By Robert Lawrence Friedman, M.A.
This article appeared in the January, 2004 issue of Drum! Magazine. Robert L. Friedman is the President of Stress Solutions and the author of “The Healing Power Of The Drum”
Following a meditative breathing pattern used by anciennt Samurai warriors, 30 men and women, ages ranging from 40 to 80 years, sit in a circle awaiting their next instruction from Jim Greiner, a drum circle facilitator. These individuals are learning to create rhythm patterns using frame drums, agogo bells, shakers and maracas. What makes this drum circle extraordinary is that these people are all stroke survivors, and many are partially paralyzed.
Stroke, the third largest cause of death in the U.S., killing upwards of 600,000 people yearly, can cause a person to become paralyzed and/or lose the ability to speak. The Cabrillo College Stroke Center in Northern California, where Greiner offered his instruction, views stroke survivors as students with the ability to learn to live their lives in a new way.
As Greiner explains, he begins with breath work because, “Focusing on the breath allows people to get connected to their bodies and exercise those muscles that they use when speaking.”
He introduces the students to their rhythm instruments using innovative methods, such as creating shapes in the air with their shakers to change the rhythm patterns.
Each week, the students meet, he adds new elements so that by the fourth session, they are playing relatively complex, intertwining patterns. Greiner describes the sensation the group has when they realize that they can play their rhythm instrument as, “watching the light go on in their eyes.”
Note: Jim’s work with the Cabrillo College Stroke Center was featured as part of a documentary video shot for the PBS Special, Healing Quest. In that video, the narrator summed up Jim’s work: “Percussionist Jim Greiner invokes the primal power of drumming to lower the participants’ stress, to energize their minds and bodies, and to bind them together into community.”