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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bang the drum for health


By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Instructor Karen Watanabe-Sakamoto, center, leads her Drums Alive class at the Honolulu Club. Drums Alive is a fitness program that combines powerful rhythmic drum movements with aerobic dance.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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DRUMS ALIVE WORKSHOPS

Basic Power Beats

Prerequisite for all other Drums Alive training.

8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday; $189

Kids & Family Beats

8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Sunday; $90

Central YMCA, 401 Atkinson Drive

271-4110, karen.watanabe@hawaiiantel.net

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You seldom see an overweight drummer. Drumming can be an intense aerobic activity, especially in the world of taiko or rock 'n' roll. But you don't have to be Charlie Watts (the Rolling Stones' drummer) or Larry Mullen Jr. (U2's drummer) to get the aerobic benefits of pounding on a drum. You don't even have to have perfect rhythm, if you're doing it for exercise at a Drums Alive class.

Drums Alive is an exercise program that's poised to expand in Island fitness facilities. Right now it's offered only at the Honolulu Club and as part of HMSA's employee fitness program, but with the founder of Drums Alive, Carrie Ekins, in Honolulu to recruit and train more teachers, we're surmising there will be lots more classes soon. Both the Central and Nu'uanu YMCAs have shown interest in starting classes.

Drums Alive is a fitness program that challenges the mind as well as the body. It incorporates traditional aerobics moves such as lunges, jumping jacks, cha-cha steps and grapevines with drumming. The "drums" are stability balls placed on a square to stabilize them.

The motions are a bit like taiko drumming and can be done either standing or sitting for those who have difficulty standing. Pounding the drums works the legs, arms, abdominals and back, but it also exercises the brain.

Performed to pulsating percussion music, the Drums Alive instructor calls out: "Tap left, tap right, lunge left, lunge right, half turn, tap twice, arms up, click sticks, tap, turn, reach, dip, lunge." Part of the ab workout comes from belly laughing at yourself and the people around you as their brains struggle to keep up with the quick calls. Since participants usually move between and around balls, there is also opportunity for teamwork or sometimes just for staying out of each other's space and avoiding whacking the person next to you.

Ekins originated Drums Alive in Germany, where she lives. Now it has spread throughout Europe and to the U.S., Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

"You're using your right brain and left brain all the time, so it's a neurological program, not just physical fitness. By combining the cognitive and physical process involved in the rhythmic movements, you can discover balance of mind, body and spirit," Ekins explained in a phone interview from "way out in the desert" in Utah. "The crossover patterns we use have been proven to help Alzheimer's patients. It can even work for those with arthritis by just adding foam rubber pads to the drum stick grips."

An added benefit of pounding on a drum, of course, is the release of aggression, stress and anxiety.

Ekins created Drums Alive after fighting her way back into shape following a total hip replacement at age 36. The lifelong athlete and dancer, who has a post-graduate degree in sports medicine, said she was in extensive rehab following surgery.

"I was using exercise bikes for my arms and I was totally bored, and thought, 'There must be something better,' " Ekins said.

"So I started drumming to stay fit. I was amazed at what happened in my brain and my endorphins. Drumming has a lot to do with neurological health" she explained.

Karen Watanabe-Sakamoto, who teaches Drums Alive on O'ahu, said the program can be adapted to any ability level, and is appropriate for people who have physical or mental disabilities.

"The power of the music lets you enjoy the connection to the rhythm," Watanabe-Sakamoto said. "You become a part of the music and movement. You feel it in your gut."

Participants also seem to derive added abdominal strengthening through an unusual form of exercise: laughing until their 'opu aches.