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Drumming for Healing

Posted by Wolf Murphy on

                I could start out with a list of all the evidence-based research proving the biological and psychological wellness benefits of group drumming. It’s a long list and includes solid research all the way down to the genomic level.

                But that article has been written, already, a lot of times, occasionally by me.

                So instead, here’s some ways I have experienced the healing powers of the drum.

                Drumming at a social event, a few years ago, at the UU Church in Orlando, we watched as an old woman drove her motorized scooter onto the dance floor and stood up on it, oxygen tubes and all, and seriously busted a busted move! She was smiling and said she hadn’t danced in decades. She said she wanted us to come drum at her funeral! (Although we never got the call, it was quite an honor.) Her daughter told us she hadn’t seen her mother that happy in ages.

                That’s healing.

                 I had a 25-year career in educational publishing design and composition, before the entire industry was forcibly outsourced. Twice during that time I was formally diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel, and advised to eliminate hand drumming as it was more repetitive motion on top of the geek work. I had a different idea. Since my wrists and arms felt better after playing djembe, I made time to drum more, not less. And both times the chronic pain resolved without painkillers or surgical intervention. 

                That’s holistic healing, and personal empowerment.

                I went to a Men’s Drumming Circle in Portland, at a very challenging time in my life. It was after a bad breakup, and while I was dealing with a serious health concern. I went there to drum, so the fact that the first hour (of a two-hour event) was spent passing a talking stick around really got on my nerves. I sat there listening to these men express the challenges and pains in their lives. I wanted to drum. So, when the stick got to me, and I was the last in the circle before the stick made it back to our host, I introduced myself and said just “I’m really looking forward to drumming” and got that thing out of my hands like it was roadkill. 

                None of this escaped the notice of the facilitator, and he accepted the stick, and . . . paused. For a long time. And then he said that he had noticed a theme in the way many of us oriented ourselves towards our lives and challenges, and that he wanted to offer a hard-earned bit of wisdom for our meditation. And he spoke four words, smiling directly at me, that truly changed my life. “Expectations are planned resentments.”

                I had gone there to get my ya-yas out; I didn’t walk in to drum with these other men or connect with them, I just wanted to express my own need and pain and show off besides. That was my expectation. I’d gone to a drum circle as That Guy, and gotten so gently but thoroughly schooled in four simple words. As a result I really tried to play with everyone, instead of playing selfishly and showing off to try and assuage my own ego deficit.

                That’s monstrously humbling and uncomfortable, but it’s most definitely healing.

                At a “Spirit Journey Drumming” workshop at a yoga studio, which is a fancy name for performing brainwave entrainment drumming to facilitate deep meditative experience, we provided paper and pens for people to record their experiences. One woman wrote about 4 pages of notes, and when we offered participants the opportunity to share, she told us that she had been struggling for months, conflicted about whether to pursue an entirely new career and life, moving to Africa and a life of service. During the meditation she clearly saw herself on the tarmac, preparing to board a plane, with nothing but joyful anticipation in her heart. She arrived in a state of inner conflict and departed with calm resolve.

                That’s emotional healing. 

                At The JAMMIN! Shop, I had just opened at 11 AM when a disheveled, drunk and belligerent middle age man came in yelling about how I would NOT BELIEVE how those BLANKS had just tried to BLANK him, and looked ready to work himself into a real screaming hissy fit right then and there. It was definitely a “Do I dial 911?” moment.  I happened to have a steel tongue drum sitting on the counter, and in a moment of sleep-deprivation genius I said “Hey, check this out.”

                These tongue drums produce the most soothing sounds, and he stopped in mid-screaming rant and said, “Wow, that is really cool.” A couple minutes later, after trying to try and play the drum, he headed out pretty calmly, hopefully to go home and sleep it off.

                If not healing, that at least avoided a situation that might’ve required healing, or bail money anyways.

                 And all this just scratches the surface of the innumerable ways that drumming can positively impact us on all levels: physical, emotional/psychological, and spiritual. if you’re interested in all the amazing science of drum healing, just stop on by the Shop; it’s one of our favorite topics. If you want to feel it, though, you just have to pick up a drum and, respectfully, join in.


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