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  • Karl Thunemann

Try drumming to relax into a meditative state

By Dick Kite

As a meditator, have you tried following the path of drumming? Lend an ear to Christine Stevens, * author of The Healing Drum Kit:

"Drumming may be the oldest form of active meditation known to humanity.

 “What could meditation and drumming possibly have in common? Meditation and drumming help us get out of our heads and into our hearts.  In drumming, the rhythm becomes a mantra that captures our attention. You cannot drum while thinking.  Both act as mind sweepers; to clear the mental space of worries and negative thought patterns. “The focus is on remembering rather than learning. Meditative states are quite natural and simple, but not easy. Drumming is similar. Within the rhythm, we encounter memories of heartbeats in the womb and rhythms our bodies long to express.

“Our goal is to connect with spiritual realms and the non-physical. We travel along both the silence and rhythm paths as portals into the spiritual space where we breathe deeply, relax and re-connect with the heart and soul.”

To see and hear what the drum looks like and to experience some of its capabilities, check out this link:

My own journey into the realm of Meditational Drumming occurred late in my career. I had prepared myself for Music Ministry by spending four years of undergraduate level, two years of graduate studies at San Francisco Theological Seminary, and courses at Westminster Choir College and The Royal School of Church Music in England. It took me four years of experimenting with meditational drumming to come to the point of being able to understand what the teachers were getting at. That realization was urged along by a developing appreciation of Native American Spirituality, the mesmerizing sounds of the Native American Flute and the Shamanic Drumming. (Elders of the Navajo Tribe say, “The Great Spirit loved the drum so much, he gave everyone a heartbeat.”)

We embarked on a journey to learn the basic techniques and rhythms that would lead us, we hoped, to something that would enhance the worship experiences of ourselves and our congregation.

During that time, I gathered a group of people around me and we set out to develop a Meditational Drumming group. We used the great Hamza El Din as our inspiration (See and hear him play here We embarked on a journey to learn the basic techniques and rhythms that would lead us, we hoped, to something that would enhance the worship experiences of ourselves and our congregation. Because of the time constraints of a formal worship service, we were more successful in our rehearsal times where we had no such constraints. However, during services where Communion was served, there was more time, so we were able to lead many of the congregants into the edge of a meditative state before the “spoken Word” was resumed.

Now, after learning the various types of hand and finger “strokes,” if one were to pull one pattern out of the first link example, and if you play only that pattern for an extended period of time and, seeking to divest oneself of all extraneous thoughts and concentrate only upon the rhythm of the drum, one may enter into a level of meditation that is both freeing and spiritual.

This subject even has the attention of the U.S. Library of Medicine. Professor Michael Winkelman concluded, from a study: “Research reviews indicate that drumming enhances recovery through inducing relaxation and enhancing theta-wave production and brain-wave synchronization. Drumming produces pleasurable experiences, enhanced awareness of preconscious dynamics, release of emotional trauma, and reintegration of self. Drumming alleviates self-centeredness, isolation, and alienation, creating a sense of connectedness with self and others. Drumming provides a secular approach to accessing a higher power and applying spiritual perspectives.”

Okay, if you have your drum and you are ready to start, here’s an approach to the discipline suggested by Christine Stevens:

· Create a sacred space where you can settle in.

· Prepare to drum by placing your hand over your heart. Take a deep breath. Breath into an intention for your meditation. Place your open hand on the drum and rub the drum in a circular fashion, infusing your intention into the drum.

· Now you are ready to drum. Play a simple pulse, rhythm or whatever feels good to you. Don’t think. Don’t think. Don’t think. You may use a play-along CD as well, like “The Healing Drum Kit” which includes twenty-seven play-along rhythms for specific intentions. The specific rhythm is not as important as releasing all self-criticism and allowing yourself to liberate your creative spirit.

· Give yourself at least a minimum of four minutes to fall into the beat. Significant biological signs of relaxation typically occur after four minutes of drumming.

· When you are ready, come to a stop by fading your drumming into silence.

· Put down your drum and focus on your breath. Feel the rhythm of your breath gently drumming your body. Stay in this meditative state for as long as you desire in a sitting meditation.

· Complete your practice by gently returning and honoring your drum.

Our discipline included most of these steps, but we continued playing as we entered our own, individual meditative state: We found that the action of putting the drum down detracted from the meditative music.

*Christine Stevens 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, Discovery Health, Living Better TV, and is a faculty for The Shift Network. She has trained facilitators from more than twenty-five countries including Iraq, China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Europe. Christine has worked with Fortune 500 companies, survivors of Katrina, students at Ground Zero and most recently, led the first drum circle training in a warzone in northern Iraq.


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