The Health Benefits of Drumming: Less Stress, Lower Blood Pressure, Pain Relief, and Altered States of Consciousness

Drumming—from tablas to tympani to djembes—is universal, so much so, says author Sayer Ji, that it seems “hard-wired into our biological, social and spiritual DNA.” Drumming may well be “an inborn capacity and archetypal social activity.” But many modern people have become alienated from the drum. We outsource drumming to professionals, and machines. Neuroscientists theorize that drummers may have different brains than “non-drummers”—findings that suggest the activity is confined to specially-designed people. Not so, say many scientists who believe that “drumming has some profound and holistic uses,” as Luke Sumpter writes at Reset.me, “to enhance physical, mental and emotional health.”

In addition to anthropological evidence noting the centrality of drumming to human culture, abundant research has demonstrated its potential for personal healing. While drum therapy may be nothing new for cultures who have retained the practice, those who haven’t can learn group drumming easily enough with teachers like Peter Marino in the short clip above. The benefits, as studies have shown, include reduced stress and increased immunity. Group drumming may reduce anxiety and blood pressure, it may work as pain relief and boost positive emotions, and may even lead to “improved executive function” and a growth in white matter in the brains of patients with Huntington’s disease and other neurological conditions.




The evidence-based approach to group drumming’s socio-physical benefits should sway skeptics, even those likely to see drum circle therapy as some kind of hippy-dippy woo. Science-minded people without such hangups may also take an interest in studies of drumming as a “shamanic” activity that “induces specific subjective experiences.” As Michael Drake reports, one recent study “demonstrates that even a brief drumming session can double alpha brain wave activity,” which is “associated with meditation, shamanic trance, and integrative modes of consciousness.” Drumming with others “produces greater self-awareness” as well as a sense of interconnectedness, and can strengthen social bonds among adults as well as children.

While much of the writing about group drumming as therapy stresses more intangible, mystical benefits, no small amount of data suggests that the physical effects are measurable and significant. This is not to minimize the musical prowess of your favorite drummers, or to belittle the musical value of machine-made beats. But the research strongly suggests that not only is most everyone able to pick up a drum and get into a groove, but also that most everyone who does so will be happier, healthier, and more peaceful and tuned-in.

via Reset

Related Content:

The Neuroscience of Drumming: Researchers Discover the Secrets of Drumming & The Human Brain

Playing an Instrument Is a Great Workout For Your Brain: New Animation Explains Why

Isolated Drum Tracks From Six of Rock’s Greatest: Bonham, Moon, Peart, Copeland, Grohl & Starr

Brian Eno Lists the Benefits of Singing: A Long Life, Increased Intelligence, and a Sound Civilization

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

“Inemuri,” the Japanese Art of Taking Power Naps at Work, on the Subway, and Other Public Places

If you've visited any big city in Japan, you've no doubt seen a fair few commuters sleeping on the subway. The more time you spend there, the more places in which you'll see normal, everyday-looking folks fast asleep: parks, coffee shops, bookstores, even the workplace during office hours. People in Korea, where I live, have also been known to fall asleep in places not normally associated with sleeping, but the Japanese take it to such a level that they've actually got a word for it: inemuri (居眠り, a mash-up of the verb for being present and the one for sleeping.

"I first encountered these intriguing attitudes to sleep during my first stay in Japan in the late 1980s," writes University of Cambridge lecturer Brigitte Steger. "At that time Japan was at the peak of what became known as the Bubble Economy, a phase of extraordinary speculative boom. Daily life was correspondingly hectic. People filled their schedules with work and leisure appointments, and had hardly any time to sleep." Amid it all, she heard many a boastful complaint that "We Japanese are crazy to work so much!" Yet "at the same time, I observed countless people dozing on underground trains during my daily commute. Some even slept while standing up, and no one appeared to be at all surprised by this."




