Messianic Dance as a Non-Traditional Treatment for Depression Symptoms

A Little Background About Depression       
     According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 350 million people in the world suffer from depression. This number is expected to balloon into the second largest malady by the year 2020. Some traditional treatments for depression includes screening in a clinical setting, psychotherapy; including interpersonal therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and pharmacological therapy including anti-depressants or mood stabilizers, and electroconvulsive therapy. Many people with depression, especially those with self-reported symptoms such as anxiety, do not want to seek out traditional types of therapies, but would rather investigate other methods.  
Signs and Symptoms of Depression
     According to the Mayo Clinic these possible signs of depression:
  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Changes in appetite — often reduced appetite and weight loss, but increased cravings for food and weight gain in some people
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that aren't your responsibility
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
When to See a Doctor and When to Seek Emergency Help

     See a doctor if you feel depressed, make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as you can. If you're reluctant to seek treatment, talk to a friend or loved one, a health care professional, a faith leader, or someone else you trust. If you feel like hurting yourself consider these options:
  • Call your mental health specialist.
  • Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Use that same number and press "1" to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
  • Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
  • Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.

If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:

  • Make sure someone stays with that person
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately
  • Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room
According to the World Health Organization
Many People Suffer With Depression

Depression Tops the List

Experts Share Their Findings on Dance and Movement
      Along with exercise, dance has been found to contribute to psychological well being (Pinniger, Thorsteinsson, Brown & McKinley, 2013) and has been successful in treating depression. The benefits of dance for treating depression include social interaction, connectedness, awareness in another person’s body when moving together, concentration, and physical boundaries. Dance Movement Therapy accomplishes this within a group setting.
      In Iris Brauninger’s (2012) article called, Dance Movement Therapy Group Intervention in Stress Treatment, she touted the benefits of the research, which included coping mechanisms for life’s everyday situations and better overall physical health including cardio vascular.

      According to Karen Brown-Gordon, M.Ed., “A somatic therapist sees that the fate of the human mind is utterly bound up with the fate of the body.” She also said "Somatic movement" in dance has a more specific meaning: it refers to techniques whose primary focus is the dancer's personal, physical experience, rather than the audience's visual one” 
      In a study by Bajaj & Vohra (2011), Bharatanatyam dance was very effective for people with depression. There are several reasons for this. One of the reasons Bajaj & Vohra point to, is that dance is great for the mind, body, and spirit.
Dance involves body, emotion, and mind; as do illness and pain. At one level, dance proves to be a strenuous physical exercise and can benefit the dancer in much the same way as a jogging session, but at another level it goes deeper into the body, affecting the mind as well as the soul. (Bajaj & Vohra, 2011, p. 55).
     They go on to talk about how the dance involves benefits for the heart; strengthening it because it is a muscle.
According to Singh (2006), in Indian dance training, the skills that are imparted are almost universal- from control of the body in every positing and movement, to a heightened sense of the body in space and overall alertness. (Bajaj & Vohra, 2011, p. 55).
     They also share about the healing aspects in regards to psychological implications, depression, and self esteem: "Quin, Frazer and Redding (2007) in their study showed that creative dance increases the physical and psychological well-being of adolescents. Physiological assessments included lung capacity, flexibility and aerobic capacity while the well-being assessments suggest that creative dance has the potential to elicit positive effects on self-esteem, motivation and attitudes towards dance. (Bajaj & Vohra, 2011, p. 55)."
      Pinniger et al. (2013) describe mindfulness, as a state of mind that involves redirecting thoughts away from aspects of a person’s life that cannot be controlled. This is an effective form of releasing worries and depression. One of the ways of redirecting thought is by learning a new skill. The study by Pinniger et al. (2013) was on the effectiveness of Tango dance for the treatment of depression. As the participants learned how to dance, improvement in their psychological health climbed. The theory is, that focusing on such things as body posture and movement, causes individuals to concentrate on the body rather than on their symptoms of depression. Tango dance involves synchronized movement, significant skill, and in-the-moment concentration. 
     Christian Worship dance on its own is a cathartic experience. Rosalie Bent Branigan (2009) states, that dance can help with self-esteem, self reliance, cooperation, interdependence, confidence, bring up painful memories and cause deep inner healing. Renowned DMT, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (Frank, 2013) said that the reason people feel so good after they dance is, that with traumatic experience people shut their bodies down to survive. Through dance, they have a release and reconnect with their bodies and their lives.


