Lee Holden on Qi Gong for Less Stress and More Energy

Lee Holden on Qi Gong for Less Stress and More Energy


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Katie: Hello, and welcome to the “Wellness Mama Podcast.” I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com, and wellnesse.com. That’s wellnesse with an E on the end. And this episode is all about a new tool I’ve been using for both movement, stress relief, and breathing. It’s called Qi Gong, and I’ve recently met someone, named Lee Holden, who has been teaching this for 28 years, and I was really excited to have him on here to explain it to you guys. He first discovered Qi Gong after nearly losing his ability to walk in a sports injury and these energy practices healed his body really quickly and let him return to athletics very quickly. And so, he decided to devote his life to studying and teaching these practices. And he’s now known as the accessible Qi Gong teacher, and he has taught millions of people this on PBS, through DVDs, and through books as well.

And today, we go through what Qi Gong is and how he learned it, how it impacts our physical and emotional states, his own recovery, how he used this tool himself, why almost 90% of doctors’ visits are stress-related, and how things like Qi Gong or even just breathing and meditation can have such a profound physical effect, and so much more.

I’m really excited for this as a tool. I think things like this were really helpful to me when I was recovering from autoimmune disease and in my intense weight loss phase because I was being very gentle with my body, and practices like this let you get movement, and practice your breathing, and find a calmer inner space without putting a lot of demand on the body, especially if it’s going through any physical challenges at the time or just needs time to recover.

So I hope that you will enjoy this interview as much as I did, and I hope that you’ll check out some of the resources from Lee that are mentioned in the show notes at wellnessmama.fm. Like I mentioned, I have just started using Qi Gong as a movement practice, and I’m really enjoying it, and I would be curious to hear from any of you who decide to try it as well. So let’s jump in and meet Lee. Lee, welcome. Thanks for being here.

Lee: Hey. I’m so excited. Thank you, Katie.

Katie: I am excited, too. I got to meet you in person recently and have a really fun dinner conversation, and knew immediately I wanted to share you on this podcast, and also selfishly learn more myself, because we only had a couple hours to chat, and I have been delving into your work and wanna keep learning. So, to start abroad, I think this is a concept I wasn’t that familiar with, I had heard of, and didn’t really know much about until I met you. So, to start really broad, can you kind of explain what qigong is?

Lee: That is a good question. You know, sometimes I say the hardest part about qigong is how to spell it, because it’s spelled, Q-I-G-O-N-G. “Qi” means energy. It’s your life force energy. And “gong” simply means to work with. It’s a skill at working with life force energy. Now, what is life force energy? It is everything. It’s the energy of your body, like your health, your vitality. How much energy do you have, right? It’s your emotions. What are we feeling? What is the quality of your energy? So, there’s a big difference between somebody who’s stressed out, angry, frustrated, and agitated, to somebody who’s happy, at peace, in a joyful state. That’s a difference in quality of energy, and I think we all can understand what that’s like.

And then there’s the energy of our mind. What’s the quality of our thoughts? What are we thinking about? And then, how do these all influence each other? How do our thoughts influence our emotions? How do our emotions influence our bodies? And that is the skill, the “gong,” of working with life force energy. So, really, it’s a practice of working with all of yourself in life. You know, sometimes I tell people “qi” means aliveness. It just simply means this force that keeps us alive. It’s pointing at the direction of who we are, and who we are is mysterious. Because we still don’t know how the heart continues to beat. What starts the heart beating in the first place? What’s this light in our mind when we close our eyes we can see images? We are very mysterious, energetic beings. And that’s what qi really means, and how do we optimize it so we can lead happy, healthy, fulfilling lives.

Katie: And I have a feeling I’ll end up sharing some of my story, too. I’ve shared a little bit on this podcast before. But I feel like in the Western world, we are typically more educated on the physical side and the medical side. And I certainly have been through my own journey of realizing just the importance of the connection of the energetic side, and the emotional and spiritual side. I would love to hear a little bit more about your story, and how you got into qigong and into Eastern medicine as well.

Lee: Wonderful. You know, it started with an injury. You know, sometimes these adversities in life lead us to some amazing new paths. You know, I was a collegiate soccer player. I was just starting. I felt, you know, amazing, so excited about my season coming up, and on the second game, somebody took out my legs. I landed on my tailbone, just completely put my back into spasm, ruptured some discs. And the doctors said I was out for the season. You know, I had the cortisone shots, I took the painkillers, and the pain actually didn’t go away, but it did give me a stomachache. And I had this horrendous stomachache from the painkillers, and I was like, “There’s gotta be a better way.”

And when I was a kid, I studied martial arts, and I remembered vividly this martial arts master. He broke a big stack of bricks, and he told me that the way he did it was with qi. And I said, “Oh, I wanna get me some of this qi.” I went back home, and I saw this guy, and he gave me acupuncture. He put some needles in my back. He showed me some qigong exercises. He showed me how to stretch. He showed me how to bring energy to that particular area. It was the qi that was gonna help to heal the body. And really, in two or three treatments, I was 95% better, and I was playing again. And when I was playing, before every game and before every practice, I would do these strange exercises. My teammates were like, you know, teasing me and stuff like that, but they started doing them, too. And, you know, it was really a catalyst for me. I was like, “I wanna do this. This is something I wanna do. I wanna teach people how to do this,” because I wasn’t seeing anybody learning these skills. And as I delved into it a little deeper…you know, at the time, I was studying psychology at UC Berkeley.

