Drum Talk: Uncovering Joy

Lyle Povah discusses the power of drumming, including his research on its benefits for people with eating disorders. Lyle leads Drum Talk at The Haven July 8–11.

“The Creator loved the drum so much, S/He gave each of us a heart beat” – Navaho saying

I am the leader of ‘Drum Talk – African Drumming for Creativity, Passion and Healing’, a Haven course that allows us to explore who we are through drumming and music, and then further assists us in uncovering the joy of an innate ‘musicianship’ that is our natural birthright.  I say ‘uncovering the joy’ because I believe it is only temporarily inaccessible and simply needs the right conditions to re-emerge. While this work has always been about building community, enhancing health, deepening faith, exploring creativity and moving into the true expression of ourselves, I now subscribe primarily to the simple notion that if we are open to it, playing music, singing and drumming together uncovers joy.  Joy is like the yeast in the bread – when it is part of the mix, all the other elemental components are able to rise up together fully expressed. 

Whether working in hospitals, jails, schools, churches, with corporate groups, seniors, at risk youth or with special populations, the drum has always been a powerful companion in my own personal search for healing. In this article, I’d like to highlight an area of this work that I never intended to become so passionate about – eating disorders.  

Many health practitioners now classify an eating disorder as an addiction and over a period of ten years I have gained great personal insight into a truer meaning of health through knowing and working with many wonderful women, men and youth who deal with an eating disorder.  

I have been conducting programming and research at St. Paul’s Hospital in the In-Patient Eating Disorders Program since 2006.  The main focus of the qualitative research has been to understand how the Drum Circle Program affects 1) patient stress levels and 2) positive and negative emotions and feelings.  Of the 20 emotions and feelings tested in the study, ‘inspired’ and ‘proud’ showed the greatest before and after change scores. The most prevalent comment about the program has been that patients feel simultaneously relaxed and energized.  In a similar way to the work at The Haven, patients in the Drum Circle are encouraged to look inward for clues to their emotional health.  

An eating disorder, like any addiction, can slowly take over one’s life until there seems to be no separation between the person and the disorder. Within this challenging field, there is a high rate of relapse and the recovery process most often takes years, sometimes decades.  In an intensive hospital treatment environment, a Drum Circle can offer joyful and engaging activities like singing, playing rhythm games, body percussion, as well as healing rhythms, crystal bowls, drum meditations, and guided imagery. Patient comments like “I feel connected to the inside and outside like I haven’t in a long time.  It reminds me of when I was involved in music” or “I was absolutely free from the eating disorder for a whole hour” inspire me to further develop and refine program protocols for this intervention that I believe can have a significant impact, not only in eating disorders, but in the wider mental health field. The latest year long study should be published later in this year. To view past research, visit  http://drummingandhealth.com/research/

To close, I’d like you to try this: choose someone you are close to, a friend, an intimate partner, someone you trust.  Lay your head on their chest so you can hear the beating of their heart. And breathe … Imagine yourself as the fetus you once were, listening to the beat of your Mothers heart … 

People who are profoundly affected by a group drumming experience often report it as being like ‘coming home’, to a deep life long yearning for rhythm and beat that originated in the womb. The drum is the oldest musical instrument – all other instruments came after the drum.  Our affinity with rhythm already exists and only needs a mode of joyful expression to become manifest. 

Join us at The Haven for Drum Talk, July 8-11, 2011.

Visit drummingandhealth.com/  for more information.

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