Drums are pounding, shakers are rattling, and multiple sclerosis patients are banging away their stress and pain in a “drum circle” in North Hollywood, California.
“I think there’s magic in the drum,” says Beth Maldonado, who leads the group at Remo Recreational Music Center. “This isn’t like a usual support group.”
Maldonado should know. She’s an MS patient herself and a licensed clinical social worker at Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. Maldonado has been running support groups and offering emotional care to newly diagnosed patients for the Multiple Sclerosis Society ever since she was diagnosed with the disease.
Maldonado describes the HealthRHYTHMS drumming as an “algorithm,” which is employed in drum circles all over the world. The drumming not only provides a sense of community, it’s been scientifically shown to boost the immune system, improve mood, and reduce stress and burnout.
Here’s a video of the drum circle in action:
“There’s game playing, there’s the use of shakers in the beginning to get folks lightened up and loosened up and laughing,” Maldonado explains. “There is the opportunity for a percussion discussion, the poignant question about the purpose of that particular meeting. And then a chance for folks to answer on their drum.”
The session closes with a guided meditation and a wrap up.
HealthRHYTHMS was co-developed by Barry Bittman, MD, a neurologist and author who has been researching an integrative approach to health for nearly two decades, first presenting his theories in his book, Reprogramming Pain. Along with other pioneers in the field of complementary medicine, Bittman has developed programs that integrate the power of mind, body and spirit for individuals facing cancer, asthma, cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease and diabetes.
At his Pennsylvania facility, The Mind-Body Wellness Center, the ancient spiritual and healing tradition of drumming was found to be an effective group intervention. In 2001, the doctor and his research team undertook a study to determine whether drumming was actually powerful enough to alter human physiology.
Published in Alternative Therapies, the study “Composite Effects Of Group Drumming Music Therapy” found that participants in drum circles had increased activity of “Natural Killer” cells, specialized white blood cells that seek out and destroy cancer cells and viruses.
HealthRHYTHMS drum circles have also been employed to reduce employee burnout and turnover, diminish stress among first year nursing students and improve school performance and social behavior amongst at-risk youth.
The women in the Multiple Sclerosis drum circle all agree that the camaraderie they enjoy in the group is as important as the health benefits.
“We all need friends,” Nan Batzdorff said with a smile.