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Fitness blog: Why do we recline at the seder?

Cathleen Kronemer

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. She is also a member of the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

We have been hosting first-night seder on Pesach for more years than I can even recall. Sometimes we have a crowd around our limited-seating dining room table, and other years have been more intimate. However, it never fails that something will always go wrong: red wine spilling on the special holiday tablecloth, a side dish served more at room temperature than piping hot, burning myself as I ladle out the chicken soup…never a huge deal, and almost a point worth laughing about later. This year was no exception; I neglected to put a pillow on my husband’s chair, so that The Leader might recline, as directed in the Hagaddah.  

Why do we recline during the course of the Seder service? There have been many reasons associated with this custom, and as kids we took full advantage of what we considered permission to slouch at the dinner table. It has since occurred to me that, unbeknownst to most Jews around the world, reclining recruits many muscles throughout the body’s midsection, from rectus abdominus to intercostals to obliques. Such a deal, right?  

From an anatomical point of view, reclining while still remaining somewhat “upright” in a typical dining room chair is anything but relaxing. If you were sitting on the floor on an exercise mat, with your knees bent, and began to lean backwards about 40 degrees and stop there, you would discover a myriad of muscular contractions occurring deep within the abdominal muscles. (Go ahead and try it, then resume reading!) 

We were slaves in Egypt, so long ago, and here were are celebrating our freedom on this blessed holiday. Why, then, should we be asking our midsections to “work so hard”? Let’s face it: whether we are walking the dog, running up and down the stairs at work, or crossing the Red Sea, our bodies are designed to remain upright. In the absence of a strong core, this soon becomes impossible; we have all witnessed the unfortunate posture of many individuals as they age, due in large part to poor muscle tone and a weak core. In order to prevent this from happening, we need to strengthen our abdominal muscles all throughout life. 

As we reflect upon our heritage and colorful history this holiday season, do something wonderful to liberate yourself: recline with a purpose!