So, two years into studying psychology, I hadn’t learned one technique on how to make anybody feel any better, and as I started to study qigong practices, and Eastern philosophy, and meditation, each technique was designed to make you feel more connected to the moment, to who you are, and how to transform, you know, pain, tension, tightness, stress, anger, frustration, back into something that feels really good, back into healing energy, back into a state of inner peace, or contentment. And so I just said, “This is what I wanna do.” So when I graduated from college, I was hired as a ghost writer by one of the world’s foremost authorities at that time on qigong, Eastern philosophy, and I did about 20 trips to Asia, and I wrote about eight books for him. Along the way, I’d stop in China, and Japan, Indonesia, and study with various masters, and kind of put it all together and say, you know, “How can I share this with my friends on the soccer team? How could I share this with people in Silicon Valley, workers, moms and dads, parents? People could use this information, these techniques, to make their lives better.” And that was what I was passionate about.

Katie: Yeah. I’m curious if you encountered skepticism along the way on that, because I will admit, for many years, I would have been skeptical of many of these things. And I did all those physical things with the vitamins, and the supplements, and dieting, and all of that, trying to fix my health problems, and for me, it wasn’t until I addressed the inner side, and kind of got my body in alignment. It adjusted to match my spiritual, emotional inner picture without nearly as much effort as I had been trying to put into it when I was just addressing the physical side. But I realized this is somewhat a new concept. I know you’ve largely brought this to the Western world, and I give you a lot of credit for that. But I’m curious, do you still encounter skepticism, or maybe people who just don’t understand? Because it, I think, can be hard to wrap your head around when it doesn’t feel as tangible as, like, taking a painkiller, for instance, or, you know, something we can easily target. So, I’m just curious if you still encounter that.

Lee: Absolutely. And, you know, I love that. Actually, I love that healthy skepticism. Skepticism with an open mind, because whatever system, whatever paradigm you’re looking at, Western, Western medicine, research, quantum, Eastern, we always run into the mysterious. We don’t know. You know, we’re learning new things each and every day. And what’s exciting about our time is this is ancient philosophy, this Eastern medicine, and Western research are all coming together. It’s a big convergence right now. We’re starting to talk about the same thing from two different paradigms. And I think this is a very exciting time, where we can prove, or we can objectively look at, Eastern techniques and see their relevance.

Now, just a quick story. So, I’m an acupuncturist now. You know, flash forward from my story, you know, 15 years. This wife brings her husband in to see me, because she had a lot of success with acupuncture. She brings her husband. Her husband’s an MD. He’s like, “Just so you know, I don’t believe in any of this stuff, but my wife won’t stop talking about it, ‘You gotta go see Lee. You gotta go see Lee.’ So I’m just here to appease her. You don’t even have to do anything. I’m just gonna lie on the table.’” And I said, “Well, while you’re here, why don’t I just put some needles in?” He had shingles, so he was in tremendous amount of pain. You know, I put in about seven or eight needles, came back, you know, 30 minutes later, took the needles out. He was like, “Thanks. You know, this is not gonna do anything.” But a week later, he comes back in. His wife was kind of smiling, and I said, “Okay. Let’s bring him back.” So he comes back to the room, and he goes, you know, “Just so you know, I still don’t believe in this, but it’s the only thing that’s working.”

So, you know, there’s a hurdle in our minds. And you said it, Katie. You said, you know, we really are focused on the objective, on the things, on the material reality, but there’s something behind the scenes. You know, looking at Western medicine is like looking at the appliances in your house, and looking at Eastern medicine paradigm, you look at the wiring, on what the power is to those appliances. So, for example, we have our cardiovascular system, our respiratory system, our digestive system. Well, all of these systems need power, and that was called qi. It’s these invisible energy networks called meridians, that power up everything else, and that energy is related to every aspect of yourself. So that’s why your thoughts very much influence your physical reality. That’s why your emotions are one of the key factors to health and vitality.

And you’re not alone in your experience, because most people try to work with a physical problem by taking a physical substance, you know, painkillers. And what happens, they can work, but they have side effects. And we’re not addressing the root cause. So, in Chinese medicine, they say, “Let’s address the root cause.” What is the root cause? Often, some kind of emotional stress, some way in which we’re thinking about our life in a disconnected way that influences the body. Now, here’s a good example of how Western research comes in. Now, Western research says, “How influential is stress on our physical health?” Because before, we said, you know what? Emotional stress has no influence on your physical body, even though we as people intuitively know that when I’m stressed out, something goes haywire in my body. So they looked at this, because they wanted to understand, through corporations, if stress was making their workers less productive. And, in fact, it does, and it does tremendously. Now, when we look at stress research, we say 89% of primary doctor visits are stress-related. That means almost 90% of why you go to the doctor, some physical problem has its roots in stress.

