How a drum can heal your illnesses

And you don't even need a real drum for this, even a huge inverted bucket can serve as an improvised drum

hands on drum

In nearly all cultures, both past and present, we see the drum being used as an instrument of healing. From the Minianka healers of West Africa to the shamans of Siberia, rhythm has been used for thousands of years to address any number of health issues.

The roots of rhythm healing lie in the shamanic cultures of ancient Siberia. The single-headed frame drum originated in Siberia along with shamanism itself thousands of years ago, and then spread in successive waves to the rest of the world. Shamanism is based on the principle that the spiritual world may be contacted through the inner senses in ecstatic trance. The drum, sometimes called the shaman’s horse, provides the shaman a relatively easy means of controlled transcendence. Researchers have found that if a drum beat frequency of around three to four beats per second is sustained for at least 15 minutes, it will induce significant trance states in most people, even on their first attempt.

The drum provides the shaman a relatively easy means of controlled transcendence

Active meditation

The first thing you might ask is how does drum induced trance differ from traditional meditation? The two forms differ absolutely in their approach, because Eastern sitting meditation empties one of thought, while shamanic drumming is very active and filled with content. Just like a yogi or a monk who exists in a spiritual state most of the time because of constant devotional practices, we can readily induce those profound states of deep meditation and heightened awareness. This ease of induction contrasts significantly with the long periods of isolation and practice required by most meditative disciplines.

The capacity to enter a range of trance states is a natural manifestation of human consciousness. It is this ability that makes us humans different from shamans. What makes shamans unique is their mastery over an otherwise normal human trait. The shaman is described as a hollow bone who can enter an altered state, clearing out his or her personal ego space. This makes way for spirit to use them as a healing tool. In this way, the shaman is a channel for higher consciousness.

The capacity to enter a range of trance states is a natural manifestation of human consciousness

The hollow bone teaching

The hollow bone teaching is an ancient practice in Zen Buddhism, shamanism, and Native American spirituality. It is another way to shift your consciousness to become an empty vessel for spirit. The idea is to become like a conduit for spirit. When we can move our ego and rational mind out of the way to channel the divine power of the universe through us, all healing is possible.

Frank Fools Crow was a venerated Native American Holy Man who taught that you must become like a hollow bone to be a great healer. According to Fools Crow, “We are called to become hollow bones for our people, and anyone else we can help, and we are not supposed to seek power for our personal use and honour. What we bones really become is the pipeline that connects Wakan Tanka [whom we could call Brahman or Tao], the Helpers and the community together.” In his becoming a hollow bone, Fools Crow believed that he went through four stages:

First, he called in Wakan Tanka to rid himself of anything that would impede him in any way, such as doubt, questions or reluctance.

Then he recognised himself as a clean tube, ready to be filled with hope, possibilities, and anxious to be filled with power.

He experienced the power as it comes surging into him.

Finally, giving the power away to others, knowing that as he is emptied out, the Higher Powers will keep filling him with even greater power to be given away.

Benefits of being a hollow bone

The hollow bone teaching has been with us for thousands of years. In traditional teaching, techniques include ways to clear away anything that could possibly clog the bone of our spirit and mind. Meditative practice is an important part of the ongoing task of keeping our insides clean. This form of meditation also facilitates a transcendent state of unity consciousness. True enlightenment means feeling and recognising our true oneness with everything else.

Ecstasy doesn’t necessarily mean joy or bliss. It’s the feeling of oneness

The benefits of attaining this state of unity consciousness include relaxation, healing, more energy, better memory, greater mental clarity, and enhanced creativity. Feelings of peacefulness, timelessness, and spiritual well-being are common, along with a oneness of feeling and purpose with the totality of a dynamic, interrelated universe. When we feel that deep oneness we are ecstatic. Ecstasy doesn’t necessarily mean joy or bliss. It’s the feeling of oneness.

Becoming a hollow bone is a simple and effective way to induce this profound state of consciousness.

Steps to becoming a hollow bone

To become a hollow bone, try the exercise outlined below. To perform the exercise, you will need a drum or a shamanic drumming recording. A digital shamanic drumming recording can be downloaded from any online music store. Audio recordings allow complete freedom to meditate without the necessity of placing part of the conscious mind on the physical aspects of playing a drum. If you do not have a drum, simply improvise one from available materials. Try tapping on an overturned plastic container with a spoon. The larger the container: the deeper the sound. A five-gallon bucket, for example, makes an excellent improvised drum. Read through the exercise first to familiarise yourself with the process.

  1. Dim the lights and sit comfortably erect in a chair or on the floor. Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply seven times. Let your abdomen rise and fall as you breathe. Focus on the breath as it enters the nose and fills your lungs, and then gently exhale any tension you might feel, clearing the energy channels of your body.
  2. When you are fully relaxed, ask the ‘Higher Powers’ to remove any blockages that prevent you from functioning as a hollow bone. Repeat the affirmation, “I choose to be a clean, hollow bone.” Visualize yourself as a hollow bone or tube that is all shiny on the inside and empty. The cleaner the bone, the more energy you can channel through it, and the faster it will flow.
  3. The next step is to enter a trance state. Either listen to a shamanic drumming recording or begin drumming a steady, metronome-like pattern at a tempo of about three to four beats per second. Focus your attention on the sound of the drum, thereby stilling the chatter in your mind. Allow the drum to empty you. Become one with the drum.
  4. As you drum, imagine the unifying spirit of the divine source flowing through you. Visualise a spiral of energy descending from the heavens above, entering your hollow bone and travelling down into the earth. You may feel it, see it, sense it, or simply imagine it. As you focus on it, it will occur, for energy and life force follow thought. Allow spirit to flow into and embody you so that the speed and rhythm of your playing come under its control.
  5. As the drum journey evolves, you will become more ecstatic and spirit will perhaps create new rhythms. You are now moving into a higher state of universal consciousness and developing a new shamanic skill. At the higher levels, a healer becomes adept at detaching all sense of self, fully present in the moment, as a hollow bone or living conduit for healing energy to move through.
  6. When it feels appropriate, gradually slow the tempo of your drumming to draw your consciousness back into your body. Do not rush the transformation. Visualise yourself fully grounded in your body, and then slowly open your eyes. Once you have returned to ordinary reality, end your drum journey with four strong beats to signal that the sacred time of focus is ended. If listening to a shamanic drumming recording, you will hear a similar call back signal near the end of the track, followed by a short period of rapid drumming to assist you in refocusing your awareness back to your physical body. Sit quietly for a few moments, and then open your eyes.

Becoming a hollow bone is a simple and effective way to induce this profound state of consciousness

Binaural beats

In addition to drumming recordings, there is a new technology called binaural beats that can easily induce transcendent states of awareness. German researcher H.W. Dove discovered that when two pure tones close in frequency are presented, one to each ear, the brain detects the difference between them as a third frequency. The two hemispheres of the brain entrain to this binaural beat rather than the audible tones. For example, a 90 Hz tone and 95 Hz tone will induce a 5 Hz theta brainwave cycle.

Theta activity reflects the dreamlike state between wakefulness and sleep. Theta rhythms are associated with meditation and shamanic states of consciousness. Theta increases creativity, enhances learning, reduces stress, and awakens intuition. Binaural beats can induce profoundly deep altered states within minutes. All you need is a pair of stereo headphones and a comfortable chair. The sound technology does the rest. Rhythmic stimulation continues to offer today what it has offered for thousands of years: namely, a simple and effective technique of ecstasy.

Adapted with permission from the book Shamanic Drumming: Calling The Spirits by Michael Drake.


A version of this article first appeared in the September 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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