Rabbenu was right: dancing really does help to cure depression

A little while back, Rav Ofer explained that there is a Breslov tradition that dancing for eight minutes a day – lifting our legs off the floor and shaking our stuff – is a proven cure for the blues.

Yosef HaTzaddik danced his way through 12 years of hell in an Egyptian underground prison, and since then, dancing has always been one of the key ways that we Jews have got through the tough times.

Get back on your feet

I know that I’ve had so many times in my life when things seemed so dark, and so bleak, that I could literally feel all hope ebbing away….And then, I’d have to force myself to stand up, to get up, and to start dancing, to start moving my feet.

Even when I didn’t feel like it. Even when I had zero energy for anything, let alone dancing.

But the dancing always, always worked.

Except once. On Rosh Chodesh Adar five years ago, I was feeling so much darkness and judgment in the air that I danced a bit too enthusiastically and broke a toe…

I guess at that juncture in my life, even dancing couldn’t quite overcome the spiritual darkness that was about to descend upon me, or at least, not on that particular night.

But on every other occasion, dancing has done wonders to banish a nascent depressive mood, and to dispel that ‘sinking’ feeling that is a tell-tale sign that the yetzer has grabbed you by the feet, and is trying to drag you into a very despairing place.

Where’s the proof?

But still, when I tried to tell other people about how amazing this dancing advice is, especially when it comes to beating things like depression, sadness and anxiety, I always worry that I’m sounding a little too twee and naïve. I mean dancing isn’t Prozac, it’s not a drug, it’s not electric shock treatment, or anything ‘real’ like that.

It’s just a piece of very holy advice for happiness and fortitude that’s been handed down via our Sages over the millennia, and it happens to be one of Rebbe Nachman’s mainstays, and the ‘big gun’ he tells us we need to pull out when we hit those inevitable rough patches.

If our emuna was strong enough, all this rabbinic endorsement would be more than enough for us to start shaking our stuff. But sadly, most of us these days need a little extra encouragement, a little more scientific validation, before we’ll really take this dancing advice more seriously.

So I was thrilled when I came across this recently, on the ‘Greenmed’ website:

The evidence-based health benefits of dancing are numerous and profound. In fact, if dancing were a drug it would be considered unethical not to use it.”

The article continued:

“According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people worldwide are affected by depression.[3] With antidepressant medication use up by more than 400% in the United States,[4] now more than ever, we need natural ways of stimulating “feel-good” hormones in the brain….

“Dancing lights up areas of the brain that stimulate a sense of oneness and connection, something scientists call “self-other merging.”[5] And researchers are taking note of these therapeutic effects as a potential remedy for depression.”

It then brought a whole bunch of scientific studies including a Korean study on adolescents suffering from depression which found that:

“Serotonin concentration increased from dancing, and dopamine levels decreased, suggesting that dance therapy may stabilize the sympathetic nervous system. Researchers concluded that dancing may “beneficially modulate” these important brain chemicals, and improve emotional health in sufferers of depression.” 

So there you have it! Rabbenu was completely right!

Greenmed and Rav Ofer both agree that dancing is probably the single best thing you can do to kick depression into touch and improve your emotional health.

As long as you don’t break your toe.



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