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Cooling Off Shouldn’t Just Be A Hot Weather Phenomenon
by Julie T. Chen, M.D. • San Jose, CA


woman meditating by a waterfall

Even with our tools and our car, we know that we need to turn them off every so often to let them cool down after extended periods of use. It is ironic that we frequently do not show our body the same type of kindness and courtesy.

Our body is like a miraculous machine we tirelessly utilize to bear the brunt of our hectic schedules and daily stressors. Akin to any other machine, this can take a significant toll on the utility lifespan of the machine that is our body. So, what can we do to help our body “cool down after extended periods of use?”

Mind-body exercises can be exceptionally useful for providing respite to our body and mind as we battle the effects of chronic stress on our body’s physiology. What falls under this category of “mind-body exercises”? Some of you may already be doing these exercises in a structured capacity, while others of you may be doing them in small increments throughout your day without even realizing it. This is a broad terminology that encompasses activities such as meditation, prayer, music therapy, breath work, progressive muscle relaxation, self-hypnosis, imagery, and journaling, just to name a few.

The benefits of instilling mind-body exercises into our daily routine are far-reaching. When our body undergoes chronic stress, we are at greater risk for many health issues such as, but not limited to, worsening of autoimmune diseases, cardiac disease, insomnia, and fatigue. The elevation of our sympathetic system and increase in inflammatory chemicals associated with chronic stress is damaging to our health. Therefore, by intentionally implementing periods of relaxation, we are able to temper the damage by employing the effects of the parasympathetic system as a counter-balance.

We may not be able to control our environment and the triggers of stress, but we can engage ourselves in deliberate interludes of relaxation to ensure that we are not on a constant upward spike of anxiety and strain. Our body is negatively impacted by persistent elevations of stress hormones. Therefore, it is imperative that we employ these numerous techniques on a daily basis to “cool down ” our body and mind.

An easy technique that can be employed in public locations and at home is breath work. You may even perform the technique with your eyes open, thus seeming inconspicuous and unobtrusive to those around you. The easiest of the breath work techniques would be to double the exhalation time compared to the inhalation time. For example, you may breathe in to a count of four and exhale to a count of eight. Initially, it may be helpful to utilize a ticking watch or clock to make certain that you breathe slowly. When you breathe slowly over a period of time, your mind and heart naturally will slow down thus countering the heart racing and anxiety associated with the effects of stress.

Another useful technique is journaling. Studies show that the effects of journaling may far exceed the time you spend doing it. In one study, patients who engaged in journaling benefited from the calming effects for several weeks even though the journaling was done only for three days. This study indicates that the benefits of mind-body exercises even in short durations could potentially alter the negative impact of persistent stress for durations beyond the time spent performing them.

Therefore, since these exercises are relatively benign and the benefits may be significant, it would be worthwhile to employ them on a regular basis. After all, if we care enough about our car and tools to allow them time to cool off after working hard, we should offer our hard-working body the same sort of consideration and compassion.

ChenDr. Julie T. Chen is board-certified in internal medicine and is also fellowshiptrained boardcertified in integrative medicine. She has her own medical practice in San Jose, CA and also works as the wellness physician for several Silicon Valley-based corporations. She incorporates many healing modalities into her practice including, but not limited to; medical acupuncture, Chinese scalp acupuncture, and clinical hypnotherapy.