Steger, who researches the social and cultural aspects of sleep in Japan, has found a rich subject in inemuri, which on a certain level "is not considered sleep at all," and in fact works more like "a subordinate involvement which can be indulged in as long as it does not disturb the social situation at hand – similar to daydreaming. Even though the sleeper might be mentally ‘away’, they have to be able to return to the social situation at hand when active contribution is required. They also have to maintain the impression of fitting in with the dominant involvement by means of body posture, body language, dress code and the like."

Inemuri, a phenomenon whose documentation goes back a millennium, also offers an unconventionally angled window onto several aspects of Japanese culture, such as the belief that "co-sleeping with children until they are at least at school age will reassure them and help them develop into independent and socially stable adults." That surely gets people more comfortable, in every sense, with the idea of falling asleep in a public or quasi-public space, as does Japan's famously high level of public safety. (Nobody who has somewhere else to sleep does so on, say, the New York subway.)

In recent years, as you can see in the TRT World report above, Japanese companies have actually made provisions for proper workday napping on the theory that a better-rested worker is the more productive worker. (And they couldn't be much worse-rested there: "according to the US National Sleep Foundation's poll of sleeping habits around the world," reports the Guardian, "Japanese workers sleep, on average, for just six hours 22 minutes on work nights – less than those in any other country.") That sounds forward-thinking enough, and the most intense days of the Bubble Economy have indeed long gone, but do bear in mind that in Japan, one still does occasionally hear the word karōshi (過労死) — death by overwork.

Related Content:

The Power of Power Naps: Salvador Dali Teaches You How Micro-Naps Can Give You Creative Inspiration

How a Good Night’s Sleep — and a Bad Night’s Sleep — Can Enhance Your Creativity

Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Sleep Plan: He Slept Two Hours a Day for Two Years & Felt “Vigorous” and “Alert”

Dr. Weil’s 60-Second Technique for Falling Asleep

“Tsundoku,” the Japanese Word for the New Books That Pile Up on Our Shelves, Should Enter the English Language

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How the Japanese Practice of “Forest Bathing”—Or Just Hanging Out in the Woods—Can Lower Stress Levels and Fight Disease

When the U.S. media began reporting on the phenomenon of “forest bathing” as a therapy for mental and physical health, the online commentariat—as it will—mocked the concept relentlessly as yet another pretentious, bourgeois repackaging of something thoroughly mundane. Didn’t we just used to call it “going outside”?

Well, yes, if all “forest bathing” means is “going outside,” then it does sound like a grandiose and unnecessary phrase. The term, however, is not an American marketing invention but a translation of the Japanese shinrin-yoku. “Coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 1982,” writes Meeri Kim at The Washington Post, “the word literally translates to ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing’ and refers to the process of soaking up the sights, smells and sounds of a natural setting to promote physiological and psychological health.”




So what? We already have the examples of thousands years of Buddhist monks (and Thich Nat Hanh), of Henry David Thoreau, and the saints of the Sierra Club. But the oldest and most useful ideas and practices can get carelessly discarded in the frantic pursuit of innovation at all costs. The pushing of hi-tech outdoor gear, wearable activity trackers, and health apps that ask us to log every movement can make going outside feel like a daunting, expensive chore or a competitive event.

Forest bathing involves none of those things. “Just be with the trees,” as Ephrat Livni describes the practice, “no hiking, no counting steps on a Fitbit. You can sit or meander, but the point is to relax rather than accomplish anything.” You don't have to hug the trees if you don't want to, but at least sit under one for a spell. Even if you don't attain enlightenment, you very well may reduce stress and boost immune function, according to several Japanese studies conducted between 2004 and 2012.

The Japanese government spent around four million dollars on studies conducted with hundreds of people "bathing" on 48 designated therapy trails. In his work, Qing Li, associate professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, found “significant increases in NK [natural killer] cell activity in the week after a forest visit… positive effects lasted a month following each weekend in the woods.” Natural killer cells fight viruses and cancers, and are apparently stimulated by the oils that trees themselves secrete to ward off germs and pests. See the professor explain in the video above (he translates shinrin-yoku as taking a "forest shower," and also claims to have bottled some of the effects).