They say, “What about genetics?” Genetics is usually the thing that we have to fear, because if my parents had it, and their parents had it, then I’m likely to get it. Well, genetics is only about 5% of the reasons why we have something. So, a whole new body of research on epigenetics, it’s the stress that turns on the genes that creates that reality in our physical. Clear the stress, those realities don’t manifest. And so, stress was the root cause of a lot of problems. How do we, as it’s said in qigong, transform stress into vitality? And that’s that transformation, it’s our ability to deal with stress, or to break the habit of stressful thinking and stressful responses. Now, qigong’s gonna ask you a question. How do you respond to life with relaxation, as opposed to stress, tension, and tightness? Because relaxation is a much higher level of skill than responding with stress. Now, we can all ask ourselves, “Hey, when I get stressed out, what do I do?” Usually, we hold our breath, we tighten our neck and shoulders, and we get a lot of tension and tightness in different areas in our bodies. So that’s our skill set, breaking the cycle of stress in the first place, or, when we notice that we’re getting stressed out, how do we transform it back into vitality? Because energy can always be shifted from one state to another.

Katie: I would love to talk a little bit more maybe about the specifics and how you do that with people. I know we got to talk a little bit about this in person, and also maybe the idea of how does this work, maybe the acupuncture side, if you could kind of delve into that. It’s exciting to see, like you, I’m seeing this in the research. It’s funny to me that we now need science to tell us that stress is bad, or that stress impacts the body, but we’re seeing so much of it. And you mentioned the energy side. I’ve read books like “The Body Electric” that talk about how the body is an electric, like, it’s an electric body. And so it makes complete sense that nerve impulses and emotions are going to have an impact on that. And it’s also, you know, we’re seeing the research on how meditation, for instance, can be so profound. And I feel like qigong is another amazing tool I’m just now learning in that toolkit. But can you walk us through kind of, maybe, to help people wrap their head around how that process works in the body?

Lee: Yeah. You know, qigong is like meditation, it’s like yoga, it’s like exercise, and it’s also energy work. So you get all the benefits of meditation, yoga, exercise, and energy work in one practice, and when you combine it, there’s something that happens. There’s an alchemy to this practice, where we feel more holistic, and this is key to our health and harmony. We feel separated within ourselves, and it’s reflected in our medicine, it’s reflected in our lifestyles. For example, if we have emotional stress, we go see a psychologist. If we have pain or problems in our body, we go see the doctor. But neither one of these health practitioners talk to each other. If we have a spiritual issue, we often go see, you know, we go to the church. We go see the rabbi. We go to see whoever. But nobody is talking, so that we don’t see the interconnections. We don’t see the holistic aspect of it. So we feel fragmented. Our minds and our emotions are disconnected. Our emotions and our body are disconnected. And this creates a sense that we are fragmented within ourselves. So, this medicine works holistically, because we see the connections to everything, the relationship between minds, emotions, and body. And that creates a profound effect. When we address emotional stress. For example, tension in your neck and shoulders releases. You might sleep better. Because you sleep better, you have more energy.

So the side effects of doing a practice like qigong is a cascade of positive effects, where we just feel a whole lot better in our lives. That’s what happens when we work with energy. So, energy is fundamental to who you are. Take, for example, the way we look at our bodies. Our bodies is a community of 50 trillion cells, and if we look at each one of those cells, they’re made up of molecules. Those molecules are made up of atoms. Atoms are the foundation of our physical body. But when we look at an atom, it is nothing but 99% empty space, a vibration, of fluctuations of energy. So, why does it, we feel like we’re solid, right? We can touch our bodies. We feel pretty solid. Well, those atoms are moving at such a high frequency, it’s like a fan moving really fast. And I heard a scientist said that the electrons move at 600 miles per second. I don’t know how they got that number with the little, you know, cellular radar gun. But 600 miles per second is a astronomically fast speed. And all those atoms in your body give this sense that you are a physical being, but really, we’re energetic beings.

So that’s, when we look at it from a Western perspective, we say, “Hey, we’re empty space. An empty space of vibration.” We look at an Eastern energetic perspective, and they said, “Look, what reality is, is only part of the picture,” because your five senses only give you a little bit of a picture, like looking through a keyhole and trying to take in the whole landscape of the room. There’s much more to reality than your five senses tell you. And that much more is that everything is energy. And that’s what the Eastern master said. Let’s work with the energy to create this cascade of positive side effects that create a feeling of wholeness, not only within yourself, but with life in general. And when you feel whole within yourself, guess what? We treat each other kinder. We don’t disrupt the energy of the planet. We feel like there’s a harmony and a synergy between who we are, how we show up, our communities, both with each other, with animals, with nature all around us, and then there’s harmony.

When we feel separated, we want just a quick fix, our minds and bodies are disconnected, and we feel disconnected from our source of energy, the Earth, nature, and the universe all around us. So it has deep implications as we start to work with energy. We start to feel the interconnections. We start to feel the unifications and the wholeness of life, not the separations. And when we feel separated, we start to feel, you know, emotionally disconnected. We start to feel disconnected from each other, and we also can feel very lonely, down, or depressed. And I think it is very relevant in our time right now, when we’re being separated, and people are feeling a lot of mental, emotional issues because of a pandemic, and how do we get reconnected to ourselves to who we are? Because, in reality, who we are is quite magical. It’s quite miraculous. And to drop into the magic and the mystery of who we are, all of a sudden, opens us up to curiosity, and to our power and potential that we can tap into.

