Where Business and Rhythm Converge

RhythmLift founder Mary Tolena tuned in to the power of collaborative groups at a young age. Starting in her teenage experiences of being “part of something bigger” — in a group trying to achieve a collective goal — Mary paid close attention to the factors that help (and hinder) a group’s capability, effectiveness, and longevity.

In her 25 years as owner and executive in her family’s manufacturing business, Mary’s ideas and understanding of team dynamics deepened profoundly. Committed to the principles of quality, customer value, employee development, and resource efficiency, Mary spearheaded company-wide process improvement initiatives, including lean manufacturing, ISO-9001, employee compensation and career development.

Discovering the Power of Rhythm

Mary awoke to the power of rhythm when she first held a hand drum in 1998. “I can’t explain it,” she says, “because the idea of ‘drumming’ had never crossed my mind. But as soon as I touched the drum, I felt an opening, a shift, a grounding in my sense of self. Rhythm opens doorways to new levels of wellbeing, and science is now proving it.”

Connecting the Lessons of Drumming to Business and Life

Mary Tolena & Arthur Hull

Mary with Arthur Hull

Shortly thereafter, Mary discovered drum circle facilitation and the work of Arthur Hull. Mary immediately saw the learning power in the microcosm of group drumming. “All of the important principles I’d been working with in business play out in the drum circle,” she says. “Leadership, empowerment, speaking up, listening, group dynamics, innovation, collaboration, the importance of diversity – they’re all there, along with creative musical expression, excitement, and fun.”

In fact, Mary’s breakthrough understanding that, “Yes, leadership and teamwork CAN be easier,” came with her discovery of rhythm and drumming. “I recast everything I’d learned from work, school, and books using the principles of rhythm and flow. Suddenly everything made a lot more sense: what works, what doesn’t, and why.”

Creation of RhythmLift

In RhythmLift, Mary combines what she learned in the corporate and drumming worlds. She guides participants to experience human and group dynamics through hands-on rhythm play, humorous storytelling, commentary, and reflective dialog. The result is a moving experience that stretches team members into new insights that make a difference.

Combining Experience with Learning

Mary has two master’s degrees, in Management and Leadership & Organizational Development, and a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Technology, and

Mary is an endorsed facilitator for drum company Remo, Inc.   She is a certified Village Music Circles (Arthur Hull) Drum Circle Facilitator, and has taught in Arthur’s Hawaii Drum Circle Facilitators Playshop. Mary is also a qualified facilitator for HealthRHYTHMS and the TaKeTiNa Rhythm Process.

Mary offers business development and program design training for the world-wide community of drum circle facilitators.  She is a frequent organizer and/or presenter for the Drum Circle Facilitators Guild‘s annual conference.

For many years, Mary led the Seattle World Percussion Society, the non-profit that produces the annual World Rhythm Festival.  Mary helped colleague Jú Linares develop Ritmo Expansão, which offers rhythm programs for conferences, events, and team unification in Brazil.  Mary’s love for travel has taken her to Brazil, Bali, India, and Dubai, and around the U.S. to study drumming in both original culture and modern rhythm circle contexts.


Village Music Circles Certified Drum Circle Facilitator

HealthRhythms Trained Facilitator

Drum Circle Facilitators Guild

Seattle World Percussion Society