If you could go back in time to see how ancient cultures sat down, you'd notice that many sat upright on floors in the cross-legged position, kneeled, or sat with "tent knees" with their buttocks and feet on the ground, knees bent. These positions require a level of strength in the legs, glutes, and back, as well as balance and coordination. Only in relatively recent times have we employed the use of chairs and couches that have the unfortunate effect of putting the body in positions that lead to pelvic stagnation and reduced circulatory function.
The way we sit today is not ideal for our body's natural mechanics, and it's no wonder that we are increasingly finding ourselves diagnosed with "sitting diseases." The connection between sitting in a seat for most of the day and developing serious maladies isn't that difficult to make, in fact.
So let's do a little experiment: Without worrying about how fast you're moving, can you sit on the floor and then rise up to a standing position using as little support as possible? Turns out that if you can get yourself up from the floor using just one hand — or even better, without the help of any hand — then you're not only in the higher percentile of musculoskeletal fitness, but you're much more likely to live longer than those who can't do this exercise. Put simply, the better you can do this task without relying on your hands for stability and support, the longer you'll live.
It is well known that aerobic fitness is strongly associated with survival, but this study also shows that maintaining high levels of flexibility, muscular strength, and coordination have a positive influence on life expectancy (not to mention that they make daily activities easier to do). Being able to stand up from the floor without extra support requires a strong lower body, including strong ankles, knees, and calves. It also demands that our lower body from our hips down be open and flexible.
And today's lifestyles have many of us going in the other direction — toward crippling stagnation.
When people ask me for the "one piece of advice" that's good for all three doshas, or body types, regardless of age or the season, I like to refer to the legendary story of when Charaka, the father of Ayurveda, was asked the same question by a boy thousands of years ago. His response: "Wake up in the morning and go for a walk at sunrise."
Today we know the power of such an activity on the body's health and longevity. Although now we use high-tech words like "neuroplasticity" to describe how the brain positively responds to physical movement, the modern science has been known by ancient lore for a long, long time.
From an Ayurvedic point of view, exercise can be seen as even more important than food. Indeed, food provides prana, or energy. But if your body's energy channels are clogged and blocked, if your system is congested and the flow of blood, hormones, and other substances is not ideal, then you cannot use that food efficiently and absorb all its nutrients. Exercise facilitates the intelligent communication between cells, pure and simple.
Just as a fiery flow of agni is key to health, so is constant physical movement in your life. If you can imagine there being a warm fire burning bright in your belly, then you can understand why it's important to have a vent of air coming in to keep that fire burning. And that vent is possible through exercise, which promotes a fiery, robust circulation to constantly rekindle that fire.
Adapted excerpt from The Hot Belly Diet by Dr. Suhas G. Kshirsagar. Available wherever books are sold.