Katie: I love that explanation. And when you’re talking about atoms, that was such a fascinating thing for me to learn recently, and the comparison I’ve used to explain it to my kids is, you know, if you had a ball on a string, or, like, a glow stick…kids love to spin glow sticks in the dark. If you spin it fast enough, it looks like a solid circle. It’s not. But it looks, and maybe would even feel like that on a very small scale, because it’s moving so rapidly. And it’s just a little bit wild to think our whole bodies are actually this gigantic interconnected ball of movement. Where we think of it as, like, an unchanging solid reality. And when you think of everything being so energetic in the body, it makes sense that when you could impact that, even on a small level, it would have a really dramatic shift in the body.

You’ve also mentioned stress a couple times, which, most of the people listening are parents, so this is a very relevant topic. You said almost 90% of doctors’ visits are stress-related. And we know, of course, in America, we see all the stats about everything, all these health problems being on the rise. We know that stress is at epidemic proportions at this point. And so, I’d love to, like, talk more about the stress side and how this body change is happening. I wonder, is it, like, a shift into parasympathetic that allows also in a physical sense, you know, stress hormones to equalize into proper levels, digestion to improve, sleep to improve, or is it something even, a different level than that?

Lee: Yeah. I love that. We’re just all big giant glow sticks, you know. We’re made out of light and energy. That’s the thing. We’re made out of the same energy that comes from the stars, and the starlight is within us. And so, how do we optimize our energy? You know, qigong was called the art of preventing disease and prolonging life. Preventing disease and prolong… So, how do we prevent? We manage our stress. That’s number one. We still don’t quite know how to do that. How do we transform stress into vitality? These are skill sets that are not taught, because we’re so heavily focused on the objective world and on the external. And we can reorient to give some credence to our internal landscape, to our internal reality, to tend to that first, because you have power within yourself. And where we feel powerless is often in the external world. There’s all these problems, environmental, pandemic. We feel powerless. When we feel powerless, we feel stressed out. Our natural reaction to regain power is to do something within ourselves. So that’s why people tighten up their muscles. That’s why people start to hold their breath, because they’re going into survival mode.

And, Katie, you said it, it’s about your nervous system. How do we switch from sympathetic stress mode into parasympathetic relaxation mode, “rest and digest,” as it’s called? Well, there’s some very simple things that we can do. One, we can change our breathing, because your body and your mind are a reflection of your breathing patterns. In fact, when you breathe different, your mind is eavesdropping on your breath, to understand what’s going on in external reality. Is my life being threatened? You know, stress response is wonderful if your life is being threatened. You’re walking down a dark alley. You’re face to face with a grizzly bear. You’re standing on the edge of a cliff. That is a good time to go into stress response. You know, fight or flight is there for a very good reason, but it is very emphasized. So, your main priority, in your nervous system, in your biology, is survival. And we become so adept at surviving that we can look into the future, and we can say there’s possible dangers in those future scenarios. And we bring those dangers back to our present moment. Even though we’re perfectly safe right now, we’re gonna project our minds into the future, “What if this bad thing happens? What if the stock market crashes? What if this? What if that?” And we bring it back into the present moment, and we take all that stress, and we internalize it.

What if we could look into the future and say, “I’m gonna focus on all these exciting, wonderful things that happen”? In qigong, we say, “Where the mind goes, energy follows.” And where the mind goes, if we look into the future, and we can start to say, “That’s what I’m inspired to do. Those are the exciting things that I’m gonna start to visualize happening,” we bring back a whole different kind of energy into our present moment.

So, hardwired, in your nervous system, survival mode, and it’s very turned up. We’re very keyed and turned up to survival mode. That’s why we look at negative. That’s why we can pay attention to negative news. You know, you look in the newspapers, there’s not positive news, because we’re not hardwired to look at the positive. It’s not even interesting to us. So we have to train it. Happiness is very low on the list when it comes to survival. So we have to retrain our way of looking at life, and then all of a sudden, we can start to cultivate. You know, energy work is like a gardener. You’re cultivating energy. We need to compost the old. We need to put it in the right place, like fertilizer on the ground. If we wanna grow a garden full of flowers, vegetables, and fruit, we need to know where to put the energy. Otherwise, we’re taking this compost, and we’re putting it in the house, we’re throwing it at our neighbors, and it’s not useful in the way that we’re working with our mental/emotional energy. And when we can utilize it in the right way, all of a sudden, we have a beautiful garden where we’re feeling healthy.

You know, here’s the key for your audience. You can feel high levels of energy, happy, strong sense of vitality, and really connected to your life’s purpose or fulfillment, whether you’re, you know, going to work, whether you’re parents. I mean, especially parents, because nobody realizes how challenging being a parent is. You know, I have an infant and twin 13-year-olds. And that kind of gamut, you know, the challenges of having an infant, I mean, you know, Katie, and having teenagers. When you feel centered and energized, you show up as a parent completely different than if you’re depleted and stressed out. You know, when we’re energized, we have that calm sense of being centered. We can help to guide the energy. You know, they might be fighting, they might be irritated, but we could say, “Hey, let’s just relax.” We can skillfully help to guide the circumstance, rather than yelling and screaming and slamming doors. You know, that does not feel good to anybody.

