One sign that you’re getting older is the need for bifocals. I had to give in a few years back and get bifocals so I could read easier and see better during surgery. I just upgraded my frame as well to get try-focals. The benefit to getting tri-focals is that you have a combination of reading glasses, intermediate distance and far distance, all in one. Now that I’ve gotten used to my new glasses, I’m really enjoying reading again, and using the computer is not as painful as it use to be. Doing surgery is now much easier.
However, I began to notice that I felt uncomfortable while driving or watching movies in a theater. It wasn’t that the images were blurry. I began to feel suffocated and stressed. Perhaps even more anxious than usual. I then began moving my head up and down to see if it was due to my glasses, and I realized that distance vision was only to be used in the top quarter of my new lens. To use only this part of this lens while driving, for example, either needed to tilt my head down a few degrees, or bring down my glasses lower on my nose.
The problem with lowering my glasses on my face was that it pressed my on the lower half of my nose, which blocked my nasal breathing to some degree. My only other option was to keep my head tilted down, but then I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like I was suffocating mildly. It was similar to whenever I cross my arms on my chest, where the weight of my arms on my chest would prevent me from taking deep, slow breaths. I was then forced to take more rapid, shallow breaths, which can lead to mild hyperventilation.
As Buteyko practitioners will tell you, more rapid, shallow breathing will cause you to blow off more carbon dioxide, raising your blood pH, leading to your red blood cell hemoglobin holding on to oxygen, in what’s called the Bohr effect. This also makes your nervous system more hypersensitive.
This is when I realized that the position of my head relative to my torso can significantly influence my ability to breathe properly. Here are 5 ways your posture can influence your ability to breathe, potentially leading you to feel more stressed and anxious:
1. Head position. As I’ve mentioned numerous times in my blog posts, your head position relative to your torso has a profound effect on your airway. This is confirmed by endoscopy: With the head flexed forward and down, with the chin to your chest, the space behind the tongue and soft palate becomes very narrow, whereas if you bend your head back, everything opens significantly. This is why the first A in the ABCs of CPR is airway. You have to tilt the head back to open up the airway. This is also why various “contour” pillows that extend your head back can help with snoring and apneas.
2. Slouching. Most people with narrowed airways will not walk around tilting their head backwards, with noses in the air. Instead, they will had a head-forward, slouching forward posture. This compensates by opening up the airway, but it comes with a price: The center of gravity of your 8 or so pound head is off the vertical axis centered in the middle of your torso. As a result, your neck and back muscles have to strain and work harder. Slouching and having your shoulders forward with also compress your chest wall, leading to smaller room for your lungs to expand.
3. Hand position while typing or doing surgery. Everyone knows that the most ideal position for typing is with the lower part of the arms parallel to the keyboard, at right angles to the upper arm, which hangs straight down. Now with more people using laptops on tables, you’re more likely raise your arms and hand onto the table and lean forward, somewhat in a slouching position. This can also cause your to raise up your shoulders, which can cause muscle tension and stress. While doing tonsillectomies, I teach residents to stand rather than to sit during the procedure. When you’re standing, it’s easier to replicate the “surgeon’s position” with very similar hand and arm position for proper typing. You can also move your head and body around with greater mobility, so that you can see better.
4. Crossed arms on your chest. Not only does this posture present to others as a sign of resistance or detachment, it also can make you feel more stressed and withdrawn. As I mentioned before, crossing your arms on your chest adds additional weight to your chest walls, with a slight but significantly higher resistance to breathing. Do an experiment right now and cross your arms over your chest. Feel how difficult it is when you’re breathing. Now lie down on your bed or on the floor and do the same thing. Notice there’s more resistance to breathing while on your back with your arms crossed.
5. Sleeping on your back. Despite images of people sleeping on their backs, most modern humans can’t sleep on their backs. This is because modern human faces are much smaller and there’s not enough space to hold all of our teeth, as well as various soft tissue structures such as your tongue and soft palate (as well as your nasal septum). I talk about this in my book, Sleep Interrupted. Most people know or prefer to sleep on their sides or tummies. However, if you get injured or have to undergo an operation, it’s likely that you’ll have to sleep sometimes or all the time on your back. When you’re awake it may be OK, but as soon as you start to enter sleep, your throat muscles begin to relax, and you start to obstruct partially or completely. Having multiple episodes of partial obstruction and sleep-to wake arousals can definitely lead to feeling more stressed during the day.
Admittedly, some of these body position are more subtle, and others are more obvious. But it’s important for you to be aware of the enormous impact of body or head position on your sleep quality.
Can you think of any other postures or head position that can cause you to feel more stressed? Please write your answer in the box below.