We started to notice an odd pattern emerging with my wife Nicole. Before a meal she’d do her usual routine: check her blood sugar, take some insulin, three-minute meditation and prayer, a few mouthfuls of food and then… she’d start to cough.
At first we thought food was making her cough. That was until we noticed that she would cough at other times she sat down. It wasn’t the eating, it was the sitting. She doesn’t sit down too often. She’s either standing, walking or lying. After a few years of kidney failure, sitting has been triggering breathing problems.
We then thought that sitting triggered coughing because of lack of movement. Moving produces carbon dioxide. CO2 expands airways. Not moving produces less CO2. So if breathing volume doesn’t reduce when she slows down, CO2 will lower and coughing ensues. This second theory held more weight. Nonetheless, lying down didn’t produce coughing attacks as quickly or frequently as sitting. And sitting, since it uses more muscles than lying, would produce more CO2.
So what’s the deal with sitting? Why does it make her breathing worse?
A recently cold I caught provided a clue. My body oxygenation score dropped from 30s to 15s. At 15s I would frequently start to cough. It didn’t take long to observe what triggered the coughing for me. Anytime my posture was even slightly off, I’d start to cough. Leaning back in a chair too much or slightly leaning forward would be enough.
Once I recovered from the cold, and my oxygenation score rose above 20s, this sensitivity went away. But it did make me realize that my posture could use improvement. I made a point of enforcing perfect posture on myself. Two days later I woke up in the morning with a very sore mid-back. It felt like I’d been doing some serious weight lifting. Instead, by correcting a slight tendency to hunch forward, I’d put to work a series of underused muscles at the height of my kidneys.
Keep in mind, I was hardly a sloucher. The only adjustment I made was bringing the chest out more and the shoulders back. Practicing perfect posture dug up some subconscious reasons why I’d maintained this minor slouch. I grew up in the Toronto area where people have a strange tendency to label any male who is thin and sits or stands straight as being gay. How a straight posture means you’re not “straight” is beyond me. But if you’re overweight and slumped in your chair, you’re obviously heterosexual. Makes no sense. But the stigma was there.
I also worked with a few people with very toxic personalities who also walked around with their chest out like they were king of the world. They also had a rather large tummy, which, possibly they were trying to hide by standing more erect. Nonetheless, they were the type of people you didn’t want to emulate (no less work with).
Lastly, I was born partially blind, which creates a tendency to lean forward to see things. Usually I need print twice as close (or twice as big) as other people. Ten years ago, I started working as a freelance writer. This involved sitting at a computer for six or eight hours a day (plus many all-nighters). I ended up in serious pain and paying a big chiropractor bill thanks to hunching over the monitor.
Making that slight correction in posture made my head feel clearer, my breathing lighter and my body more energized. Amazing what a five degree adjustment can produce.
Back to Nicole… After hearing about my posture epiphany she decided to focus more on sitting in a erect position. By coincidence, the previous week we went to see Chris Bauman, a Buteyko Breathing practitioner from British Columbia. She was visiting our neck of the country. Her immediate focus upon starting a one-on-one session with Nicole was correcting her posture while sitting.
As Chris pointed out, poor posture makes it difficult to use the diaphragm to breathe. Slouching forward impedes it’s ability to expand. Instead, the chest gets used for breathing. Since the upper lungs have fewer oxygen receptors, breathing must become deeper. Deeper breathing lowers CO2 levels in the lungs, which leads to constriction of the airways. Chris also said that there is a neurological connection between the upper respiratory muscles and the sympathetic (fight and flight) nervous system.
Exhaling more CO2 and activating the sympathetic nervous system is rather handy when you’re running from a tiger. Running for your life produces lots of CO2, so your levels don’t go down. And while sympathetic stress does raise blood sugar, again, running for your life uses that sugar to power your leg muscles. Sadly, the benefits ofhyperventilating with the upper chest are lost when you are trying to sit down to a calm meal with the family.
So Nicole had to make a decision. She either had to develop better posture or move to the Amazon.
One of the first things Nicole did was get rid of the chair she was using at the dining room table. She replaced it with a stool. With no back to the stool, she couldn’t lean into a unhealthy, cough-inducing posture. She also started lifting her food up to her mouth, versus hunching over to shorten the distance.
Being as sick as she’s been (stage five kidney failure isn’t easy) maintaining an erect posture has always been a challenge. That’s the problem with poor posture. It lowers body oxygen and carbon dioxide levels making the actual muscles of the back and diaphragm weaker. These weakened muscles now discourage proper posture and proper breathing. It’s a vicious cycle, which she is now trying to break.
Visually, it was quite the transformation to see her sitting so erect at the dining room table. She’s an avid reader of novels from the 1800s. I can’t help but think their frequent references to lady-like posture has also had an influence on her.
But the benefits of good posture should go far beyond avoiding respiratory problems like coughing. Chest breathing and lower CO2 triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol. This naturally leads to a rise in blood sugar, which only vigorous exercise or insulin will put back down.
Interestingly, upon improving her posture, Nicole began to experience a series of low blood sugars, particularly after meals. She tends to eat the same set of meals each day and knows exactly how much insulin these low-carb dishes require. Nonetheless, her standard doses began to cause hypoglycemic reactions.
While better posture alone is probably not going to result in a radical reduction in blood sugar, it certainly should help. Nicole’s also noticed a reduction in back and neck inflammation. She still can’t make it through an entire meal without some coughing, but the situation has improved to the point that she can at least sometimes remain sitting for the entire meal.
Editor’s Note: You can find out more about Chris Bauman, the Breathing Lady, at breathinglady.com. She can assess your breathing, posture and more using video Skype. For more information on how Buteyko Breathing can help with type-1 diabetes you can read Buteyko Method Brings “Insulin Consumption to Its Minimum”.
About the Author: John C. A. Manley researches and writes about alternative treatments for type-1 diabetes and its many complications. His wife, Nicole, of 13.5 years has had type-1 diabetes for nearly four decades. Together they have lowered her HgbA1c below 5.5%, regained thyroid function and reversed gastroparesis.