So, what I love about this kind of work is that it translates directly into your life quite immediately, and helps us to be more skillful at working with our own energy and the energy of our families, because being skilled in a high, kind of, peak performance state is not just for athletes, entrepreneurs, CEOs, professionals. It should be peak performance for parenting, because that is the foundation of who we are as a society. I mean, this is so important. How we raise these beautiful young children is so, so important. And I know, for myself, when I feel energized, and when I feel centered, I show up so much differently than I do if I’m stressed out and depleted. And I’ve been able to train and teach parents so many skill sets that they just feel like, “Oh, now I’m enjoying my parenting.” When we’re depleted, it’s very hard. We’re just getting through it. And it’s a big, huge difference.

Katie: Yeah. Absolutely. I feel like for moms listening, especially, the mom’s emotional state tends to ripple into the whole family. And I love that you brought that up about, you know, it shouldn’t just be CEOs and high-level athletes and entrepreneurs who are able to operate in this state of flow. Really, the most impactful people to experience that are the parents, because then we’re also teaching those tangible skills to our children, and this has a ripple effect. I also love that you brought up the idea of, you know, projecting the mind into the future and being worried about the future, or, it could apply to dwelling in the past and rehashing past stuff. And the important point I’ve realized in that is the body doesn’t know the difference. The body reacts. It doesn’t know the difference between, like, you’re faced with a tiger right now, and you’re sitting here ruminating on stress that might happen in the future. So you’re having all those biochemical reactions when you don’t need to.

And so, I think, like, just the awareness of that can stop, or start help you unpack that process. Like you, I think the news is a great way to perpetuate that stress, if you want to stay in the state of fight or flight. And I often answer the question when people say, “What’s the single most impactful thing I could do for my health?” I’m like, “Well, there’s a lot, but turn off the news.” That’s a big one. Because your body doesn’t know the difference between I’m in physical danger right now and other people are having this bad experience across the world. And you don’t get that space for that stress to go away. I’m curious, do you see HRV changes, or have they ever studied HRV changes when people implement practices like qigong?

Lee: Yeah. Absolutely. These are such great points, Katie. We’re stressed out about our own lives. Then we turn on the news, we look at our phones, and we’re bombarded with what we might think of as negative energy, and negative perception, because, as we perceive something, it changes our biochemistry. Or, another way of saying it, it changes your energy. Now, stress, in terms of Chinese medicine, qigong, we’ll say it creates stagnation of energy. It’s like sitting in traffic when you’re late. That is a perfect example of stagnant energy, where stress from the environment starts to infiltrate. But here’s what you can do. You can get more skillful. When you recognize stress, what I want people to do is instead of tightening up, I want you to relax more. When you’re sitting in traffic, when you got that meeting, when things are stressing out, your kids are going crazy, I want you to relax more. Can I relax into this? And can I take a slow, deep breath? Because as you slow your breath down, that stress in your environment will not infiltrate your system. So, yes, let’s try to limit the stress that comes in, but we are in modern life, where stress is all around us. I want you to also become better at managing and dealing with the stress that’s there, so you don’t have to contract, tighten up, and go into that stress mode.

Katie, you mentioned HRV, heart rate variability, right? Heart rate variability is, when that’s high, it’s showing that we are managing life stresses well. Internally, we’re more in that parasympathetic state. So, a couple of my students, this is some years ago, they were some of the first to market on an app on measuring heart rate variability. So they would bring it into my classroom. This was back when we could have big, live classes, and we all got hooked up to it. And quite wonderfully, heart rate variability went way up with qigong practice, way up. And we haven’t studied it enough, but those are the kinds of things that I think would be wonderful to start to look at. How do we start to bring in organizations like HeartMath into qigong practice? Because we know, if you look at HeartMath, they study heart rate variability, they study the heart in an in-depth way. And guess what? Their research is showing and pointing to what the ancient masters have talked about from all different cultures, from Tibetan Buddhism, to Indian yoga, to Chinese qigong, that meditation, that energy work, the slow breathing, the breath work practices, all help your heart, and that your heart is much more than just a pump that circulates blood.

It’s an amazing instrument, that tunes you to life all around you, and that they can measure your heart, your particular frequency. They can say, “Katie, I’m gonna measure your heart rate,” and it can be 15 feet away from you, and it is an electromagnetic signature that is unique to you. So, on the space all around you, that energy from your heart is clearly you, like a fingerprint. And this is quite amazing, because it’s not anything physical. It is your energy field. Just like the Earth has an energy field, called gravity, you have an energy field, and we tune into that, that heart energy, from other people, and we can sense and feel their emotions before they even start to speak. That’s why, you know, more than 80% of communication is body language. We feel people, and it’s this heart energy that we’re starting to feel.

And when we tune into the heart, and we can work with the heart’s energy, all of a sudden, we’re living from and following our bliss, and understanding how to dial that heart energy into joy and happiness, because your heart is like a radio receiver. There’s all kinds of frequencies out in the world. A lot of them are on the channels of stress, frustration, and anger. How do we tune in to that frequency of joy, of happiness, of bliss, of inner peace, of inspiration? Well, we tune into it, because, with those many, many choices out there, you have to be conscious of the station that you wanna be on. And I don’t think many people know how to get their hands on that dial and turn it. Life is dictating what station and what frequency, what’s music is playing through your whole system. And often, we’re on a station that we don’t really enjoy. So qigong and these practices of meditation helps you to be in touch with the choice maker, to get on that frequency, so that your body is harmonious. You’re on a station that sounds really good. I mean, a lot of us are on, you know, heavy metal music, and we don’t wanna be. We wanna be on some smooth jazz.

