(updated June 2021)
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! It 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 journey into developing drumming as a practise came from first hand experience. In 2013 when I attended a doula retreat, Kay Gillard 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, 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, 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 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 it and wowed to make drumming a regular practise.
That year I also ended up giving someone a closing the bones massage 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 drum from Jonathan Weekes, then sent me a link to his Etsy shop. I bought one of his 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 altering experience that simple, rhythmical drumming is. I had a bit of a drumming hiatus after that. Growth path aren’t linear. I struggled with some lack of belief 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 Jo Gray in Essex, It was a lovely, relaxed and friendly day. I made a drum, and the most gorgeous drum beater, complete with wood burning decoration 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 also felt it was time to put some formal learning behind my drum healing practise. I attended the Reiki Drum technique training with Sarah Gregg , 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 year. Drumming together with 60 other reiki drum practitioners in the same 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 lucky to become the owner of a handcarved wolf drum (my spirit animal) from the incredible talented finish drum maker Juha Jarvinen.
In 2019 I also ticked one of my bucket list wishes: to drum at a birth. I actually got to drum during two births that year. The first one was a home birth, which felt quite low key and natural. The second time, I was specifically hired 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 in 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 felt very helpful for the mothers to have drumming whilst they laboured, and I was delighted with the experience.
In November 2019 I felt a pull to take my drum work further and I decided to train to become a Reiki Drum teacher. I did 24 reiki drum sessions in the space of a couple of month as part of my case studies. Some of my case studies have had mind blowing healing experiences from the sessions, way beyond my expectations. It only strengthened my desire to carry on. I attended the training in February 2020 and loved it. I haven’t had the joy to teach it yet due to the lockdown, but I have found that it has had tremendous effects on my personal growth.
Early in 2020 I also started attending a gong bath in Cambridge, which has 12 enormous gongs and some giant chimes. I had amazing experiences of relaxation from it, complete with feeling the ground move under my body, and I could still feel the benefits the next day. 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. It frees your way of thinking and allows you to look at problems and issues sideways and find your own creative solutions.
In 2020 I also started running monthly drum circles in Cambridge. It went better than I could have imagined. 14 people turned up to the first 2 live sessions, many of which had never done any drumming before. It worked extremely well and all where delighted by the experience. During the first lockdown I ran it on zoom, and then outdoors in the woods over the summer.
In May 2020 I turned 50. I started the day drumming in the woods with two other women, and we have been drumming twice a week together ever since. I link a lot of my personal growth and development of the year to this embodied practise. I’ve also 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, it might help you to 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 and 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 self experience that helps to bridge Western and traditional healing techniques.”