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Top Ten Reasons to Drum for Your Health (Updated 2015)

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This article was originally written in 2010, but lately has gotten a lot of attention. I have had drum group facilitators and drum therapists contact me from the U.S., Mexico, and South Africa asking to use this article. (If anyone wants to use this information please ask and I am generally happy to let people use it. It is copyrighted.) I decided it was time to update it slightly, citing a few newer studies regarding the beneficial effects of drumming.
Ten Reasons to Drum for Your Health (Updated 2015)

1. Drumming is for everyone
Drumming does not require advanced physical abilities or specialized talents. It does not require participants to read music or understand music theory. Drumming, even a simple pattern, offers benefits to a huge range of people. Drumming is a universal language. It transcends gender, race, age, and nationality. In fact, nearly every culture on earth has some form of drumming tradition.

Furthermore, group drumming and drum therapy is currently being used for people with brain injuries or impairment, physical injuries, arthritis, addictions, and more. Studies and therapeutic drumming programs are finding numerous health benefits from drumming for at -risk youth, seniors, as well as people with PTSD, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's, hypervigilance, and depression.

2. Drumming reduces stress and boosts the immune system
Studies have shown that drumming lowers both blood pressure and stress hormones. The active component of drumming helps reduce stress in a number of ways. It’s fun, it’s physical, and it’s a great diversion from other stress-filled activities. If you need to vent, what better way than to hit something?

Drumming is also meditative, inducing relaxed mental states that reduce anxiety and tension. Drumming combined with deep breathing and visualization techniques offers even more stress reduction benefits. “We know that stress takes a toll on the immune system,” says Ann Webster, PhD. “When you’re under stress, blood levels of stress hormones go up and your body is no longer able to make killer cells and other cells of the immune system in the amounts it normally would, and that can lead to disease progression. Reducing stress is very restorative. It gets the system back in balance.”

But lowering stress levels isn't the only benefit. Group music making, including drumming, can actually reverse your body's negative response to stress on a genomic level. A 2005 study ( "Individualized Genomic Stress Induction Signature Impacts" - Barry Bittman, MD.) "looked at the effects of recreational music making at the genomic level and demonstrated not simply a reduction in stress, but a reversal in 19 genetic switches that turn on the stress response believed responsible in the development of common disease." So drumming can have positive effects on us even at a genetic level.

A 2001 study of 111 group drumming participants showed that after just one hour, drumming does boost the immune system. According to cancer expert Barry Bittman, MD, the study found that group drumming actually increases cancer killing cells, which help the body fight cancer and other viruses.


3. Drumming produces deeper self-awareness by inducing synchronous brain activity (Hemispheric Coordination) and promoting alpha waves
Studies of the human mind have found that the two sides of a human brain often work at different levels and at different rates. Drumming activates both sides of the brain and can help the mind achieve hemispheric coordination, a situation where both halves of the brain are active and brain waves are synchronized. This coordination can lead to integrative modes of consciousness, which may include greater insight or creativity.

Drumming also can increase alpha waves in the brain. The increased alpha activity can help drummers and others to calm their minds or even achieve a meditative state. Group drumming and its effect on alpha waves are now being used to help people with addictive personalities and people who are ‘hypervigilant’.

4. Drumming helps to release negative feelings and emotional trauma. It can also decrease physical pain.
Drum therapy has successfully been used with patients and others suffering from emotional traumas including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Drumming can help people express and address emotional issues. The physical stimulation of drumming also removes blockages and produces emotional release. Sound vibrations resonate through every cell in the body, stimulating the release of negative cellular memories. “Drumming emphasizes self-expression, teaches how to rebuild emotional health, and addresses issues of violence and conflict through expression and integration of emotions,” says Music Educator Ed Mikenas.

Singing, dancing, and drumming have been shown in formal studies to trigger the release of endorphins. As a result of these endorphins, subjects in these studies showed an increased pain tolerance. People who merely listened to music did not release extra endorphins or show a higher pain tolerance. 
5. Drumming helps us to connect with self and others
Group drumming creates a sense of community and a powerful shared experience. It has been used as a successful team building experience to teach groups to work together, to listen to each other, and to achieve common goals. Group drumming discourages isolation, and self-centeredness and promotes communication and involvement with the group. On a personal level, a drum circle also provides an opportunity to connect with one’s own spirit at a deeper level. People who are sick, addicted, or afflicted with other conditions are out of sync with themselves. By putting these people in sync with themselves and with healthy individuals it is possible for them to feel and enjoy a healthier state of being.

6. Drumming helps us connect to the natural rhythms all around us
Rhythm is all around us though we are often unaware of it. The sun, moon, and the seasons follow regular rhythms. Our bodies have natural rhythms, which are a part of us every day. Natural rhythms rule us, even on a cellular level. Recent scientific ‘string’ theories even suggest that on a subatomic level, the smallest particle of the universe, that which makes up all things, is nothing more than tiny vibrating ‘strings’ and that their vibration, or rhythm, is what makes things what they are. Under this theory, everything is rhythm, literally.
Drumming connects us to rhythm, puts us in touch with natural cycles, and makes us aware of rhythm all around us.

7. Drumming provides a path by which we may access a higher power
Drumming produces a sense of spirituality, connectedness and community, integrating body, mind and spirit. By allowing participants to achieve a more relaxed, meditative mental state, drumming allows people to enter states of higher consciousness. Drumming can coordinate the brain’s two hemispheres and synchronize the lower and frontal areas of the brain, which can lead to feelings of greater understanding and insight, which is often the basis for a person’s connection to a higher power.

8. Drumming grounds us in the present moment
Drumming is interactive. It’s about timing and coordination, both of which force participants to be in the present moment. This helps a person to be grounded in the present moment: When a person is firmly grounded in the present, stressful situations in the past are forgotten and worries of the future are minimized.

9. Drumming helps us to reach a state of self-realization
Drumming is a great form of self-expression. A drummer beats the drum and immediately receives feedback from the drum. This immediate feedback loop helps drummers achieve self-expression and self-realization. Drumming provides a method by which people can hear and be heard, a non-verbal language by which they can express themselves. The drummer is at once a useful part of the group and a unique individual.

10. Drumming Increases white brain matter

A 2014 study in the Journal of Huntington's Disease analyzed patients with Huntington's Disease, considered an irreversible neurodegenerative disease, after two months of drumming intervention. The study found "improvements in executive function and changes in white matter microstructure." White matter is an element of the human brain that relays signals and coordinates communication between different parts of the brain.The authors of the study concluded that drumming may result in "cognitive enhancement and improvements in callosal white matter microstructure." In short, it's possible that drumming may improve brain function and how the different regions communicate with each other. In people with a degenerative brain disease such as Huntington's, drumming may help rebuild crucial white matter.

11. Drumming is fun

Drumming releases endorphins in the human brain that cause feelings of happiness and euphoria. It’s a great reason to gather with other people, to share in a common experience, and to do something enjoyable. A participant in a drum circle is part of a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts, and drumming is accessible to an extremely wide range of people. Drumming is fun, that's the bottom line.

 © 2015 Dave Robertson

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