by Sandy Palmer, Djembe Drums & Skins
Drumming and yoga connect body, mind and spirit. Both are healing to the inner most parts of our beings. Many of my drumming and yoga friends and colleagues incorporate drumming and percussion into the yoga experience. Music is a big part of the conscious movement (yoga) class. It helps coordinate muscles, heart, and breath as it cues the movement. Live music through drumming and percussion goes even further making the entire experience pleasurably profound.
A few years ago I attended a yoga workshop that included live drumming and percussion. It was impressive because the music matched the routine seamlessly. The best part was the final relaxation pose savasansa when the beat slowed down and bells were added. The vibration carried me into a deep meditative state and the bells kept me grounded. The next time I experienced live drumming and yoga was very accidental. While at the Bark Bash in NJ, I pulled out my mat and practiced as the drummers rehearsed for the Strawberry festival. The beat of the drums carried me into the flow of my practice, strengthening my poses and my intention.
Drumming and yoga form a natural partnership. The vibrating resonance of the drum seems to pull the practioner deeper into the practice. The drummer moves energy into space while the yogini moves energy though the body. Drummers often comment on how the act of drumming keeps them in the here and now, creating connection with spirit. Yoga breathing, asana (postures) and flow are about movement and staying in the present moment. Deep breathing helps the practitioner move into asanas while staying present. Yoga can help the individual transcend to a place of greater inner awareness and peace. The vibration of drumming brings the mind out of the mundane and moves it into a place with no time. The body vibrates with the beat of the drum able to leave behind nervousness and angst.
There are some practical considerations when mixing yoga and drumming. There is a natural progression or sequence in most Hatha yoga classes. Many start with a period of full body relaxation and focus on creating a wave like pattern of deep breathing. The beat needs to be a slow simple heartbeat setting the tone for breath and movement. From there students will sit or stand up moving into building a little heat in the muscles and easy stretching. The tempo increases as the amount of movement increases. The practice slowly peaks into the more difficult or intense postures these maybe standing or even dancing. Eventually the pace slows for cooling down, the final relaxation pose (savasana) and possibly meditation. Toby Christianson, The Healing Drummer works with the teacher before the class in order to compliment the asana (posture) sequence with his drum rhythms. Some drummers go with the flow improvising as the teacher instructs. Some drummers are invited to show up and must figure out what is needed during the class. The drummer must be sensitive to the fact that tempo of the music does influence the intensity of the movement. It must be subtle, the right speed, and volume at the right time. The music must not overpower the voice of the teacher. Communication between the teacher and the drummer is imperative. Preferably this occurs before the yoga class. A beautiful dance between teacher, drummer, space and student occurs.
Toby likes the sound and texture of the djembe. Playing rhythms from the West African Dagara Tribe, he starts slow and easy, increasing the pace as the class progresses. July Corey prefers the brightness of the dumbec and the mellowness of the conga. Marilyn Wilson uses her frame drum and the Middle Eastern dum teka teka rhythm for the relaxation pose. Ronney Pulley, uses congas and djuns. He points out that you must be aware of available physical space when deciding which drums to set up. Almost everyone incorporates other percussion such as bells. Flutes are popular too. Erika Cooper even uses the didgeridoo.
Yoga students and teachers love live music in the class. Drumming unlocks something special tapping into the inner spirit of the class. Yoga and drumming are partnered through breathing, heart beat and intention. Students report that drumming helps them go deeper into their poses, holding them in a more stable way. Some students say they are more invigorated at the end of class. Others say that the drum helps them stay focused and relaxed erasing all extraneous thoughts (what’s for dinner, etc). Drumming supports entrainment or synchronicity of the class.
Drummers also benefit. Bob Laake of Drum for Healing was strongly affected having an experience unlike anything he had felt before when he first drummed for a yoga-dance class. He found himself caught up in the moment being swept into an energetic yet warm secure place. Other drummers find themselves drifting into the calming energy of being in the present. Some go into the same meditative state as the students.
Drumming definitely enhances the pleasure of the yoga class experience. Giving yoga students and drummers a vehicle for transcendence out of the ordinary mundaness of life into the mystery of warm vibration and oneness. Erika Cooper of Elements Yoga, says it like this, “Since both rely on a sense of involuntary, instinctual movement and coordination, it only makes sense to synthesize the two and let the drumming set the rhythm for the vinyasa practice to follow.”
Tammy Foster Dias also adds, “When you hear the sacred beating of the drum a million worlds of separation vanish, you feel the continual webbing of the universe and its vastness.”
Thank-you for your thoughts and inspiration: Toby Christianson, HealingDrummer.com; Erika Cooper, Elements Yoga; Julie Corey, The Village Drum; Tammy Foster Dias; Robert Laake, Drum for Healing; Matthew Marsolek; Nancy Nevison, Joyful Yoga; Ronnie Pulley, Drums on Fire; Kathleen Wallace, Mindbody Synergy; and Marilyn Wilson, Blonds Drum Too. Other Resources: Yogajournal.com, Kripalu.org, and shivarea.com.
Sandy Palmer is co-owner of Djembe Drums & Skins, www.goatskins.com and teaches yoga in Seymour, TN www.wisemountainyoga.com. She frequently teaches a group yoga class at the Paralounge events and invites interested drummers to show up and drum.