My very first job out of college was teaching science and remedial math in a middle school in inner-city Denver. Many of my students were not English-speakers. Several were children of migrant farm workers that only attended this school during the planting and/or harvesting season and then moved to the next school. Still other kids were struggling with a challenging family life, but these were MY kids and I loved each and every one of them even when trying to convince them that long division really was worthy of their time. As a young rookie teacher, I struggled to find ways to connect with my students on a personal level. I went to their soccer games and church services. I brought homemade goodies to them on test days to be sure they weren’t hungry during the exams. I read aloud from my favorite books, often acting out the scenes as much as reading the words to get my Spanish and Vietnamese speakers engaged. We played games and made up jump rope rhymes for math facts.
Towards the end of that first year, a local non-profit sponsored a traveling drum circle education organization to come to our school and provide a few lessons and group sessions for our students. Many teachers were wary of what they believed would be yet another distraction for their students, that the drumming would just increase the energy level and restlessness of the kids. I, however, was (sadly) desperate to get my kids engaged and interested in attending school, so I signed up to be the lead teacher. Twice a week for three weeks I brought my students to drum circle. I would be lying if I said they acted like perfect angels that first session. As you’d imagine, there was much excitement, random banging on the drums and some hollering. However, as soon as the instructors started that first steady rhythm, the kids joined right in. No more squirming or being silly, they were “all in”. They stayed attentive and focused for the entire thirty minutes.
On the way back to the classroom, they’d be drumming on the chests or bellies, heads bopping to their internal rhythm. When we got back to the classroom…that’s when the magic happened. They sat down quietly. They were alert. My kids were completely, 100% ready to learn. It was amazing and wholly unexpected. The other teachers were so worried about the drumming revving them up – and it turns out, it helped them calm down!
- Engage your entire brain: By physically drumming a rhythmic pattern, the left and right hemispheres of your brain are synchronized. Even just listening to the drumming pattern has this effect. The experience of drumming and being exposed to the rhythms creates new neural connections in your brain, as well. In this way, people with ADHD, Parkinson’s Disease and even stroke victims can have brain-boosting benefits through drum therapy! Drumming also increases Alpha waves in the brain, which are calming and the same waves sparked by meditation.
- Make you happy: Participating in a group drum circle can spark the release of endorphins, enkephalins, and Alpha waves which are all known to create feelings of well-being.
- Boost your immune system: According to Barry Bittman, MD (Yamaha Music & Wellness) group drumming increases natural T-cells, which combat cancer and other viruses.
- Connect you to others and your inner-self: Group drumming circles rely on individual players listening to the group and working to play their part in synchronicity and cooperation. This group dynamic creates a bonding opportunity within the members. You also connect with your own inner rhythm and energy, sharing your experience with other participants by drumming. You can explore your inner-self while connecting to others who are feeling the same thing.
- Put yourself in the present moment: If you are completely engaged in the rhythm of the group, your mind isn’t wandering off to worry or make lists. You are mindful and present.
If you’ve never experienced a drum circle before, I encourage you to find an event or group in your area and try it out! Don’t be shy – you can’t mess it up. Chances are you will drift away from your internal dialog and plug-into the rhythm. It is very relaxing and energizing. You know what would be better? Create a drum circle for your kids! Here’s a song from Kidding Around Yoga to get you started – it’s called “Drum a Drum Yoga“.