Treating Ebola is a lot like Playing in a Drum Circle

Team members awaiting instruction in the Ebola care setting
Team members awaiting instruction in the Ebola care setting

Having spent 17 years in nuclear medicine in various medical settings, including, in some of the earliest testing for AIDS, I see remarkable similarities in what medical personnel face in Ebola care, and what drummers must contend with in the group play of a drum circle.

To outsiders, a drum circle may appear more like a bunch of wanna be hippies banging on drums & such around a make shift venue. But to seasoned percussionists and drum circle facilitators such as myself, I view it as much much more. In fact, the group dynamics and adapting to changing conditions in an Ebola care setting, is what makes group play in a drum circle so special.

In group drumming, the team concept in play is of the utmost importance. Each drummer or participant learns to trust in their fellow drummers to play their part that leads to the entire group sound & effectiveness. Each drummer, just as in medical personnel in Ebola care, bring their own expertise to the group setting. But, it is the interpersonal dynamics, communication, and discipline in the art that gives both the drum circle and Ebola care setting its exceptional qualities. Both also rely on a high degree of improvisation to adapt to rapidly changing variables. Communications in these setting are of the utmost importance. Each setting calls for heightened intuitive and interpersonal skills. And it is in these regards that Ebola care and group drumming have so much in common.

Group drumming owes much of its early development to the practice of “shamanism,” and similar mind-body healing arts which have been reported under anthropology. These modalities also form some of the earliest practices in modern medicine. And so it is today, that we find these practices continuing to intertwine as we contend with the complex dynamics in the Ebola care setting, and in trusting oneself and others around you. And in many cases, the biggest obstacle is in interpersonal dynamics.

Facilitating Women's Evening at Chabad Temple
Facilitating Women’s Evening at Chabad Temple

I’ve been in hundreds of different drum circle and medical settings, and I can share that more than any other factor what leads to success, is the willingness of participants to set aside egos, trust in their fellow team members, and work for the good of the whole. Without this trust and willingness to stay in the “now”, mis-steps will most definately occur, and can dramatically effect the group outcome.

In my nuclear medicine work, I routinely worked with radioactive materials and infectious diseases, where protocol was critical, but you adapted to ever-changing conditions. As a result, I was inter-dependent upon my co-workers to make the appropriate decisions at key times in support of my efforts. And this is exactly what happens in a drum circle. The drummer participants are continually listening to and observing the moves of their fellow participants, and adjusting their play to what they see and hear from others in the group. The better you listen, the better the group play. There are over 150 different pieces of world percussion that are played in drum circles. And each participant will have varying exerience with these instruments, much as different medical personnel have in an Ebola care setting.

Because of the group dynamics in group drumming or drum circles, drumming workshops can be well adapted to a wide array of settings, including, team sports like football & basketball, military & police training, high risk operations like oil drilling, and many different business and technical settings.

Contact me at to learn more.

Stephen Dolle
Drum Circle Facilitator


What will you do for Valentines Day? Fight or Kiss? Check out the Brain Benefits

As tomorrow is Valentines Day, it seemed like a good time to talk about the brain health benefits of relationships, of fighting vs. kissing, and in confrontations vs. intimacy. They are actually our strongest emotions, and elicit a variety of chemical and hormonal responses in the brain. In simple terms, they are polar opposites to each other, as fighting or “intimidation” is based on anger & self defense, and “intimacy” is based on love & affection. And there’s a science of each. But first, let’s look at the practical barriers we face in meeting someone, and in eventually getting to that first kiss.

There are “two” energy fields an outsider must penetrate: an outer one for protection, and an inner one for intimacy.

Our outer space extends about 3 feet out from our bodies, and others normally need permission to enter this space, or we allow it when we are standing in a crowded setting. Our inner space then extends about 4-5 inches out from our bodies, and is designed for the intimate exchange of information, albeit private conversation, friendship, or sexual foreplay, the gateway to our heart, mind, and soul. Just as others must be invited into our outer field, entry into this intimate field is by invitation only. And each of us has our own preferences as to how one can gain entry into this intimate space, and it is these practices that comprise our unique identity.

When we kiss, according to research scientist Sheril Kirshenbaum, author of “The Science of Kissing” and a research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin, a spectrum of neurochemicals are released. Lip contact also involves five of our 12 cranial nerves as we engage all of our senses to learn more about a partner.

A passionate kiss acts like a drug, causing us to crave the other person thanks to a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This is the same substance involved in taking illegal substances such as cocaine, which is why the novelty of a new romance can feel so addictive. Dopamine is involved in sensations of reward, making us feel intense desire that can lead to feelings of euphoria, insomnia, and loss of appetite, and it is only one actor in the great chemical ballet happening in our bodies.

And then there are physical changes. A kiss can cause our blood vessels to dilate, our pulse to quicken and cheeks to flush. Our pupils grow wide, which is likely one reason that so many of us are apt to close our eyes. In other words, the body’s response mirrors many of the same symptoms frequently associated with falling in love.

