I want to share a story with you. Years ago, as a young college student in Boston looking for a way to connect to something greater than me, I took a West African drum and dance class. I thought it would add some groove to my musical abilities (I was a vocal student at a music school), but I didn’t know then that it would do much more than that. That little class was the impetus for me to travel to Ghana, West Africa. It was my first step in deciding to get my master’s in Ethnomusicology, and to travel to Senegal to do thesis research. And, it urged me to connect with others in my community in vulnerable and meaningful ways – first, in college, then in grad school, and then in the larger Boston community.
Why did I keep drumming and dancing my way through young adulthood? Something clicked during my African travels, and I was profoundly awed by how rhythm was ingrained into the West African cultures I experienced. Rhythm was something everyone participated in, no matter age or background. I’ve seen extremely young and extremely old people enter the circle of people and dance to the thrumming of the drums with joy and intensity while everyone cheered them on.
Participating in these traditions allowed me to experience a culture that was deeply connected to each other in a way I feel our Western culture just isn’t. Over there, you’re never alone. As I continued my journey and became certified in several drum circle facilitation protocols, I learned the research behind WHY rhythm is such a powerful tool for our health.
1. It combats social isolation.
Over the years, researchers have conducted studies with vulnerable populations including veterans with PTSD and elderly people with Alzheimer’s. Among other things, the drumming sessions gives participants a chance to interact with others when they otherwise might sit alone during that time. I drum with many older adults with memory loss issues and the room always suddenly becomes lively with the sound of singing, humming, and drumming.
2. It changes your brain.
So. Much. Research. Has been done on the effects of rhythm on the brain. From reversing the effects of stress on your DNA, to encouraging hemispheric synchronization or left-right brain communication, drumming has so much to offer our brains. You can literally change your brain chemistry when you drum, not to mention the release of all those feel-good hormones like oxytocin and dopamine. It doesn’t matter who I drum with, from school children to corporate employees to sullen teenagers – once the beat gets going, the smiles come out, and the tension in the room goes WAY down.
3. It encourages empathy and compassion.
Drumming requires an intense presence – that means no texting, checking your email, or even thinking about the ten million things you have to do afterward. This presence extends to the participants’ need to make the rhythm sound good. And in order to do this, everyone needs to listen to and support each other. When we encourage each other to succeed, everyone wins because the rhythm sounds good, and we feel we’ve accomplished something awesome together. This encourages empathetic thinking in everyone from school children to corporate executives.
How can you get started?
So, are you convinced? Want to use rhythm for your own mental wellness? There are lots of ways to get started.
My company Just Add Rhythm has a YouTube channel that includes vlog posts on how to use rhythm for your own personal wellness. I also recommend checking out Christine Stevens’ UpBeat Drum Circles channel for tons of rhythm inspiration.
Jacksonville and St. Augustine have recurring drum circles and you can join their Facebook groups. You can also join our Jax Drumming for Wellness group for updates on events as well as research and helpful links.
Finally, if you’re local to Northeast Florida, I encourage you to subscribe to our monthly newsletter at Just Add Rhythm to get insights and local event updates right in your inbox.
Drum circles are come-as-you-are. Our programs provide drums and instruments for everyone, and no experience is needed to participate. And, if you look online for inspiration (this is GREAT!), you don’t even need a drum to reap the benefits! Take a moment for yourself today and add a little rhythm into your day. Your brain and body will thank you!
About Alisha & Just Add Rhythm:
Alisha Ramcharitar, M.A. is the owner of Just Add Rhythm, which provides drumming and rhythm-based team-building and wellness programs throughout Northeast and South Florida. She seeks to inspire joy and purpose in all those who drum with her. When she’s not drumming, Alisha loves to play her ukulele and spend quality time with her husband and their rambunctious Goldendoodle, Gracie.