Messianic Dance
     The same can be said with Messianic Dance. The participant must concentrate on learning the step, putting multiple steps together in combinations, directional changes, and awareness of whom they are dancing next to. Messianic dance is traditional Israeli dance set to contemporary worship music. It is done in a circle with two or more people, and if there is a large enough group, it is done in concentric circles.
     Messianic Dance is a faith based group experience. This is an expression of devotion, praise, and worship done unto Yeshua.  This style dance is an intricate part of the Messianic Jewish lifestyle. It has become popular in the last several years and many people outside of the Messianic Jewish community participate in this form of dance movement. There are many churches with a love for Israel who participate in this form of dance movement. 

How Does a Messianic Dance Class Work?
     The structure of a Messianic Dance class varies. However, an example of a class is as follows:
(1) A designated venue is established and people meet there at a particular time each week for scheduled class.
(2) The class is facilitated by a dance leader who opens the class in a short prayer.
(3) The facilitator will begin by teaching a dance with two parts that contains a combination of choreographed dance steps.
(4) After the steps are learned, the facilitator will give a spiritual application to encourage the participant to internalize the dance and respond with their body through the movement.
(5) There is a break halfway through the class, so participants can reflect on what they learned. They can also fellowship with one another.
(6) At the end of the class, the facilitator will lead the class in a closing prayer. The goal of Messianic dance is to bring people together in community and to worship. They have spent the time using their heart, soul, and strength to worship God. They walk out of a session feeling better than before going in (, 2013). 

Having Faith Has Been Helpful Too
     Faith has also been helpful in the treatment of depression. In a different study, Paul Baker and James Cruikshank (2009, p.341) said, “Religion is also reported as helpful coping strategy and research over the past two decades has highlighted the possible importance as religion as a variable in depression.” In their study, they stressed that practicing religious people (especially Christians,) who pray and attend their faith community, experience symptoms of depression less than those who do not (p. 350).
     They also stated that religious affiliations might be as effective in the treatment for depression, as being prescribed anti-depressants. A person with a religious belief may benefit more from their own faith verses traditional, pharmacological depression therapy. They stressed that in general, the mental health care provider should consider the patient’s faith upon first evaluation (p. 351) before rendering pharmacological treatment. 

What is Messianic Judaism?
       Messianic Judaism is a movement made of Jews and Gentiles who live out their faith in the context of a Jewish life style. They worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Yeshua (the Hebrew name for Jesus), meet on the Sabbath, and keep all of the biblical holy days listed in the Tanach (Torah, Prophets, & Writings - Old Testament). These include Passover (Pesach), Feast of Weeks (Shavout), Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah), Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), Feast of Booths (Sukkot), Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah), and the Book of Esther (Purim). They also celebrate traditional lifecycle customs such as circumcision, bar and bat mitzvah, mezuzah hanging, and marriage rituals such as the signing of the ketubah (marriage contract) (Kollontai, 2004, p. 197). These joyful celebrations include a type of folk dance known as Messianic dance.
      Messianic Jews and Messianic non-Jews liken themselves to the first followers of Yeshua, while he was alive in Israel (Kallontai, 1994, p. 196). Yeshua was a Jew who was faithful to the Torah, and his teachings in the Brit Hadasha (New Testament) are rooted in Torah (Kallontai, 1994, p.200-201). As was written in the Torah, Yeshua’s creed was to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and strength, love your neighbor as yourself, and that He and His Father are one God. Someone who is a Messianic Jewish believer or Messianic non-Jewish believer follows the tenants of the Torah; the first five books of the Bible and the rest of the Tanach (Kallontai, 1994, p. 195). The Messianic community believes that Yeshua is the promised Messiah for Jewish people and the nations, so they also follow the New Covenant (Brit Hadasha) as well. These people do not want to give up their Jewishness, which is equated to Torah, just because of the fact that they believe in Yeshua (Kallontai, 1994, p. 195). 

What Does This Have to do With Depression?
     Messianic Jews, Messianic non-Jews, and Christians with a love for Israel get depression too. There is a special need for this niche group of people; to have a web page resource. As of yet, there has not been published research on the effectiveness of Messianic Dance as a therapy. In regards to scholarly publications, Messianic Dance is mentioned as an activity within the Messianic Jewish Community. Such is the case in John Dulin’s (2010) article titled, Messianic Judaism as a mode of fundamentalist authenticity: grammar of authenticity through ethnology of a contested identity.     
      Messianic Dance is part of the Messianic Jewish movement and is done in conjunction with worship of Yeshua the Jewish Messiah. In addition, Murray Silberling states in his book, Dancing for Joy (1995, p. 15), “Dance was part of the worship of the first followers of Yeshua” and “Dance was an essential part of Christian worship and liturgy until the 1700s.” 
      Not only that, the Baal Shem Tov, who established the revivalist movement in Judaism in the 1700’s, expressed the importance ecstatic dance of being a way to experience joy and intimacy with the Lord (Silberling, 1995, p.14). He also taught that if one could dance well he would be freed from bondage. This can certainly be said about depression.

