Shamanic Drumming Blog

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Neuroscience of Drumming

According to new neuroscience research, rhythm is rooted in innate functions of the brain, mind, and consciousness. As human beings, we are innately rhythmic. Our relationship with rhythm begins in the womb. At twenty two days, a single (human embryo) cell jolts to life. This first beat awakens nearby cells and incredibly they all begin to beat in perfect unison. These beating cells divide and become our heart. This desire to beat in unison seemingly fuels our entire lives. Studies show that, regardless of musical training, we are innately able to perceive and recall elements of beat and rhythm.

It makes sense then that beat and rhythm are an important aspect in music therapy. Our brains are hard-wired to be able to entrain to a beat. Entrainment occurs when two or more frequencies come into step or in phase with each other. If you are walking down a street and you hear a song, you instinctively begin to step in sync to the beat of the song. This is actually an important area of current music therapy research. Our brain enables our motor system to naturally entrain to a rhythmic beat, allowing music therapists to target rehabilitating movements. Rhythm is a powerful gateway to well-being.

Neurologic Drum Therapy

Neuroscience research has demonstrated the therapeutic effects of rhythmic drumming. The reason rhythm is such a powerful tool is that it permeates the entire brain. Vision for example is in one part of the brain, speech another, but drumming accesses the whole brain. The sound of drumming generates dynamic neuronal connections in all parts of the brain even where there is significant damage or impairment such as in Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). According to Michael Thaut, director of Colorado State University's Center for Biomedical Research in Music, "Rhythmic cues can help retrain the brain after a stroke or other neurological impairment, as with Parkinson's patients ...." The more connections that can be made within the brain, the more integrated our experiences become.

Studies indicate that drumming produces deeper self-awareness by inducing synchronous brain activity. The physical transmission of rhythmic energy to the brain synchronizes the two cerebral hemispheres. When the logical left hemisphere and the intuitive right hemisphere begin to pulsate in harmony, the inner guidance of intuitive knowing can then flow unimpeded into conscious awareness. The ability to access unconscious information through symbols and imagery facilitates psychological integration and a reintegration of self.

In his book, Shamanism: The Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing, Michael Winkelman reports that drumming also synchronizes the frontal and lower areas of the brain, integrating nonverbal information from lower brain structures into the frontal cortex, producing "feelings of insight, understanding, integration, certainty, conviction, and truth, which surpass ordinary understandings and tend to persist long after the experience, often providing foundational insights for religious and cultural traditions."

It requires abstract thinking and the interconnection between symbols, concepts, and emotions to process unconscious information. The human adaptation to translate an inner experience into meaningful narrative is uniquely exploited by drumming. Rhythmic drumming targets memory, perception, and the complex emotions associated with symbols and concepts: the principal functions humans rely on to formulate belief. Because of this exploit, the result of the synchronous brain activity in humans is the spontaneous generation of meaningful information which is imprinted into memory. Drumming is an effective method for integrating subjective experience into both physical space and the cultural group.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Hmong Shamans of France

Ly Nya Tcha
The Hmong are an Asian ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. There are 15,000 Hmong currently living in France. France's Hmong population grew steadily after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. After American armed forces pulled out of Vietnam, a communist regime took over in Laos, and ordered the prosecution and re-education of all those who had fought against its cause during the war. Whilst many Hmong are still left in Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, and China, since 1975 many Hmong have fled Laos in fear of persecution. Housed in Thai refugee camps during the 1980s, many have resettled in countries such as the United States, French Guiana, Australia, Germany, and France.

Since their arrival in France, the Hmong were forced to adapt to an urban way of life in which their cultural practices could appear antiquated and superstitious. The Hmong have struggled to preserve their shamanic beliefs and traditions in the face of assimilation, religious conversion, and the incomprehension of their French neighbors. According to Ly Nya Tcha, a Hmong shaman living in Louvres, "Most of the Hmong community now places more faith in medicine and our tradition has lost its value. Plus, there are new religious beliefs that consider our traditions backwards.” Hmong converts to Protestantism, says Ly, "believe I live in the past and never ask for my help." Read more.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Eagle Medicine

Eagle symbolizes power, courage, soul flight, wisdom, higher truth, and illuminated mind -- clarity of both conscious and intuitive awareness. Eagle represents the twofold clarity of one who clings to the light of inner knowing, thereby illuminating the world. We can connect with the guidance of our inner voice by stilling the chatter of the mind through meditation or drumming. Stopping the chatter of the mind frees us of fear, doubt, and limitation. Such inner calm and openness reconnects us to our inner truth, to our sense of what is correct. Inner truth reflects, like a mirror, the higher, universal truth that exists in every situation.

Eagle teaches us that we should allow this higher truth to guide our actions and transform our life. In every situation, we should be humble, open, and receptive, suspending all previous judgments, in order to grasp the inner truth of the matter. We must rid ourselves of doubt and disbelief and trust that the correct way will show itself. The cosmic truth of the situation will then become apparent at the right time. With the power of truth as our guide, we can bring enlightenment to the world.

Eagle reminds us to pay attention to what really matters in life. Eagle medicine is the ability to rise above the material to see the spiritual. Eagle helps us to soar above the hurdles of life's dilemmas, keeping our attention focused on more distant horizons of self-realization. Invoke Eagle to help you fulfill your own unique path of self-realization. This sacred bird will enable you to fly higher or go deeper within yourself.

Many shamans call upon Eagle to carry their prayers on its wings to the Creator. Eagle will carry the shaman's prayers to the Creator, or the shaman may transform into Eagle and soar into the celestial realm of spirit that governs all aspects of the material realm of earth. The Eagle and the shaman can ascend to the celestial realm of unmanifest potential and descend on healing journeys into the temporal realm of manifest form. Both are intercessors between heaven and earth, bringing harmony and balance between the spiritual and the physical world.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Standing Rock Defense Fund

Photo by Lucas Zhao
The Lakota People's Law Project is asking for donations to fund the upcoming legal battles to protect Standing Rock activists, Chase Iron Eyes and HolyElk Lafferty. The necessity defenses of Chase and HolyElk could set a precedent to protect not only land and water, but freedom of speech itself. These trials can help create a permanent legal framework to protect indigenous, environmental, and civil rights. If you choose not to give monetarily, they ask your thoughts and prayers for these two brave warriors. All the medicine you can provide is much appreciated as the team gathers evidence and prepares for the fight. These trials may prove to be two of the most important of our generation. Heal. Unify. Resist.