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Drum healing, bullshit?

I want to tell my story into drum healing because I hope that it may encourage others to explore this modality too.

Before I moved from science into doulaing I had a friend called Peter Voshol who is a scientist and a shaman and made drums and did drum healing. I remember thinking :drum healing? bullshit!

I didn’t occur to me to be curious and ask him questions about what he did.

It’s a funny thing isn’t it? We all accept that sounds can do medical stuff (how does a doppler work after all?), but because shamanic drumming has been mostly erased from our culture, we tend to dismiss it as hippy bullshit.

My experience into developing drumming as a practise came from first hand experience.

In 2013 when I attend my first doula retreat, there was a woman shaman called Kay Gillard who ran a drum healing workshop called Shamanic work for doulas. Amongst other things that day, she led a drum journey. I remember being quite sceptical, thinking “this isn’t going to work”. And yet, as we relaxed into the journey, I had the most vivid, powerful visions of what felt like past lives to me. Having this experience unlocked a part of me that I didn’t know about and let me yearning for more.

I left the retreat with a desire to own a drum. I told my mum about it, and she offered to give me the Bodhran she has bought on a trip to Ireland years before.

I brought the Bodhran back in Cambridge from my holidays in France a few weeks later. I felt completely out of my comfort zone playing it, and my brother,  a professional musician and showed me how to play it with the traditional sticks, with youtube videos. I realised I couldn’t play it well with the sticks and felt disheartened.

I am very grateful to my friend Peter Voshol, for when I visited him with my drum once I was back in Cambridge, and bemoaned my lack of ability with the stick,  asked me what I wanted to do with this drum. “Do you want to play in an Irish band?” he asked. I said no I want to do some shamanic drumming. Then he explained I didn’t need to use the stick and showed me there and then how to make a soft beater using a stick and some felt, and how to use it. This experience really helped me on my journey. It also helped shape who I am and how I teach for I believe that we can learn in non prescriptive ways. I like to encourage people to develop skills in a way that works for them.

I started playing around with my Bodhran and experimenting with how I felt playing it. I did this by myself and with almost no guidance, a way of exploring things which I now realise is quite natural for me, as a kinaesthetic learner. I have found that, whilst getting tuition from more experienced people is valuable, but there is also value in exploring what a new modality feels like for you, without another person’s expectations or ideas about it affecting your experience.

The following year. at the retreat we had a whole day drumming workshop with Carolyn Hillyer, where we all drummed as a group. I absolutely loved and wowed to make drumming a regular practise.

As well as having a workshop, that year I also ended up giving someone a group closing the bones session at the retreat. A healer, the lovely Rebecca Wright, drummed in the background whilst we rocked and massaged and held the women receiving the ceremony. This felt very powerful and I asked questions to Rebecca about it and she suggested I buy a horse drum from Jonathan Weekes (I had been part of a group enacting horse energy in the group workshop with Carolyn), then sent me a link to his Etsy shop. I bought one of his horse drums shortly afterwards.

Drumming became something I added to the ceremony I taught at the end of my closing the bones workshops. I also started offering it to clients who received the massage and who liked the idea. I loved introducing women to the powerful mind experience that simple, rhythmical drumming is.

I had a bit of a drumming hiatus after that. Growth path aren’t linear. I had some disbelief in my abilities to drum so I didn’t do much with it.

In 2016 I attended another doula retreat, there was more drumming involved with a workshop that included a journey to meet our power animal. It rekindled my love of drumming big time and I felt drawn to birth my own drum.

A few weeks later in July 2016, I attend a drumming making workshop with the lovely Jo Gray in Essex,  It was a lovely, relaxed paced and friendly day and I not only made a drum I also made the most gorgeous drum beater, complete with wood burning designs and crystals embedded in the beater’s handle.

Slowly, drumming became more of a normal practise for me, thought I still had a small element of impostor syndrome about it.

I birthed another drum at the 2017 doula retreat, when we spent 2 days making a drum and beater with Carolyn Hillyer, and it was even more special at 13 of us doulas made this drum together. The following year we brought back our drums and drummed together which was really magical. This drum became my favourite and I have used it for healing ever since.