Katie: And I think often we don’t even realize we have the ability to change that. That’s the important point that I love so much about this. Because you mentioned these, like, Buddhist masters and these monks. And while I might, as a mom, fantasize about being able to go live in a completely silent monastery for a year, that’s not the reality of life is in motherhood. And I love that this is a tangible way, that does not take all day long, because we still have the interaction and the realities of daily life. But it’s a way to start to pull in some of that awareness and those benefits, and to teach it to our kids. I’d love to kind of delve into how this can be used in a family environment, and especially with kids, because, as you’re speaking, I’m like, “Yes, it would be wonderful for us as moms to be able to live in this space of joy and bliss and peace.” And also, can you imagine a life where your children are living in a state of joy and bliss and peace? And I know you do this with your children. So let’s talk about how this can be a really valuable tool within families.

Lee: Yeah. That is wonderful because, you know, we can’t…I mean, one technique is to separate ourselves. We go on a retreat. We go on vacation. We get away. You know, we have a mom’s weekend away, a dad’s weekend away. You know, let alone a year, you know, in a monastery, where we’re, you know, meditating for hours on end, and getting away from it all. I think the true test, really, is can we stay relaxed in our home environment? Can we stay centered and, you know, resourced in the challenges and adversity of modern life? Now, there’s a couple of benefits from doing that. One is that we challenge ourselves. Through stress, we get stronger. Now, this can happen. We can get stronger through stress if we’re not depleted. So, it is about almost like going to the monastery each and every day, for a few minutes. Go to your happy place. Find a practice where you can say, “Hey, mom needs 30 minutes to do her breathing, her meditation, her qigong, to recharge and replenish her energy.” Then you come back into your day more efficient, more effortless, more centered, more grounded, and you’re a better version of yourself, because we’re all not the version we wanna bring into the world when we’re depleted. So, recharging is one of the first steps that we can do, and having a recharging, a replenishing practice each and every day, so that you can be at peak performance as a parent.

Now, how do we get our kids to do it? Because they’re, kids, even me, they say, “Do we have to?” “Okay. Come on. Let’s do some qigong.” “Do we have to?” It’s a little bit of a tricky… You know, I feel like I’m a Jedi…trying to be a Jedi Master with my kids, to try to say, “Hey, how do I get them to do healthy things? How do I get them off their phones? How do I get them out in nature? How do I get them eating healthy?” And these are all very challenging circumstances to get teenagers to do these things. Well, there’s some simple things. I often ask them what they wanna do first. “Hey, what do you wanna do?” “I wanna go play with my friends. I wanna go do such-and-such.” “That sounds great. Let’s make that happen for you. Here’s what I’d like you guys to do. How about you guys get to go play with your friends, but first, we do 15 minutes of qigong?” Okay, great. Now we’re in a harmonious win-win circumstance. Like, for example, yesterday I got them to go on a bike ride in the redwood forest. We stopped at a bench, and we did a meditation. Then they got to go play with their friends. Sometimes I feel like that is…I just feel so, like, victorious when I’ve gotten my kids to do something really healthy, and they’re into something like that.

Now, I do have some qi kids programs, and I’m even talking to public television. You know, I have a long history of working with PBS, with qigong, and we’re even talking about a qi kids program. And I’m really excited about that because it is true. I feel like, can we bring these skill sets to our children, when they are being bombarded, much more than you and I were, with all kinds of things through social media, through their friends. And it’s not like we can…we can’t shelter them from all that stuff. We gotta raise smarter, more well-adjusted, more in-tune-with-their-choice-maker children. And we can do that, you know, as families. And it’s about planting seeds, you know.

So, every night before we go to bed, I put on a little, you know, five-minute meditation for them. Every morning we get up, we try to do, you know, 5 to 10 minutes of qigong. It doesn’t have to be a big, long thing, but it’s just those, you know, reinforcing positive things. And guess what? They look at how you show up, and they take on how we show up. So if we’re agitated, stressed out, but we’re saying, you know, some of the right things or the positive things, they will really observe your state of energy. So I always find it extremely beneficial for us as parents to get ourselves in calm, relaxed states, and resource states, because they do pick that up. I know that’s a lot, and I know we don’t always show up as our best version, and that’s okay. It’s about practice. It’s about saying, “Oh, you know what? Today I got really irritated. I got agitated.” Sometimes when I do that, I talk to my kids, you know, “Hey, sorry I talked in the way that I did.” And they can see the humanness of it, and they can say, “Oh, it’s okay to say sorry. It’s okay to apologize.” And we learn about forgiveness and compassion.

So we have these kinds of conversations at their young ages, and I find that extremely helpful and beneficial. You know, I love doing this work with kids, and myself, in these challenging circumstances of running a few businesses, and parenting, and figuring out how to get lunches packed, and everything else, and, you know, time. But can I stay in those moments and circumstances with slow breathing, from my center, in a relaxed, more effortless flow? And that feels like, you know, I just dropped my kids off this morning, and I felt like wow, got the lunches packed, they had a healthy breakfast. We did a few minutes of qigong. I felt like that was a great success. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, I feel really empowered within myself.

