I like to say that “fitness has more than 1,400 years” of history, because studies have confirmed many things that Muslims already knew as part of the prophetic recommendations of Islam. From the benefits of intermittent fasting to the use of the miswak for teeth cleaning to the use of honey as a natural remedy, the list is long. But surprisingly, many of these recommendations are forsaken by some in the Muslim community. Some of healthy habits that are encouraged – such as sitting on the ground or eating with the hands – are even frowned upon as unsophisticated.
However Ramadan can be an opportunity to go back to all the good habits that, besides the spiritual merits, are beneficial for health and humility. And to that end: We have no desk or dinner table at home. We spend a lot of time working, eating, playing or just relaxing on the floor. I really believe everyone should give it a try.
As humans, we were made for standing or sitting on the floor in an “active way”, as in the case of a squat. Conversely, the posture you strike when seated on a chair is not a natural physiological position. It can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes and herniated disks. It makes the glutes inactive and reduces the flexibility of the hips. For years now, people have been saying “sitting is the new smoking”.
When it comes to eating, doing so while sitting on the floor has real benefits for our digestion, body composition and relationship with food. This position helps us secrete more digestive enzymes. It also stimulates the vagus nerve that connects the digestive system to the brain and transmits the feeling of satiety, stopping us from overeating. It allows us to eat more slowly, to focus on the meal and to reconnect to sensations and therefore to eat more mindfully, helping form an instinctive and healthy relationship with food.
As for eating with your fingers, this eases digestion and prepares the body to receive the food, thanks to the nerves that connect the fingers to the brain. Friendly bacteria (called normal flora) can also be found on our hands, and eating with our fingers allows us to pass these good bacteria to our digestive system. Taking food with your fingers also helps you focus on the meal, reaching a state of mindful eating that decreases your appetite and cravings.
In addition to those health benefits, sitting on the floor for a meal encourages humility and helps us detach from what others might think. It makes people more comfortable and promotes closeness and a good mood during meals. As Ramadan is supposed to be a month of restraint and humility, it’s a great way to bring about more simplicity to our everyday life.
• This article was originally published in June 2018.