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PLoS One. 2014 Jul 7;9(7):e102103. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102103. eCollection 2014.

Exploring shamanic journeying: repetitive drumming with shamanic instructions induces specific subjective experiences but no larger cortisol decrease than instrumental meditation music.

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  • 1Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.


Exposure to repetitive drumming combined with instructions for shamanic journeying has been associated with physiological and therapeutic effects, such as an increase in salivary immunoglobulin A. In order to assess whether the combination of repetitive drumming and shamanic instructions is specifically associated with these effects, we compared the effect of listening to either repetitive drumming or instrumental meditation music for 15 minutes on salivary cortisol concentration and on self-reported physiological and psychological states. For each musical style, two groups of participants were exposed to two conditions: instructions for shamanic journeying or relaxation instructions. A total of 39 participants (24 females) inexperienced in shamanic journeying completed the experiment. Salivary cortisol concentrations were measured before and after exposure to music. In addition, participants filled out a mood questionnaire before and after the experiment and completed a post experiment questionnaire on their experiences. A significant decrease in the concentration in salivary cortisol was observed across all musical styles and instructions, indicating that exposure to 15 minutes of either repetitive drumming or instrumental meditation music, while lying down, was sufficient to induce a decrease in cortisol levels. However, no differences were observed across conditions. Significant differences in reported emotional states and subjective experiences were observed between the groups. Notably, participants exposed to repetitive drumming combined with shamanic instructions reported experiencing heaviness, decreased heart rate, and dreamlike experiences significantly more often than participants exposed to repetitive drumming combined with relaxation instructions. Our findings suggest that the subjective effects specifically attributed to repetitive drumming and shamanic journeying may not be reflected in differential endocrine responses.

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