Starting long ago, drums were used by indigenous people of many lands for a variety of reasons. Among these were communication, religious ceremonies and other spiritual purposes, and celebrations. Far from the frenetic pounding beat of today’s rock-style drumming, or the habitual desk-top thumping many teenagers do that drives teachers crazy, there’s a therapeutic value to drum music. This method of healing is still as valid today as ever.
In some cases it follows the beat of the human heart. In others, it’s the expression of a rhythm from deep within the soul. No matter what, drumming as a form of alternative health therapy releases something primal. It channels energy pent-up inside a cubicle all day. The rhythm frees the earth-bound heart longing to run wild, rid of all its burdens.
There are drumming circles that meet, usually outdoors for an open-air acoustic effect as well as to share their energy and encourage each other in wellness. The emphasis is on a relaxed outpouring of emotion and strength in the rhythms and gestures. This is as much a healing art as a musical one. Vibrational medicine, of which drumming is one example, has the ability to calm the patient, much as a mother’s heartbeat soothes and nurtures an unborn child listening in the womb.
There’s something about drumming, much as with chant, that makes the drummer feel that she/he is undergoing some type of transformation. In fact, drums and chant are frequently used in combination, especially by Native, African and Asian cultures. The vibrations of the drums and of the voices have therapeutic effects at cellular levels, since all matter has innate resonance due to the electronic nature of the atom. Songs that accompany the music used in such a way are composed for specific healing purposes.
Caution–there is a disturbing tendency among those who wish to be “hip”, to be on the cutting edge of all the latest fads, especially of the New Age sort, to become involved in drum circles. Basically, these are yuppies “playing Indian”–thinking that any type of Native spirituality or other customs is automatically mystical. All these people need to do, they truly believe, is to pretend to act like the so-called Indians they see on TV shows (the Hollywood version of Natives, who are usually dark-haired Caucasians who sit cross-legged and utter “Ugh!” or “How!”), spend a little time communing with nature, and poof! They have magically been transformed into Indians, complete with names like Running Nose or Dances with Politically-Correct Wannabes. These people, despite their earnest desires to connect with some form of spirituality they can’t understand, are about as Native as white bread. How they expect to change their race by make-believe is unfathomable, but put a drum in their hands and they think they’re making their own pow-wow.
Please, respect the authenticity of indigenous traditions and spirituality. If you wish to become involved in therapeutic drumming, find a group that does not pretend to be something they are not. UCLA has such a circle, called Beat the Odds, that uses this technique to help those in need of nurturing of their social skills and healing of mental health issues. For more information on this program, see the following link: http://uclartsandhealing.net/training.aspx