Drumming Meditation: The Healing Power of the Drum

Written By Menaka Pulandiran

Co-written with: Dr. Norma D'Agostino, staff psychologist with the Princess Margaret Cancer Center and Dr. Shari Geller, author, clinical psychologist, and creator of the Therapeutic Rhythm and Mindfulness (TRM) program

Thump. Thump. Pa-rump-thump

One will begin a slow, steady beat, and the other will chime in with something a bit faster and more up-tempo. Gradually other drummers are joining the song, playing their own rhythms on a variety of different drums. No two rhythms are alike, and yet somehow they all go together. The drumming is now amplified, and now maybe ten people are playing an amazing rhythmical symphony. Their shoulders relax, their breathing becomes deeper, and their minds become calm and present. As the drumming continues, the beat speeds up, the pace quickens, and even though I can't see them I can literally feel the energy in the air, that pulsing rhythm off in the distance. Finally, the drumming reaches its peak, on the leader's cue they all end together. 1-2-3-BOOM.  Silence.  And a moment later I can hear everyone bursting out into laughter and clapping.

As I worked away at my desk, I could hear the drumming circle going on in the exercise room of ELLICSR as part of a research pilot study done by Dr. Norma D'Agostino. Making music is becoming an important part of the wellness movement, not as entertainment, but as an exercise in mindfulness and a way to encourage emotional reflection.  Group drumming and mindfulness practices have both been found to reduce stress and burnout and increase vitality and provide a safe environment for self-expression and for group connection.

Today, drum circles can be found in community centers, festivals, and local parks. Some places are starting to offer drumming programs called Therapeutic Rhythm and Mindfulness (TRM) which infuses drumming, mindfulness and emotional reflection to help cultivate presence and reduce the barriers to being full in the moment. TRM was started as a program for cancer survivors, designed to help process difficult emotions around cancer using drumming and music making. TRM has been offered to numerous cancer survivors in community centers that focus on cancer support and in hospitals that provide cancer care in and surrounding the Toronto area. Dr. Shari Geller is an author, clinical psychologist, and creator of TRM and has a long-term personal mindfulness meditation and drumming practice. Dr. Norma D'Agostino is a staff psychologist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and was asked by Dr. Geller to head the TRM research team. Dr. D'Agostino agreed to do so as she believes TRM is an intervention that has the potential to help cancer survivors of all ages maximize their quality of life.

Visit the Therapeutic Rhythm and Mindfulness (TRM) website to learn more.