I didn’t think of my eating disorder for the whole hour!

Unusual? Unique? Perhaps! And you would be forgiven if you’ve never heard of using a Drum Circle as a health care intervention with eating disorder patients.

In this post, I’ll briefly describe what a Drum Circle in a health care setting might look like. Then, drawing from a few of the most common patient comments collected over 5 years at a Drum Circle Program at St. Paul’s Hospital In-Patient Eating Disorders Unit, we’ll look at the potential benefits for participants. Lastly, I’ll include a story of a Mother – Daughter connection that is strengthened through the North Shore Community Drum Circle.

Drum Circle, in general, welcomes all, requires no musical skills, finds us seated in a circle, drum in hand. Through drumming, songs, games, body percussion, and simple movements, we learn about rhythm, and the healing power of the drum. Some of the main intentions are to bring people together and to build community. In health care centres, and specifically for eating disorder patients, the overriding intention is personal empowerment. Any of the powerful effects possible within the experience are intended to boost health and aid the recovery process. The focus turns to expressiveness, relaxation, having fun, connecting with oneself and others, just a few of the things that can be lost through an addiction like an eating disorder, and all of which can be experienced in the Drum Circle environment.

Playing the drum was like a way to speak words that I was holding back. Self expression to set boundaries, or to take care of one’s needs can be challenging for people dealing with an eating disorder. The drum circle process can boost one’s confidence in order to speak up for oneself – indeed, one of the drums played in the African tradition is the Talking Drum. I think all of us can relate to holding back on what we want to say, as well as the freedom we feel when we speak our truth. Patients are offered the opportunity to express through the drum any issue they’ve been reluctant to address. The drum circle, as a expressive art, can provide a container within which one can let go of all the sticky emotions and insecurities that can be attached to the perceived riskiness of speaking out.

Drumming circle participants can be profoundly affected: 

“I didn’t think of my eating disorder for the whole hour!

Drumming can create a quieting of the incessant thoughts concerning food and body image can be a welcome relief to patients.”



As a musician and yoga teacher, I am interested in how we can still our unruly minds in these meditation-like states. The sound of the drums tends to relax us into a more trance-like state, less cerebral and more heart-centred. A relaxed but energized state has a profoundly positive effect on our health. Many of us are challenged to turn off the continual chatter of the mind. When the mind is continually at work, the intuition isn’t able to guide us to the whisperings of our soul.


“I used to play my bass guitar and drumming reminded me how much I missed it.”

Drumming can provide a reminder of a healthier life before the eating disorder.


“Connected me to something else rather than always being solitary.”

Drumming can decrease social isolation.


“Allowed me to reconnect with my love of music. It gives me ideas for how to occupy my time out of the hospital.”

Drumming can encourage reconnection with healthy, creative activities to shift the focus away from the eating disorder.


“I was absolutely free from the eating disorder for a whole hour.”

Drumming can allow patients to imagine a life recovered from an eating disorder.


The following story highlights one mother and daughter’s connection to each other and their community through the shared experience of a drum circle. Mom Christie and daughter Zofia, who is dealing with an eating disorder, had attended North Vancouver North Shore Community Drum Circle for about 2 years. Zofia had also just moved to Montreal to attend McGill University in September.

Read these text messages that Christie and Zofia wrote: 

Saturday 6:10am Zofia: “Hihi Mum. Just woke up to a gorgeous sunny morning here in Montreal. Drum up a storm for me today at the circle, and say hi from Montreal, and that I miss everyone and will be sending my good vibes across the country for good drumming. Love ya xox.”

Christie at 10:30am in the middle of a particularly good drumming session at Lyle’s drum circle:  “I was missing Zofia so much, as she and I had been attending Lyle’s circle together and this was the first circle without her. So I dialed her cell number and put the phone down, not knowing whether she was getting the call or not. Several minutes later, I disconnected the call and we continued on with our drum circle. Lyle talked a little about how the repetitive characteristic of the drumming gives him a little brain break because he doesn’t think about what he’s doing, he just enjoys the rhythm.

A little while later, I texted my daughter.”

10:43am Christie: “Did you get that live drumming? Did it work?”

10:43am Zofia: “So cool! Great ending on that last one! I’m studying right now at the library and needed a BRAIN BREAK so I just closed my laptop and closed my eyes and listened to the drumming. So nice to go back to studying with drumming in my head.”

This community misses Zofia, and looks forward to the next time we get to drum with her.

I am honoured to work and play with the creative and intelligent people who, in this stage of their life, deal with an eating disorder. The Dalai Lama said that the world will be saved by the western woman leading the change to a more kind and compassionate world. We see it happening everywhere. It is my wish that all woman and men who have an eating disorder find their own version of health so as to make their own unique contribution to a better world.

Click here to see more about research on drumming and eating disorders. 


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Lyle Povah

About the Author

Lyle Povah

Lyle Povah is an international musician, drum circle facilitator, and motivational speaker. Book him for your next event.

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