Faith & Charity—Drumming is 'Magic' for Multiple Sclerosis Patients

MS patients in the Remo HealthRHYTHMS drum circle call it “a spiritual experience”

A little more than a decade ago, a forward-thinking neurologist named Barry Bittman undertook a study to determine whether the mind-body connection was actually powerful enough to alter human physiology.

“Essentially, we set forth to determine whether or not group drumming could alter stress-related hormones and neural mediators, which would, in turn, produce a subsequent positive impact on cellular immunologic function,” he told Remo Belli, founder of Remo Inc. and North Hollywood’s , who funded the study.

The results, published in 2001, found that it could! “Statistically significant increases in the activity of cellular immune components responsible for seeking out and destroying cancer cells and viruses were noted in normal subjects who drummed.”

More research and collaboration led Bittman to develop HealthRHYTHMS Group Empowerment Drumming. He employed the technique to reduce employee burnout and turnover, diminish stress among first year nursing students and improve school performance and social behavior amongst at risk youth. A biological study showed measurable “amelioration of stress-induced genomic expression” in the blood of subjects  who took part in recreational music-making.

Beth Maldonado, an Endorsed HealthRHYTHMS Facilitator, is one of those angels in our midst who we don’t even know is there. In her day job, the licensed clinical social worker takes care of the staff at Los Angeles Children’s Hospital as the employee assistance program manager. On the side, she’s been running support groups and offering emotional care to newly diagnosed patients at the Multiple Sclerosis society ever since she herself was diagnosed.

Maldonado met Belli when he came to Children’s hospital seeking the person “who was looking out for the mental health of the staff.” Belli invited Maldonado to investigate HealthRHYTHMS. She was so impressed she brought it to the MS society, thinking it would be helpful for the staff there.

It went over so well that the society decided to make the protocol available to patients. Maldonado has been facilitating a monthly MS drum circle at Remo for the last three years. Up to a dozen patients may participate in any given month. The day I observed, three other drummers were there with Maldonado as well as a musician from Ecuador who had just completed training in Connecticut  to facilitate HealthRHYTHMS in wellness centers back home.

Maldonado describes the HealthRHYTHMS protocol as an “algorithm,” which is employed in an identical manner in drum circles  all over the world.

“There’s game playing, there’s the use of shakers in the beginning to get folks lightened up and loosened up and laughing,” she explained. Following a group jam, she goes on, “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.

The video features highlights of the session I attended. The women in the group all agreed the circle is as valuable for the camaraderie as it is for the other health benefits.

“We all need friends,” Nan Batzdorff smiled.

See the Remo Recreational Music Center calendar for drum circles and HealthRHYTHM sessions going on all month long. The monthly MS session is free. 

Nancy Beecroft, who’s lived with MS for 45 years, releases stress in the monthly drumming group. 

“You just get into the beat and you just feel good and you go with the music. It’s just relaxing. You don’t have to think of anything. You just get rid of whatever you were thinking about or whatever you want to drum about.”


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