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Sheila’s Mindful Hand Drumming Story: It’s Never Too Late to Get Your Groove On!

Sheila Herman, our beloved 80 Year old Rhythm Bliss community member shares her first experience with mindful hand drumming at Rhythm Bliss Studio over 5 years ago. Today Sheila continues to drum with us in studio and in our Rhythm Bliss Online Mindful Hand Drumming program:

I was in conversation with a friend at a dinner party who was responding to my search for something that would peak my interest, get me involved and inspired instead of sitting around “being anxious” all the time. I explained to her that I had tried many things: line dancing, taking courses to become an aqua fit instructor (that didn’t last very long), writing courses, choirs, watercolor classes, play reading groups and other activities that were inevitably dropped by me as they supposedly didn’t “do it” for me. My friend listened intently as I described my many failed attempts and then broke into my rambling with the question, “Have you ever tried drumming?” “Drumming? I responded, are you serious?” “Yes, she replied, they say that drumming is very good for anxiety. “ I was quite taken aback by her last statement and when I returned home that evening, I decided to search Drumming on the Internet. Much to my surprise, I discovered that drumming is used around the world for therapeutic reasons. Drum Therapy is an ancient approach that uses rhythm to promote healing and self expression, and is a valuable treatment for reducing anxiety, stress, and has been proven to boost the immune system. Even blood pressure can be regulated when your body relaxes while drumming, as your brain waves adapt to the tempos or pulse played over long periods of time.

After searching for more information about drumming, I finally mentioned it to my psychiatrist. He not only endorsed the endeavour but he also was able to highly recommend a female instructor who calls herself the Drum Mama! My excitement was increasing so I phoned and arranged to start her beginners’ class the following Sunday. She gave me the address and I was surprised to find it in a residential area.

I approached the large, modern home. I walked around to the back yard and down the steps to the basement studio. Before me was a large, roomy studio with at least 30 hand drums of many shapes and sizes sitting on the floor throughout the room. The drumming studio was surprisingly spacious and comfortable with oak panelled walls and about twenty chairs set up to form a circle. I was greeted by a vibrant, vivacious young looking woman who made me feel welcome and comfortable in spite of the fact that were at least twenty individuals, few men, more women of all ages ranging from early 20s all the way up to my age. DrumMamma, (Alexandra is my name she said) as she smiled warmly and found me a drum that she claimed would be appropriate for me.

The front of the room is where the instructor sits with a huge Kick Drum at her feet. ( She uses the kick drum pedal to set the beat while her hands initiate the rhythms we are to follow.) The room is filled not only with many standing drums, but also baskets full of tambourines, hand instruments called clackers, bells and many other aids that we may utilize in the future. Alexandra, our instructor greets everyone warmly, is enthusiastic, energetic , inspirational and very compassionate. She keeps reminding us that within our Drum Circle are students who have been studying with her for many years while others, like myself are beginners.

Watch Sheila share her Rhythm Bliss!

Alexandra has been teaching drumming for over twenty years as well as having studied with many famous African, Cuban and other highly experienced teachers. She told us that the most important part of drumming is to get the pulse. “Don’t worry about keeping up with me, she explained, just try to concentrate on being aware of the pattern—feel it in your body .As I followed her instructions to breathe in, with my shoulders down and my head held upright, closed my eyes, placed my hands on the drum and became aware of the sense of the tapping . She then asked us, “what does it feel like in your body? Are you able to relax and move with the rhythm with your shoulders and your arms?” If the rhythm is particularly fast, and you feel unable to keep up, just stop drumming, place your hands gently on the drum, close your eyes and just “feel” the vibrations that enter your body .
On one side of me sits a young woman who is very friendly and is willing to repeat instructions if I am unable to hear them. On the other side, sits an East Indian young man who thumps his drum confidently and intensely. As I follow Alexandra’s tapping it ignites a “born again” feeling in me. When I make the moves with my hands I feel as if I am creating a rhythm of my own expression while making a connection with the rest of the group. For the first time in my life, I am enjoying being part of a band.

To me it is almost like a meditative experience because I must focus on being in the present moment or I miss the beat. Specifically, all that is involved is thumping our hands in different positions on the drum which is supported between my thighs at a slight angle away from me. At the conclusion of the hour and fifteen minute class, I feel as if I have been in another world. It’s like I have been carried away to a never-never land where there is only me and the drum and the beat that I am creating with my hands. The emotion that this situation instills in me energizes me like yoga breathing. It invites my entire body to feel the recurring sequence of sounds right down into my core and I am alone with my own heart beat which reflects the rhythms that all of our hands are creating on the drums.
At this point, our teacher will remind us to uncurl our toes,(and I could actually feel that happening ) relax our hands and arms and be aware of holding our head and neck in proper alignment with our shoulders. Suddenly I realize how tense and hunched my shoulders were for much of the lesson. But, oh, what a ride!

I leave the class in a semi daze. I feel as if I have had an out-of-body experience where my mind was so focussed on following the patterns set before us that there is no way I could think about anything else. That, for me, whose mind is usually scattered off in a million different directions is one gigantic accomplishment! However, I am able to do it because if my mind wanders for even a split second I not only lose the pattern set by the instructor but even more important I can lose the beat. And then it feels as if my heart has stopped and my hands are left in limbo not knowing how to get back into the magical rhythm of the 20 other drummers.

Lately, I have been thinking that I need a therapist, but in one sense this drumming practice is as therapeutic an experience as I could possibly have. After the class I feel energized, spacey and somewhat discombobulated as if I have taken marijuana. (which I have never been able to do successfully.) When I arrive home, before getting into a conversation with my husband, I need to go upstairs, shut myself off and meditate on the incredible happening I have just experienced. Drumming has set something on fire in me and I want to revel in it.