Katie: Yeah. And as parents, we can only control, obviously, our own side of the equation. The bottom line is at the end of the day, you can’t force a child to do anything, especially, if you think you can, try with a two-year-old. You can’t. But if we alter our side of the equation, and we’re more harmonious, and peaceful, and calm, they will respond to us differently than if we’re also amped up and stressed. And I think when it comes to getting kids to do anything, it depends a little on their ages. Like, with my little ones, all I have to do is I do the thing, and then they wanna do it with me. So if I sit down and draw, my younger four kids all come draw with me, or if I do qigong, they come do it with me, because they’re curious. The older ones have more autonomy, more independence. It’s less of that crossover, but still, just, like you said, doing it and modeling it is always the biggest step into getting them to at least be open to the idea. And I think, like to your point, if we can change our own energy and our own interaction, that also…they will respond differently, even if it’s just very subtle over time.

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I’ll make sure that we link to your programs, because I’ve just started doing them. I’ll link to them in the show notes. But maybe give us an overview of some of them, and how people can implement them, and also any other fun projects you’re working on right now. I know we’ve talked about a couple.

Lee: Okay. That’s wonderful. You’re speaking of two-year-olds. Do you know how when you have your 2-year-old in your lap, and they…for whatever reason, they stand up really fast. Well, my 2-year-old, she’s now 10, but she stood up really fast, and she hit me in the jaw, and I bit my tongue. And so my tongue is bleeding, I’m just, like, seeing stars, and she looked at me, and she said, “Do you want me to put some qi on it?” And I was like, “Oh, okay. They’re already speaking the language of qi already at two.” So, I like just to introduce, like you said, just sprinkle it in, because even your teenagers, they’ll walk by, and they’ll look at you, and they’ll think it’s kind of weird. But guess what? They plant the seed, and you can talk to them about it, and you can get them to try a little bit. And, you know, I think just introducing, and having those seeds planted, and to have a different kind of language, a language of energy, and, you know, when they are stressed out, to be able to take a slow, deep breath, and just simple things, they go a long way in the life of a teenager, and we don’t even realize how much pressure is on them.

So, yeah, I think in the show notes, I think we have a couple things for you. We have a 30-day challenge. Because we know how busy parents are. Thirty-day challenge is 7 minutes a day. And you don’t even have to do it every day, but it’s, each routine, for 30 days, is 7 minutes. It’s the same amount of time as your snooze button. You can always find seven minutes while you’re cooking. And these are these seven-minute routines of qigong that just help to transform stress into vitality, to give you a boost of energy, to help you with your breathing, to give you a little moving meditation. And I find that extremely helpful, and it creates a habit.

You know, I always say, for me, I don’t have the time not to do qigong, because when I do qigong, I’m more efficient. It feels like everything flows better. And I know to carve out, sometimes, you know, half an hour or an hour in your day can be quite challenging, so that’s why we created the seven-minute, just to get people in touch with that practice. We also have a two-week trial, a free two-week trial to my video class subscription, and you just basically get to take class with me three times a week. And there’s always, you know, eight classes on that subscription that you get to try. You can come live, or you can just tune in whenever you have time in your schedule. And we break that into a 20-minute routine, or an hour of qigong, and a 15-minute meditation, thereabouts. And so you can dive into kind of what fits your day and what fits your timeframe.

And unfortunately, I have to apologize to your audience, because this practice can be quite addicting. Because when we start to feel more energy, we’re like, “Yes. Everybody wants more energy,” and it can really charge you up with a lot more energy, and it feels really good. The good news is it really works. The bad news is that you actually have to do it. It doesn’t come in just a pill. And the reason I like that is because it is so empowering, that when we say, “I have a headache. My neck and shoulders hurt. I have digestive issues,” qigong is a practice of self-healing. And it’s important to remember that your body has tremendous healing power, and when we get out of stress, we get into relaxation mode, your body self-organizes. It starts to rewire, and it starts to activate that natural healing power that we all have within ourselves. And that’s the beautiful thing about this practice. So, we’d love for people to try it, that 30-day challenge, or just jump on that 2-week free subscription and come to class with me, and give it a try for yourself, and see how amazing you can feel when you start working with your own life force energy.

Katie: It’s always fun when it’s positive side effects. Like, “Side effects may include better sleep, and more energy, and less stress,” instead of, like, “Side effects may include liver failure, death,” and, like, all the other things you normally hear.

Lee: Your eyes to glow, right? Yeah. I think we need a qi commercial that speaks to just what you’re saying.

Katie: Yeah. “Terms and conditions need never apply again.” I also love, because this is…to me, it’s a time-saving way to stack a lot of those things that maybe we know we should be doing. Like, we’ve probably heard we should be meditating, we should be exercising, we should be breathing. We know these all have a really positive effect. And this is a way to, in a short amount of time, compound the benefits of all of those, and I would say bonus points if you do it outside and get sunlight and grounding while you’re at it. And especially for a lot of the people listening, like, I know a lot of my journey, I was in, I had Hashimoto’s for a while, and just in all the phases of pregnancy, and then trauma processing, and weight loss, I was being very gentle with myself. So I wasn’t doing extreme exercise. I was in a phase of recovery, and letting my body let go of stress. And I feel like this is such a perfect tool for that, because it lets you be gentle and support your body, while still getting movement, and still training your breath to be in a state of lower stress and of happiness. So that would be my encouragement to everybody listening, is to just try it, like you said, try it for 30 days’ practice, and see how it works in your life, and let your kids join you if they’re willing.

