I have been on a journey from dismissal to powerful experience, and I want to tell my story with the hope that it may encourage others to explore this modality too. The first time I heard about drum healing from a friend my reaction was: drum healing? bullshit! It didn’t occur to me to be curious and ask my friend questions about what he did. All I felt was judgement and dismissal. It’s a funny thing isn’t it? We all accept that sounds can do medical stuff (how does a doppler work?), but because shamanic drumming has been mostly erased from our culture, we dismiss it as hippy, non evidence based woo.
My journey into drumming as a practise came from first hand experience. In 2013 when I attended a doula retreat, and there was a drum workshop called Shamanic Work for Doulas. Amongst other things that day, the teacher led a drum journey. I was very sceptical, thinking “this isn’t going to work”. And yet, as I relaxed into the journey, I had the most vivid visions of what felt like past lives to me. The experience blew my mind and unlocked a part of me that I didn’t know about. It left me yearning for more, and I left the retreat with a desire to own a drum. I told my mother, about it, and she gifted me a Bodhran she has bought on a trip to Ireland.
I brought the Bodhran back home, but I felt out of my comfort zone playing it. because I didn’t know how. My brother, a professional musician, showed me how to play it with the traditional stick. I I couldn’t play it well with the stick and felt disheartened. When I returned to Cambridge with my drum, I visited my friend Peter, a scientist, shaman and drum maker. I explained my quandary to him. Peter 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 how to make a felt beater, and how to use it. This was a very empowering moment, because Peter gave me the confidence to experiment and start drumming. It also helped shape who I am, and how to help others learn and explore in non prescriptive ways. I like to encourage people to develop skills in a way that works for them.
I started playing my Bodhran and experimenting with 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, there is also value in exploring what a new modality feels like for you, without another person’s views affecting your experience.
The following year, at the doula retreat there was a 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. My friend Rebecca 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 particular drum a maker on Etsy. I bought this drum shortly afterwards.
Drumming soon became something I added to the ceremony at the end of my closing the bones workshops. I also started offering it to clients who received the ritual and who liked the idea. I loved introducing women to the powerful mind altering state that drumming provides. I had a bit of a drumming hiatus after that. Growth paths aren’t linear. I struggled with some lack of belief in my abilities to drum for a while
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 wonderful day. I made a drum, and the most gorgeous drum beater, complete with wood burning decorations 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, where we spent 2 days making a drum with Carolyn Hillyer. 13 of us doulas made this drum together. The following year we brought back our drums and drummed together which was magical. This drum became my favourite and I have used it for healing ever since. In 2017 I also felt drawn to get more learning behind my drum healing practise. I attended the Reiki Drum technique training with Sarah Gregg , during which I experienced some deep 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 attend Sarah’s Spring Equinox Gathering the following year. Drumming together with 60 other reiki drum practitioners was a 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 became something I 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. I love drumming alone, but but group drumming 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 a two births that year. The first one was a home birth, which felt quite natural to do. 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 drumming during this birth. It was in the birth centre, which is staffed by midwifes who are generally more on board with natural birth than in the obstetric unit. I was still 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 months as part of my case studies. Some of my case studies had mind blowing healing experiences through it, 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 opportunity to teach this modality yet due to the lockdowns, 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, including 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. I am still running these circles 3 years on, and this has included running them online (during lockdowns) as well as in person.
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. It has been utterly supportive and transformative. It ticks all three boxes of wellbeing for me : me connection to myself, to nature, and to people I love. I link a lot of my personal growth and development to this practise. I’ve also reached the point where drumming feels like a completely normal 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.”