Additionally, experiments conducted by Japan’s Chiba University found that forest bathing lowered heart rate and blood pressure and brought down levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that can wreak havoc on every system when large amounts circulate through the body. Then there are the less tangible psychological benefits of taking in the trees. Subjects in one study “showed significantly reduced hostility and depression scores” after a walk in the woods. These findings underscore that spending time in the forest is a medical intervention as well as an aesthetic and spiritual one, something scientists have long observed but haven’t been able to quantify.

In their review of a book called Your Brain on Nature, Mother Earth News quotes Franklin Hough, first chief of the U.S. Division of Forestry, who remarked in a 19th century medical journal that forests have “a cheerful and tranquilizing influence which they exert upon the mind, more especially when worn down by mental labor.” Hough’s hypothesis has been confirmed, and despite what might sound to English speakers like a slightly ridiculous name, forest bathing is serious therapy, especially for the ever-increasing number of urbanites and those who spend their days in strip malls, office complexes, and other overbuilt environments.

What is a guided forest bathing experience like? You can listen to NPR's Alison Aubrey describe one above. She quotes Amos Clifford, founder of the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy, the certifying organization, as saying that a guide "helps you be here, not there," sort of like a meditation instructor. Clifford has been pushing health care providers to "incorporate forest therapy as a stress-reduction strategy" in the U.S., and there's no question that more stress reduction tools are sorely needed.

But, you may wonder, do you have to call it “forest bathing,” or pay for a certified guide, join a group, and buy some fancy outerwear to get the benefits hanging out with trees? I say, consider the words of John Muir, the indefatigable 19th naturalist, "father of the National Park System," and founding saint of the Sierra Club: In the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own. Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you. The quote may underestimate the amount of risk or overstate the benefits, but you get the idea. Muir was not one to get tangled up in semantics or overly detailed analysis. Nonetheless, his work inspired Americans to step in and preserve so much of the country's forest in the 19th and 20th centuries. Maybe the preventative medicine of "forest bathing" can help do the same in the 21st.

Related Content:

How Walking Fosters Creativity: Stanford Researchers Confirm What Philosophers and Writers Have Always Known

How Mindfulness Makes Us Happier & Better Able to Meet Life’s Challenges: Two Animated Primers Explain

This Is Your Brain on Exercise: Why Physical Exercise (Not Mental Games) Might Be the Best Way to Keep Your Mind Sharp

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Why Coffee Naps Will Perk You Up More Than Either Coffee, or Naps, Alone

We've all had a cup of coffee after a nap. But maybe we've been doing it all wrong. Maybe we should put the cup of coffee before the nap. It sounds counterintuitive. But apparently the coffee nap--a cup of joe followed immediately by a quick nap--has some scientific merits and unexpected health benefits.

Over at Vox, they've summarized the findings of researchers at Loughborough University in the UK, who found that "when tired participants took a 15-minute coffee nap, they went on to commit fewer errors in a driving simulator than when they were given only coffee, or only took a nap."




Or "a Japanese study found that people who took a caffeine nap before taking a series of memory tests performed significantly better on them compared with people who solely took a nap, or took a nap and then washed their faces or had a bright light shone in their eyes."

The accompanying Vox video above explains how the coffee nap works its magic. The biology and chemistry all get discussed in a quick two-minute clip.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Related Content:

The Power of Power Naps: Salvador Dali Teaches You How Micro-Naps Can Give You Creative Inspiration

Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Sleep Plan: He Slept Two Hours a Day for Two Years & Felt “Vigorous” and “Alert”

Stream 72 Hours of Ambient Sounds from Blade Runner: Relax, Go to Sleep in a Dystopian Future

10 Hours of Ambient Arctic Sounds Will Help You Relax, Meditate, Study & Sleep

Dr. Weil’s 60-Second Technique for Falling Asleep

This Is Your Brain on Exercise: Why Physical Exercise (Not Mental Games) Might Be the Best Way to Keep Your Mind Sharp

brain exercise

In the United States and the UK, we've seen the emergence of a multibillion-dollar brain training industry, premised on the idea that you can improve your memory, attention and powers of reasoning through the right mental exercises. You've likely seen software companies and web sites that market games designed to increase your cognitive abilities. And if you're part of an older demographic, worried about your aging brain, you've perhaps been inclined to give those brain training programs a try. Whether these programs can deliver on their promises remains an open question--especially seeing that a 2010 scientific study from Cambridge University and the BBC concluded that there's "no evidence to support the widely held belief that the regular use of computerised brain trainers improves general cognitive functioning in healthy participants..."




