How rhythm has healed from the beginning of time
Jim Donovan M.Ed.
professional musician and educator. He’s an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.
Since the dawn of human civilization, mankind has been drumming and dancing.
It’s truly fascinating to think about how in ancient times, despite countless cultures being separated by seas and continents—unable to communicate with one another and perhaps completely unaware of each other’s existence—they eventually integrated rhythm and movement into their lives.
Why is this?
And the mere fact that these drumming and dancing rituals have endured for thousands and thousands of years emphasizes the notion that something deeper is at work here. (More on that in just a moment.)
I believe the explanation is simple: Rhythm and movement are an integral part of the human experience. Period.
If you study indigenous cultures—from the past to the present—you’ll easily find common thEreads of rhythm and movement are interwoven into their way of life.
In my own experience, my propensity for rhythm started early…
I’d wait for the radio DJ to play songs with a good beat…
Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve been fascinated with the profound influence rhythmic songs can have over my thoughts and emotions.
In fact, I vividly remember early summer mornings, just lounging on the family room couch, listening to my mom’s kitchen radio for hours.
And when one came on, I couldn’t help myself from moving! I’d either air drum a solo as if I were Phil Collins, or shoot up from the couch and dance around like James Brown. (And to this day, I can’t help but bust out an air drum solo every now and then…)
These days, whether I’m listening to percussion-heavy music or playing actual drums, rhythm never fails to do exactly what I need it to.
Depending on the tempo, rhythm can relax, focus and energize me… and sometimes, it can do all three at the same time.
There’s something in the way you move…
I’ve had the honor of playing for audiences numbering in the tens of thousands. And nightly, I had the distinct privilege of witnessing people as rhythm moved and inspired them to relax, be joyful, and dance for hours.
After shows, I’d often talk to fans. And more times than I can count, people would often tell me how there was just something about the music that let them just completely let go of their troubles.
Something they couldn’t really put their finger on. Many likened it to a kind of catharsis… one that elevated them into a new awareness about themselves.
That something that they’re talking about is the deep, therapeutic effects of rhythm and movement.
Rhythm is in your blood—literally
In my most current role as an educator, I’ve witnessed thousands of people experience the very same type of catharsis after creating their own rhythms in the drumming workshops I facilitate. (You can check out my upcoming workshops here.)
What’s particularly exciting to me is that this cathartic experience knows no bounds. The vast majority of these participants aren’t even “trained” musicians.
I’ve seen these types of benefits reveal themselves in folks across generations, and in all different types of people—like those with disabilities or people in addiction recovery.
So many people gravitate toward rhythm. But why?
For one, rhythm is used worldwide to help people express our connection with one another. It accompanies the songs and dances that so beautifully expresses our cultures, our traditions, and our emotions.
And despite the differences in the music itself, it’s a universal language loved by so many.
I guarantee if you look closely at your own family history, you’ll likely find that music has played a part in holding together the very fabric of your ancestor’s lives…
And for many of us, it’s only been a few generations since our families gathered to dance the dances of our homelands and sing the folk songs passed down over centuries.
In Western Pennsylvania where I live, you can still witness remnants of these traditions during the ethnic folk festivals during the summertime, or at a University of Pittsburgh African drum and dance performance, or one of the Native American powwows in Dorseyville.
No matter where your ancestors are from, if you look back far enough, you’ll find drumming and dancing.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier, they might look different from culture to culture but I invite you to consider the overarching similarities….
Specifically, how each culture’s music is interwoven with our stories and legends… and most importantly, our identities.
Overcoming your inner critic
Today, we still see rhythm and dance in youth culture worldwide where you’ll find extraordinarily rhythmic music in dance clubs and large festival concerts where people gather to dance, sing, and feel connected.
And yet pervasively in Western culture, there still remains an attitude that if you aren’t “good “at rhythm, or a graceful dancer that maybe you should just watch instead.
We’d rather not take the risk of being ridiculed.
This attitude is unfortunate, considering how it’s inadvertently led people to believe that rhythm and movement isn’t for them.
And to be frank, this attitude is a downright cultural tragedy. And it’s my feeling that it has done a lot of damage.
In a way, I believe it’s contributed to the disintegration of a key part of our human experience: expressing oneself through music and dance.
The good news is that it’s never too late to start.
Unlocking the health benefits rhythm and movement
The health benefits of rhythm and movement are pretty profound.
- Activate your body’s internal healing systems.
- Alleviate stress and anxiety.
- Increase social skills and sense of connection (when in group settings).
- Boost production of the brain’s “happiness chemicals.”
- Decrease stress.
- Improve cardiovascular health (circulation, blood pressure, and heart rate).
- Increase mental focus.
- Lift depression.
- Promote longer, deeper sleep.
- Relieve pain.
- Strengthen cognitive health
Here are a few ideas to get you going with tapping into the health benefits associated with movement and rhythm:
- Search sites like Facebook, Google, or Meetup.com for local drum circles, the get out and go!
- Try a beginner’s dance class. Most gyms or health clubs offer a combination of exercise or dance classes, like Zumba.
- Listen to rhythmic-centered music (like my favorite Santana song, “Jingo”).
Remember, the health benefits come from the act of doing the activity, not in the perfection of it.
Let yourself make mistakes and just have fun!
Participating in music and dance is your birthright.
It’s for everyone…and especially for you.
Jim Donovan M.Ed.