A Psychologist's View of Messianic Dance for Depression

     In a great article titled, The Positive Effect of Messianic Dance on Depression written by Janice Morgan Strength, Ph.D.; Strength Resources Inc., Dr. Strength shares her view of Messianic Dance (personal communication, April 15, 2016).
     "Currently 6.7% of the population is suffering from depression and 20-25% of Americans have or will suffer a bout of major depression at some time during their lifetime. Symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, physical fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, impaired concentration, insomnia or hypersomnia, reduced interest or pleasure in almost all daily activities, recurring thoughts of death or suicide, restlessness or lethargy and significant weight loss or gain.  While depression is frequently treated with psychotherapy or medication or a combination of both, Messianic Dance can have a positive effect on symptoms of depression.  Research has demonstrated that depression is associated with physical, emotional, social and spiritual problems.  And thus an activity or treatment that addresses all four of those levels can be exceedingly helpful.
     On the physical level, the neuro chemistry of the brain is out of balance when a person is depressed. This affects a person’s mood as well as energy level. While medication is one way to bring the brain’s chemistry back into balance, physical activity is known to produce more endorphins in the brain nudging the  chemical imbalance into a normal state. Messianic dance is a pleasurable way to engage in moderate to active physical movement (depending on the dance) which would enable the body to produce more endorphins.  These added endorphins result in lifting of a person’s mood and providing more physical energy. 
     Depression many times involves social isolation, or can both stem from or result in negative social interactions.  Engaging with another person in a positive meaningful way can prove to be very helpful in reducing symptoms of depression. While psychotherapy provides a space for a person to talk and be heard on an individual level, group interaction is also helpful.  Messianic Dance is a group social activity.  Though a person could dance and worship Yahweh on an individual basis, typically Messianic dance is done in community. From the rhythmic movement together with other people, to eye contact, to the chatting that occurs between dances there is much social connection happening in the process of engaging in Messianic Dance.  More recent research in neurobiology is finding that the anatomy of a person’s brain actually changes from social interaction, building more neural connections in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. A larger prefrontal cortex enables a person to negotiate interpersonal relationships better and modulates negative emotions such as depression and anger more effectively.
     On a spiritual level depression can sometimes result from a spiritual attack or battle either known or not to the depressed person.  Dealing with spiritual attack from a scriptural perspective involves prayer, worship and praising God.  Messianic Dance is not just dancing in a community but the purpose is to engage in prayer by worshiping Yahweh and praising his name. 
     There is a whole section of psychotherapy known as cognitive therapy which has been particularly helpful in the treatment of depression.  This is a therapy that pays particular attention to one’s internal thought patterns. Negative thinking can lead to depression and positive thinking can move a person out of depression. The goal is to change the thought patterns in a positive direction so that the depression will lift. Most Messianic Dances are danced to Messianic worship music which has set scripture to song.  Both rhythmically and melodically the songs are written to magnify the text and the worship experience. What is more positive than words that exalt and magnify the Lord?  As one moves to the music in Messianic Dance there is the added cognitive benefit of our mind literally being renewed by being washed with the words of the texts of scripture.
     In summary, Messianic Dance includes physical movement, group interaction, changing our internal thought patterns in a positive direction and spiritual renewal, all of which are effective ways to address depression.  Being in the presence of our loving Heavenly Father is renewing in and of itself.  Messianic Dance brings us into the presence of Yahweh and holds us there as we bask in his love and offer him our worship.  The experience is transformative.  I highly recommend it."
Personal Testimonies
    "I was in school trying to get my teaching credential and overseeing my son’s schooling when I started experiencing symptoms of depression. It was terrible. I had been struggling with depression for several years. At times, I felt like I was in a bottomless pit; not knowing if I would ever get out. I had to function through my
depression and care for my son. Amazingly, I found healing through worshiping Yeshua in dance at a MDCI workshop. I love it! Thank you!"
 L. P.

     "I had severe depression for ten years. I was married to a wonderful man and have four beautiful kids; the youngest being twenty-one. I cannot pinpoint how it started, but I woke-up one day with an overall feeling of dread which did not leave. I wanted to sleep all day and not come out of my room. My bouts of depression would hit unexpectedly and could last for months at a time. I felt ashamed and that people looked down at me for having this condition. I live in a beautiful place, yet I felt horrible. I decided to go to a Messianic Dance Class with a friend and my depression lifted. I tried it again and I felt better. It has changed my life and I am grateful to God for MDCI!"  M. L.
Mindy's Testimony of Healing Through Messianic Dance