And yet we shouldn't lose hope. A number of other scientific studies suggest that physical exercise--as opposed to mental exercise--can meaningfully improve our cognitive abilities, from childhood through old age. One study led by Charles Hillman, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois, found that children who regularly exercise, writes The New York Times:

displayed substantial improvements in ... executive function. They were better at “attentional inhibition,” which is the ability to block out irrelevant information and concentrate on the task at hand ... and had heightened abilities to toggle between cognitive tasks. Tellingly, the children who had attended the most exercise sessions showed the greatest improvements in their cognitive scores.

And, hearteningly, exercise seems to confer benefits on adults too. A study focusing on older adults already experiencing a mild degree of cognitive impairment found that resistance and aerobic training improved their spatial memory and verbal memory. Another study found that weight training can decrease brain shrinkage, a process that occurs naturally with age.

If you're looking to get the gist of how exercise promotes brain health, it comes down to this:

Exercise triggers the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which helps support the growth of existing brain cells and the development of new ones.

With age, BDNF levels fall; this decline is one reason brain function deteriorates in the elderly. Certain types of exercise, namely aerobic, are thought to counteract these age-related drops in BDNF and can restore young levels of BDNF in the age brain.

That's how The Chicago Tribune summarized the findings of a 1995 study conducted by researchers at the University of California-Irvine. You can get more of the nuts and bolts by reading The Tribune's recent article, The Best Brain Exercise May Be Physical. (Also see Can You Get Smarter?)

You're perhaps left wondering what's the right dose of exercise for the brain? And guess what, Gretchen Reynolds, the phys ed columnist for The Times' Well blog, wrote a column on this a few years back. Although the science is still far from conclusive, a study conducted by The University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center found that small doses of exercise could lead to cognitive improvements. Writes Reynolds, "the encouraging takeaway from the new study ... is that briskly walking for 20 or 25 minutes several times a week — a dose of exercise achievable by almost all of us — may help to keep our brains sharp as the years pass."

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2013.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Related Content:

This Is Your Brain on Jane Austen: The Neuroscience of Reading Great Literature

How Stress Can Change Your Brain: An Animated Introduction

Why Sitting Is The New Smoking: An Animated Explanation

New Research Shows How Music Lessons During Childhood Benefit the Brain for a Lifetime

Free Online Psychology & Neuroscience Courses

How Stress Can Change Your Brain: An Animated Introduction

We hear the mantra of “self-care” in ever-widening circles, a concept both derided and celebrated as a “millennial obsession,” with the acknowledgment—at least in this NPR think piece— that self-care was central to the philosophies of antiquity, from Aristotle to the Stoics.

In philosophy, self-care exists as a set of ethics. The reasons for this may often be couched in high-minded discussions of civics, sexual politics, and existential self-actualization. These days, doctors and researchers are making urgent appeals for our mental and physical health, and the science of stress is an unsurprisingly rich field of investigation at the moment.




It’s hard to overstate the negative effects of stress on the body over time. Increased stress hormones have been linked in study after study to overeating and obesity, lowered immune response, drug use and addiction, memory impairment, heart disease, and many other debilitating and life-threatening conditions. “The long-term activation of the stress-response system,” writes the Mayo Clinic, “and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones—can disrupt almost all your body’s processes.” (The video below makes this harrowing point with some helpful, animated comic relief.)

