Drumming and Parkinson’s Disease

Robert Lawrence Friedman

Heather MacTavish was a vital 46 year old woman running a bookkeeping business when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1995. Parkinson’s disease is a slowly progressive disease of the central nervous system, characterized by tremors, rigidity of the limbs, poor balance, a difficulty initiating movement and walking problems. It is caused by a severe shortage of Dopamine in the body, a chemical substance which enables the body to move smoothly.

Due to the disorder, Heather left her business and in her mind, it was the end of her life. What she didn’t realize was that the Parkinson’s disease provided her with the beginning of a new life.

Heather’s first impulse was to learn about her body through becoming a ‘Medical Intuitive’, someone who uses the intuition to explore the inner workings of the body. One of the requirements for this training was playing the drum as a way to explore the power of vibration. At first, due to her tremors and pain, Heather couldn’t play the drum. She simply sat on the floor, moving her body and feeling the drum’s vibrations while watching others experience joy and community through drumming.

Courageously, after several months, Heather decided that her pain and tremors would not make her decisions. She bought a djembe and began playing it. When she drummed, amazing things happened: the pain in her body lessened; it became easier to move her arm; her depression decreased, and while she was drumming, her hand tremor disappeared. She also found that the drug that she was taking, Sinemet, which helped the body produce Dopamine, could be reduced. After four years of drumming, she was able to half her dosage from eight to four pills per day. Heather felt that “before the Parkinson’s disease was all-consuming… now it was like wearing glasses.”

After recognizing that she had had a “rhythmic rebirth,” Heather felt she wanted to share the enormous benefits of drumming with others. She formed a non-profit organization, the “New Rhythms Foundation, whose mission it is to introduce a dynamic model for wellness and cultural unity. Her new life is now about helping others gain the benefits she received from the drum. She facilitates drum circles for the elderly and developmentally challenged youth, giving the gifts to others that the drum provided to her, joy and connection and hope.