Other scientists have reported on what are termed, pheromones, or naturally occurring odorless substances the fertile body excretes externally, conveying an airborne signal that provides information to, and triggers responses from, the opposite sex of the same species.

Scientists at the Athena Institute for Women’s Wellness identified four types of pheromones, spanning:

1.Human sex-attractant pheromones (Dr. Cutler’s expertise)

2.Mother-infant recognition pheromones – a signal that identifies which mother to suckle from, or which offspring to allow to remain in the nest.

3.Menstrual synchrony pheromones in women – causing women in close proximity to cycle together, menstruating at the same time of the month.

4.Territorial marking animal pheromones – a keep away from ‘my females’ signal.

Now fighting, on the other hand, involves a whole different set of responses and brain chemicals. produce the fight-or-flight response, the hypothalamus activates two systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system. The sympathetic nervous system uses nerve pathways to initiate reactions in the body, and the adrenal-cortical system uses the bloodstream. The hypothalamus tells the sympathetic nervous system to kick into gear, the overall effect is that the body speeds up, tenses up and becomes generally very alert.

At the same time, the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) into the pituitary gland, activating the adrenal-cortical system. The pituitary gland (a major endocrine gland) secretes the hormone ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone). ACTH moves through the bloodstream and ultimately arrives at the adrenal cortex, where it activates the release of approximately 30 different hormones that get the body prepared to deal with a threat.

With Valentines Day coming up, you need to think through which effect you would like to experience: intimacy & kissing; or fight & flight.

I’ve enclosed some links and a cool video for kissing in case you need convincing.

As for me, I am a neuroscience researcher and specialize in drum circles for the brain, cognition and cognitive accessible designs, neuro-diagnostic programs, and hydrocephalus monitoring.


CNN’s feature on kissing:

The Athena Institute on Kissing:

If you choose to fight, read this:

Drum Workshop: Drumming and Healing this Friday Evening Sept. 14th

Come to this Drumming & Healing Workshop on Friday Sept. 14th from 7pm-8:30pm.
You will learn about Drumming & Healing in: 1. Sensory Integration, 2. Fitness, Balance & Movement, 3. Cognitive Organization in the Brain, 4. Psycho Social Development, and 5. Altering Illness: as seen in all mind/body modalities, and known as the Placebo Effect in pharmacological studies.
In the interest of time, most of this workshop will be centered around Altering Illness, and we will drum and employ techniques to alter your mind and belief system about illness that may be within your body. The science in support of Drumming & Healing is based in part on rhythmic movement of our bodies through a mechanism known as proprioception, or the network of sensors in our muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding our joints that retain memory of movement patterns. Proprioception is then interdependent on commands from the brain to initiate and oversee movement. Our bodies also contain a network of nerves and energy fields, termed meridians, that retain emotional and other experiences important to us. These all work together when we drum or perform movements and athletics.
The goal in Drumming and Healing, and all healing arts for that matter, is to fix mind/body conflicts, because it is these conflicts and the associated emotional pain, that leads to illness. During my nuclear medicine imaging work in the 1980s, I had opportunity to interview hundreds of patients, and widely saw how emotional conflicts led to illness. There are also many books written on the subject.
In this workshop, I will employ a number of drumming and vocal methods designed to address these conflicts. My “Communicating thru Drum Rhythms” workshop originally scheduled for Sept. 14th will be moved/combined on Nov. 9th with “Enhance Improvisation thru Drumming.”
My remaining 2012 drumming workshops at the TOL include:
Oct. 12, my workshop here will cover “Exploring Intimacy thru the Rhythmic Play of the Drums.”
Nov. 9th, “Communication and Improvisation thru Drum Circle Play.” 
Dec. 14th, the topic is “Exploring Spirituality thru Drums and Rhythm.”
The cost for each of these workshops is $20. RSVP’s are required. You may pay via PayPal on the Meetup, or cash at the door.
Drum circles have been in use for thousands of years and today are used in team-building, health programs (cancer outcomes, stress relief, neurological disorders, fitness, wellness), spiritual practices, community outreach, and in personal and social development. Each month, I feature a select topic on drumming based on my experience, research, and training, and attendees have the opportunity to experience drumming on these magical levels (based on both science and shamanism). See the event information in the Meetup & Facebook calendars.
I put a great deal of time in preparing for these workshops. I provide the instruments. If you have a hand drum or small hand percussion instrument, you may bring it. No kit, Taiko, or large drums please. No alcohol allowed. Space is limited to 75 people. Please be respectful of each other’s privacy and space at these events.
My workshops are a great opportunity to participate in a local drum circle with people with like interests, and bring positive intention into your lives.
The temple has moved to a NEW Irvine address:
11 Goddard Irvine, CA 92618
Stephen Dolle
Facilitator & Host Cell
(714) 749-0851