When we experience chronic stress, it raises our blood pressure and affects our cardiovascular system, increasing the chances of heart attack or stroke. The even worse news—reports the TED-Ed video at the top of the post—is that chronic stress weakens our ability to make sound decisions about our well-being, by changing the size, structure, and function of our brain.

We’re familiar with the symptoms of chronic stress: “sleeping restlessly,” becoming “irritable or moody,” “forgetting little things,” and “feeling overwhelmed and isolated.” Continuous stress, from our work lives, home lives, social and political lives, can cause shrinking in parts of the brain responsible for memory, spatial recognition… and stress regulation.

Research shows that high levels of cortisol and other stress hormones can cause shrinking of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for reasoning and decision-making. Stress can inhibit neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to adapt to new circumstances—and neurogenesis: the ability to produce new brain cells.

Conversely, stress increases the size of the amygdala, which activates fight-or-flight responses, which in turn increase the strain on our heart and blood vessels.

All of these effects can set the stage in later life for major depression, forms of cognitive decline and dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Most unsettlingly, as the video notes, these effects can be passed down to the next generation, furthering the cycle of chronic stress in our children and theirs. Persistent stress “filters down” to DNA, making it genetically inheritable.

Given the incredible amount of stress most people seem to be under, this science can seem like a diagnosis of doom. We all know that chronic stressors assail us all day long, without asking whether we want them in our lives or not. An increasing amount of our daily stress, I’d hypothesize, may indeed come from the growing realization of how little control we have over many stressful situations.

But the TED explainer ends with good news, and it’s been there all along—we can find it in the ancient Greeks, in Buddhist practices, and many other traditions, both active and contemplative. We can control our responses to stress, and thus reverse and modulate the effects of cortisol on our system. The best, proven, ways to do so are through exercise and meditation (and, I'd add, good nutrition).

These activities will not eradicate the conditions of inequality, injustice, or instability that stress us all out—a great many of us more than others. But practicing “self-care” inasmuch as we are able with stress-relieving disciplines and practices will better equip us to respond to the state of the world and the state of our lives by interrupting the biological mechanisms that, over time, make things much worse. Find some helpful resources below.

Related Content:

Stream 18 Hours of Free Guided Meditations

Meditation 101: A Short, Animated Beginner’s Guide

Philosopher Sam Harris Leads You Through a 26-Minute Guided Meditation

How to Get Started with Yoga: Free Yoga Lessons on YouTube

Do Yourself a Favor and Watch Stress: Portrait of a Killer (with Stanford Biologist Robert Sapolsky)

How Mindfulness Makes Us Happier & Better Able to Meet Life’s Challenges: Two Animated Primers Explain

How Baking, Cooking & Other Daily Activities Help Promote Happiness and Alleviate Depression and Anxiety

Allen Ginsberg Teaches You How to Meditate with a Rock Song Featuring Bob Dylan on Bass

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Dr. Weil’s 60-Second Technique for Falling Asleep

Give Dr. Andrew Weil three minutes, and he can teach you a 60-second technique for falling asleep. Above, the alternative medicine guru walks you through the 4-7-8 breathing method. As he demonstrates, it "takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere." And once you master it, you can use the 4-7-8 breathing technique (explained and demonstrated in greater detail here ) to lower your anxiety levels (useful these days!), navigate tension-filled moments, and deal with food cravings.

Elsewhere, Weil has said, "If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly." Hence why he created an audio recording, Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing, which you can still purchase online.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

via The Ladders

Related Content:

10 Hours of Ambient Arctic Sounds Will Help You Relax, Meditate, Study & Sleep

Music That Helps You Sleep: Minimalist Composer Max Richter, Pop Phenom Ed Sheeran & Your Favorites

Moby Lets You Download 4 Hours of Ambient Music to Help You Sleep, Meditate, Do Yoga & Not Panic

240 Hours of Relaxing, Sleep-Inducing Sounds from Sci-Fi Video Games: From Blade Runner to Star Wars

How a Good Night’s Sleep — and a Bad Night’s Sleep — Can Enhance Your Creativity

« Go BackMore in this category... »
Quantcast