Drumming and Spirituality

Drumbeat of the Rainbow Fire

Woman playing drum in alternative therapy
Yellow Dog Productions

The drum has been the guiding force in my life for many years. My journey into rhythm began under the tutelage of Mongolian shaman Jade Wah'oo. Jade's ancient knowledge of drumming and healing rhythms was most influential in putting together my first book, The Shamanic Drum: A Guide to Sacred Drumming. I had a deep respect for the power of the ceremonial rhythms and drum ways of Jade's tradition, but I had to follow my own path of rhythm.

Though Jade was my mentor, the drum became my teacher and creative addiction. I developed an insatiable thirst for its rhythms. I became a rhythm seeker, learning new rhythms from other drummers, from nature, and from dreams and visions. I explored the rhythms of many of the world's shamanic and spiritual traditions. It was only natural, at least from my perspective, that rhythm, as a path, would lead me to the rhythmic roots of all cultures.

As I learned the drum ways of various world cultures, I found the same rhythmic qualities underlying all of them.

Like the colors of the rainbow, each culture has its own hue or identity, yet each is a part of the whole. Although the focus or intent differs from culture to culture, rhythmic drumming invariably has the same power and effects in all traditions. The resonant qualities and attributes of these rhythmic phenomena are universal and come into play whenever we drum.

The sound waves produced by the drum impart their energy to the resonating systems of the body, mind, and spirit, making them vibrate in sympathy. When we drum, our living flesh, brainwaves, and spiritual energy centers begin to vibrate in response. This sympathetic resonance leaves reverberating effects up to 72 hours after a drum session. These powerful effects can best be described in terms of their influence on the subtle energy centers known as chakras.

The Seven Chakras

The Base Chakra

The Sacral Chakra

The Navel Chakra

The Shamanic Drum: A Guide to Sacred Drumming

Many shamanic cultures place great emphasis on drumming, for the drum unites masculine and feminine energies, generating the force that weaves the web of life. Drumming cultivates life force energy in the lower energy centers of the body, which is then stored in the area of the solar plexus. This energy can then be directed back to the higher chakras or toward healing and creative endeavors.

The Heart Chakra

The Throat Chakra

The Brow Chakra

The Crown Chakra


If we focus our attention on the individual chakras while drumming, we can experience each energy center becoming active, balanced, and aligned with the other chakras. The basic steps are as follows:

  1. First, select a location where you will not be interrupted. It must be a quiet space, at least for the duration of the exercise. Allow yourself fifteen to thirty minutes for this exercise. It is best to dim the lights and sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor, keeping your spine straight.
  2. Next, you should smudge the space and yourself with the smoke of an herb. Smudging cleanses the mind and environment in preparation for spiritual or inner work. The sacred smoke dispels any stagnant or unwanted energy, opens the energy channels of your body, and raises your personal power or windhorse. According to Mongolian shamanism, windhorse can be increased through smudging, drumming, and other forms of shamanic practice in order to accomplish significant aims. Sage, cedar, and sweetgrass are traditionally used for smudging, but any dried herb is acceptable. Light the herbs in a fire-resistant receptacle and then blow out the flames. Then use a feather or your hands to draw the smoke over your heart, throat, and face to purify the body, mind, and spirit. Next, smudge your drum by passing it through the smoke. Conclude the smudging by thanking the plant whose body made the cleansing possible.
  1. The next step is to calm and focus your mind by performing a simple concentration exercise. Close your eyes and focus on the breath as it enters the nose and fills your lungs, then gently exhale any tension you might feel. Continue breathing with a series of even inhalations and exhalations until you are calm and relaxed.
  2. Once you are fully relaxed, begin drumming the steady lub-dub, lub-dub of a heartbeat rhythm pulsed at around 60 beats a minute (or 30 heartbeats per minute since one heartbeat equals two beats). This slow pulse tempo has a calming and centering effect. Sustain this healing rhythm until the end of the exercise.
  3. Close your eyes and focus your attention on the physical location of each chakra, one at a time, beginning with the first one at the base of the spine. Visualize a red disc of light, about the size of a silver dollar, at the base of your spine. Imagine this energy center pulsating in sync with the heartbeat of your drum. Feel the sound of the drum vibrating at the base of your spine. As the sound resonates this area, experience the base chakra awakening, balancing, and aligning with the other chakras. Hold your attention on this chakra for a minute or two, and then allow the image to fade.
  1. Move up to the second chakra and repeat the same focus and imagery. It is located about two inches below the navel and is orange in color.
  2. Move up to the area above the navel in your solar plexus and focus on the third chakra, which is yellow in color.
  3. Move up to the center of the chest between the two nipples and focus on your heart chakra, which is green in color.
  4. Move up to the cleft in your throat and focus on the throat chakra, which is blue in color.
  5. Move up to the area between and slightly above the eyebrows and focus on your brow chakra, which is indigo in color.
  6. Move up to the top of your head and focus on the crown chakra, which is violet in color.
  7. End the exercise with four strong beats.

At the completion of this exercise, sit quietly for several minutes. Sense the rush of sensory input previously blocked out by the sound of the drum. Bathe in the soothing afterglow of physical and spiritual well-being. Take adequate time to process the experience. You may feel very spacey and lightheaded. Moving energy up the body from the base chakra to the crown chakra is very powerful. If you would like to ground the energy back down into your body, close your eyes and focus for a few moments on the base chakra. Visualize roots extending downward from the base chakra deep into the Earth. When you feel grounded, open your eyes and jot down your experiences in a journal.

The Rainbow Fire

The Rainbow Fire symbolizes illuminated mind, clarity of all aspects of consciousness. Metaphorically, it describes the aura of iridescent light that radiates from a fully activated chakra system. This prismatic illumination within allows us to fully integrate the wisdom of all seven centers of consciousness. It clears the mind of illusions and obstructions, transforming thought patterns of confusion to reveal inherent clear mind. The fire of clear mind is ever present within each of us, and to remove any obstruction of its clarity is the duty of all people, so that each may find the way to unity and harmony. Drumming is one way that we can cultivate the fire of clear mind. The drum's beat ignites the Rainbow Fire within, illuminating the path and showing us the way. With clarity of mind, we can readily perceive what aims are in accord with the cosmos, not wasting energy on discordant pursuits. Through the insight and understanding of illuminated mind, we can bring enlightenment to the world!

Michael Drake is a nationally recognized writer, rhythmist, and shamanist. He is the author ofThe Shamanic Drum: A Guide to Sacred Drumming I Ching: The Tao of Drumming.Michael's journey into rhythm began under the tutelage of Mongolian shaman Jade Wah'oo Grigori. For the past 15 years he has been facilitating drum circles and workshops nationwide.