The sound of the drums never fails to center me. Every time the team and I break into the drumming for drum call—the opening of our program where participants enter the room—joy immediately radiates throughout my body. Even though I’ve heard and played this music over and over again, the novelty never wears off, which I find a truly phenomenal aspect of this work. There is often some level of anxiety that precedes the program. Maybe I’ve lamented over a long, newly memorized speech, or I have a new aspect of the program I need to facilitate for the first time; the sound check is not going right; some difficulties in travel like lost luggage or late flights has me on edge; or even a personal problem at home weighs heavy on my mind. Regardless, whatever negative energy may have plagued me prior to that moment of the downbeat; it completely dissolves in those first few moments of drumming with my crew and the audience.
The probable reason behind the settling sensation I experience when drumming is based on what has been scientifically researched as a very real therapy for anxiety and a slew of other maladies that plague our modern society. Group drumming has been shown to not only reduce anxiety but also boost the immune system, lower stress, and improve one’s overall mood and sense of well-being. There are even studies that exist that show group drumming to improve symptoms associated with such debilitating conditions as Alzheimer’s and Autism.
A great deal of the available research on group drumming has been conducted by Barry Bittman,, MD, a neurologist, author, international speaker, researcher and CEO of Meadville Medical Center’s Mind-Body Wellness Center. Dr. Bittman provides us with a wealth of provable documentation that provides awareness for what anyone who has actually participated in properly facilitated group drumming has undoubtedly experienced. Of course, our ancestors instinctively knew of the great power that exists within a group of people expressing their rhythm, making music together and that power is what lead these communities to survive.
So what got Dr. Bittman interested in studying the effects of group drumming? He was bitten by the “drum bug.” Several years ago he attended a drum circle at an integrative medical conference with seven hundred healthcare professionals. Dr. Bittman remarked that he immediately recognized the metaphor of the experience. “I’d never seen seven hundred healthcare professionals working together! And they sounded great. I sensed incredible support and sharing and I was immediately engaged in the group.” This serendipitous experience inspired Bittman to lead a research team to scientifically investigate group drumming from a psychoneuroimmunological perspective.
Bittman initially studied different types of drumming to see what worked best. The results were surprising. He studied a one-hour protocol, which included exercise,
visualization, support, nurturing, self-expression, and, of course, music making. The protocol resulted in a significant increase in NK cells, circulating white blood cells that seek out and destroy cancer and virally infected cells (Bittman, 2000).
Dr. Bittman’s research demonstrated that playing a musical instrument (and anyone can play a drum with no musical experience) reverses multiple elements of the human stress response on the genomic level (Medical Science Monitor Feb. 2005). This is really good news for the millions of Americans suffering from acute stress and various forms of anxiety. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older. Anxietycenter.com reports that 65% of Americans take prescription medications daily with 43% being mood altering drugs. Could group drumming put a major dent in these numbers?
Truthfully, these statistics cannot possibly reflect the enormity of the issue as stress and anxiety play as a part of every human being’s life experience. Stress and anxiety cannot really be avoided, but they can certainly be tamed, and for many of us, without the need for medication. Sorry pharmaceutical companies! You may want consider investing in drums instead of Paxil.
And for those of you who think, “Well that won’t work for me because I have no rhythm.” Let me assure you that is not, nor could ever be true. We are all wired for rhythm. Every beat of our heart signifies how deeply connected to rhythm we are. Some of us simply must reach deeply and let go of the misperception. I am here to tell you I am a recovered rhythm phobic! The first time I picked up a Djembe and played it with a group of people, healed me of my misnotion that I had no rhythm. In fact, that experience was so profound that I went on to become a professional rhythm event facilitator. Now not everyone will take it that far, but just imagine how much happy, healing ju ju could be spread across the human population by simply banging on a drum.
One particularly impressive body of research conducted by Bittman reported impressive results. After participating in a series of recreational drumming sessions, subjects, who were first year associate degree nursing students, revealed statistically significant improvements for multiple parameters associated with burnout, mood states and total mood disturbances. If group drumming can produce these kinds of results for one of the most stressful occupations on the planet, certainly we have stumbled upon a profoundly easy, fun, simple, and relatively inexpensive tool for stress, anxiety, and general burnout. Imagine the long term effects on overall health care/wellness costs? You can read more about this research at http://cincinnatimusic.s3.amazonaws.com/cincinnatimusiccoalition/files/2010/09/Nurses-RMM-Publication-7-9-041.pdf.
By the time this blog is posted, the Drum Cafe team will be in Nebraska drumming with 400 health care professionals that specialize in assisted living and long term care. We will have the great honor of serving those who serve. This will include two days full of long flights and hours of driving in an effort to inspire and uplift a very deserving audience. No doubt we will encounter our share of stress and anxiety along the way. But the minute we step on that stage, look into each other’s eyes, start the drumming, then share that vibration of love and radiate it outward to our rhythm community it will all be worthwhile. And, as the above studies pointed out, both the team and the audience will walk away feeling substantially more vibrant and rejuvenated from the drumming.
Have you witnessed the happy ju ju that drumming unleashes? Please do share with us!
In Joy and Rhythm,