularity of drumming and participation in drum circles seem to be driven by a human need to reconnect with the beat and vibrations of life. Drumming is also one of those rare physical activities that can have both profound and subtle effects on the entire person. Bittman’s research is demonstrating the benefits of recreational music-making on the drum, including:
- Improved aerobic and cardiovascular system;
- Strengthened immune system;
- Improved mood and reduced burnout of workers under stress;
- Reversed ravages of stress at the cellular level;
- Reduced anxiety, depression and feelings of loneliness.
“Our preliminary testing of aerobic protocols, for example, found that by just using hand drums and moving to the beat, people burned a substantial number of calories — averaging 270.4 calories in a half-hour — with a much lower perceived exertion,” Bittman says.
In other words, people were having so much fun playing on a drum that they did not feel that they were exercising. By engaging both mind and body in the production of music, the entire activity was fun and exhilarating, not tedious.
“People who cannot move to the music can play at their own pace; those who are not ambulatory can just drum,” Bittman explains. “All the participants in the preliminary research were laughing and smiling and no one stopped to rest. This is the key — connect people to music physically and mentally, and the results are positive.”
It also is easy to forget that “fitness” is more than treadmills and weight lifting; it is also about mental, emotional and spiritual health, those aspects of the whole person commonly referred to as “wellness.” Stress is a major concern among medical researchers, because it is often at the root of complaints that impact wellness, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, frequent colds and headaches, depression and poor immune function.
Medically, the release of stress from the body and the subsequent increased activity of the immune system are documented. Bittman’s research, conducted through the Health Rhythms music and therapy division of Remo Inc., a drum company, is showing a profound change in stress response after people participate in recreational music-making programs.
“The DNA switches that are turned on with stress can be reversed with creative musical expression,” according to Bittman. In other words, by doing something as simple as drumming, biological benefits occur at the cellular level.
This connection between the human pulse and that of nature — manifested by rhythmically beating a drum with the hands — is a recurring theme not only among indigenous peoples but also others who find themselves drawn to drumming and drum circles.
About the Author
Linda Buch has a degree in health and physical eduction, is an ACE-certified personal fitness trainer with her own personal training business.