By Christine Stevens //
The roar of joy that set the worlds in motion
Is reverberating in your heart
—Radiance Sutras, Dr. Lorin Roche
We are all wired for rhythm by our circadian sleep and wake cycle, our brain waves, our cardiac beats, and even our neural firings. This is our personal music medicine. So many people have been told they have no musical ability. They believe they can’t ‘hold a tune in a bucket’ or keep a beat. But the truth is we are the music. I call it “homo musicalis”.
The healing power of music is not just a fluffy concept; it is based on both historical and research-based evidence. One of the fathers of music therapy, psychologist and music therapist Dr. Mark Rider, known for coupling musical experiences with active visualization for pain reduction, writes about the power of group sing-alongs to treat trauma responses for veterans.
In fact, group drumming has been shown to directly activate the immune system and calm stress responses. A 2001 study published in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that Natural Killer cell activity increased with participants who were actively drumming when compared to controls. It also found that group drumming changed the cellular biology of the participants and reversed the stress response. In addition, a 2004 study conducted on first-year nursing students found that the act of drumming improved their mood by close to 30%.
The drum circle offers a holistic experience in body mind, and spirit that is as old as the first tribes that sat in circles while drumming and chanting to achieve a higher state of community and individual expression. Plus, it’s been tested on human subjects for thousands of years! It has no side effects and you don’t need a doctor to fulfill a prescription.
Here are THREE THINGS you can do to help turn on the healing by turning up the music:
- Make Your Own Healing Playlist. The best way to go about doing this is to make a playlist of songs you find calming or energizing. Studies have proven that the most effective kind of music for a person’s unique healing journey is the songs THEY enjoy listening to. “You are your inner DJ,” I say in Music Medicine. Load the playlist onto multiple devises and make music a conscious listening practice. Play your healing music whenever you feel anxious or have low energy: in the car, at home, in a hospital room.
- Drum Away Pain. I remember working with a bone marrow transplant patient who was experiencing pain that medicine wouldn’t even help. I had him play the drum gently laying it on his body, while I drummed along with his beat and guided him on a visualization. There is strong clinical evidence from the work of Belaruth Naperstein and others of the effectiveness of using your imagination to envision our own healing.
- Join the Jam! Community drum circles, ukulele circles, or singing activities are all ways that we can connect as a group through music. Even if you feel low energy, just being in the space where music is being created is sure to enliven you. This takes your mind off fear, doubt and worry: you can’t think while you’re playing music. According to the research known as the ‘Jazz Brain’, Dr. Charles Limb had jazz musicians improvise versus play a written piece of music. The activity of jamming de-activated the brain areas of self-monitoring and judgment. It simultaneously turned on the area of the brain dedicated to meditation and self-expression.
About the Author
Christine Stevens, MA, MSW, MT-BC is author of Music Medicine, The Healing Drum Kit and The Art and Heart of Drum Circles. The founder of UpBeat Drum Circles, she has appeared on NBC, PBS, KTLA, and the DVD Discover the Gift. A world percussion artist for Remo, the world’s largest drum company, she has trained drum circle facilitators from more than 25 countries. Christine has worked with survivors of Hurricane Katrina, students at Ground Zero and led the first drum circle training in the war-zone of Iraq. // www.ubdrumcircles.com