In 2017 I felt it was finally time to put some formal learning behind my drum healing work practise. I attended the Reiki Drum technique training with Sarah Gregg , over a week end, during which I experience some life changing healing. The Reiki Drum techniques uses the drum to channel Reiki healing onto the person receiving the treatment.

Joining the Reiki Drum family meant that I also got to be back of Sarah’s Gregg’s spring equinox gathering the following March. I tell you 60 reiki drum practitioners drumming together in a room is one powerful experience I will never forget. Sarah made a video of the day and if you watch carefully you can spot me in it.

After that, drumming soon just became something as do, and no longer felt weird. I started offering it as standard as part of my closing the bone treatments and rituals.

I also used it as part of women circles, and mother blessings and group closing the bone ceremonies for new mothers. I love drumming alone, but but group work is even more special.

In 2019 I was extremely lucky to become the owner of a handcarved wolf drum (my spirit animal) from the incredible talented finish drum maker Juha Jarvinen. This is his Etsy shop but if you want to grasp the extent of his art, go and check out the amazing drum pictures on his Facebook page.

In 2019 I also ticked one of my bucket list wishes:  to drum at a birth. I actually got to drum during two. The first one was for a doula colleague, and it was a home birth, which felt quite low key. The second time, I was specifically hired as a doula by a woman who wanted me to drum at her birth. I got to drum in the hospital for the first time. There were two of us doulas drumming during this birth. It was in the birth centre, which is staffed by midwifes who are generally more on board with natural birth, and less high tech than the obstetric unit. I still avoided making eye contact with the midwife when I started drumming, because I was aware that it could raise some eyebrows, in a “what’s that weird hippy shit they are doing over there?”. It always surprises me that people are not more curious as I would have liked to explain why we drummed. I can’t wait to drum in the obstetric unit 😉

In November 2019 I felt a pull to take my drum work further and I am currently doing my case studies to become a Reiki Drum teacher. I cannot share details, but some of my case studies have had mind blowing healing experiences from the sessions, way beyond my expectations. It has only strengthened my desire to carry on. Look out for Reiki Drum training workshops later this year.

If you have never had a drum journey or healing session, I truly recommend it. It is incredibly relaxing, I liken it to having a massage in your brain.

Recently I started attending a monthly giant gong bath in Cambridge-which has 12 enormous gongs and some giant chimes, and I had the most mind blowing experience of relaxation, complete with feeling the ground move under my body, and I could still feel the benefits the next day.

I also ran the first of a monthly drum circle in Cambridge. I spent hours preparing for it. It went better than I could have imagined. 14 women turned up, many of which had never done any drumming before. It worked extremely well and all where delighted by the experience. I cannot wait to do it again.

I’ve reached the point where drumming feels like a completely normal daily activity for me.

If after reading this you still think that drum healing is bullshit, did you know that there is some cool published research on the effect of drumming on the brain, completed with EEG measurement showing an altered state of consciousness. You can find a review of some of these papers here .

French Shaman/researcher Corinne Sombrun has co-created an institute of research called the Science Trance research institute , and works with neurobiologists to understand the effect of drumming sound on trance like states.

One of their published papers states that:

We present the first neurophysiological study of a normal subject and our co-author, who had received extensive training in the Mongolian shamanic tradition and is capable of inducing a shamanic trance state at will. We integrate original research with literature review and suggest a unified psychobiological model for ‘altered’ modes of consciousness. This model incorporates objective, subjective and intersubjective science within a broad evolutionary framework to provide a non-reductionist account of psychological, biological and social determinants of selfexperience that helps to bridge Western and traditional healing techniques.”


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  1. Francoise Freedman on January 14, 2020 at 12:03 pm

    Thank you for sharing your drumming and drum birthing journey, what a fantastic unfolding!
    Corinne Sombrun was inspired to go to Siberia after training with someone I know very well in the Peruvian Amazon… there is a need for the research taking place in her institute and perhaps your experiences of drumming at births will add another dimension.

    • sophie on January 14, 2020 at 4:50 pm

      Dear Francoise thank you for your kind words. And I have been reading all of Corinne Sombrun’s books, including the one where she worked with the Amazonian Shaman, fascinating stuff! Since reading her books I have also been experimenting with a couple of guimbardes….

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