Lee: You know, you mentioned something that just reminded me. I was on staff with Weight Watchers. They hired me to create their off…”Beyond the Scale” program, so I worked with them for two years. We had a big, huge international campaign. And what they found was that people, when they’re less stressed, when they have gentle movement, weight loss is much easier. And, you know, when we look at weight gain, it’s often one of the number one causes is being stressed out. And the clue is in parasympathetic, the name is “rest and digest.” When you’re stressed out, energy moves away from your digestion. Your body doesn’t digest. It stores it, because, while there’s danger, while there’s perceived danger, your body says, “We don’t have time to digest. We’re gonna put that energy into our muscles,” so people get fatigue, they gain weight, slow metabolism, tension in the neck and shoulders, and a lot of thoughts in their mind.

And what we do with qigong is we reverse all that. You just reverse engineer, and when you know how to work with energy, you know how to reverse stress patterns, and put the energy in the right place. We bring energy to the center, you digest better. The mind becomes clearer. Tension melts out of the neck and shoulders. And for Weight Watchers, they were getting these kinds of results, and people were amazed. I mean, it was just so much fun to go travel around the country to Weight Watchers centers, and just to say, “Hey, look at this result that we’re getting.” And that was a really incredible, you know, case study for me, to work with people that don’t necessarily really wanna go to the gym or to a yoga class and get in spandex, and they could do this from the comfort of their own home and get incredible physiological results in a very effortless kind of practice.

And on the other side, I work with professional athletes, because when you’re in peak performance, and you’re doing athletic stuff, you need those rest days, you need those recovery days. And recovery days don’t mean just sit on the couch with the remote. They need to be active, and relaxing, so your body can integrate the exercise that you have done. So I see it, it really blends well. It synergizes with practices like yoga, it’s, with fitness practices, with going to the gym, but it gives you something more complete. And that’s the magic of this practice, because I don’t see any practice, training, flow state, relaxation, and energy in quite the same way that this ancient practice of qigong does. You know, it’s one of the oldest forms of fitness. It’s about 4,000 years old. And more people in the world practice qigong than any other form of exercise. And a lot of people practice in China and in Asia, and it’s becoming more and more popular around the world, especially here, as it’s emerging in the United States.

Katie: Yeah. I love that it’s getting more popular. And I think I’ve jokingly compared moms to extreme athletes or Special Forces, because of the demands that are on us at all times. And those are, a lot of times, things we can’t just change. We can’t just take three weeks off of our kids. They still need us. But we can change how we’re responding to the daily demands that we have. And if we can shift that and not operate from a place of stress, I’ve found at least, I’m able to get so much more done, and I feel much less stressed out. I feel more energetic even, though the same amount of things, or more, are getting done. I think that’s the part that we really have power over. So I love that you have a tool for doing this at home, for moms who are…I’m home with my kids most of the time. It can be done at home, you can learn at home, and it’s fun to do with the kids. So, I’m really grateful for you for making this available here in this side of the world, even though it’s already so popular other places. And as we get close to the end of our time, a couple other questions I love to ask. The first being if there is a book or a number of books that have had a profound impact on your life, and if so, what they are, and why.

Lee: That is a wonderful question. You know, let’s go back to the one of the…this is the second most widely read book in the world. You know, second, of course, to “Harry Potter.” It’s actually second to the Bible. It’s the “Tao Te Ching.” Tao, T-A-O, T-E Ching, “Tao Te Ching,” and it was written by a man named Lao Tzu. Lao Tzu was an imperial gardener, and we talked about gardening earlier, this idea of composting. We’re not even sure if he’s a mythical figure, if this book was written by a variety of different masters. But the “Tao Te Ching” is a series of almost poems that help to lead us into a different lens, and a way to look at life through a different perspective. It is a wonderful book, and you can just pick up and flip through it and look at it, you know, and just take one of those passages and relate it to your day. Because even in ancient cultures, they had stress. And I think some of those ancient techniques of managing, dealing with stress are even more relevant in today’s life. So the ” Tao Te Ching” is one of my favorite books for that reason. You could just pick it up, flip to any page, and almost use it like a divination, “What do I need to focus on today?”

And the first thing in the “Tao Te Ching,” the first passage, “The Tao that can be told is not the real Tao,” which I think is an interesting sentence to start a book with. Hey, anything I write in here, it’s not exactly it, because words are a poor form of symbolism to talk about reality. So he talks about having direct experience with life. You know, we might be able to talk about qigong, but until you do it, you don’t really know what it is. You might be able to talk about the taste of a strawberry, but until somebody tastes it, they don’t really know what it is. So, in this book, your experience is relevant. Your direct connection to the divine, you become your own best master. And how do we do that? Well, the book goes on to talk about a lot of energy techniques, and ways to look at life in a different paradigm that really helps to give us tools and resources to manage our everyday life stresses in more efficient ways.

Katie: I love it. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well. And any parting advice for the hundreds of thousands of people who are gonna listen to this?

Lee: Just, you know, stay in the flow, guys, stay in the flow. You know, qigong is about flow state. It’s an ancient way to stay in flow. Now, flow is different than stress. Flow is when we’re in the moment, we can just drop in. It’s when this moment becomes charged with positive energy, so those are a couple of components. We get more energy, we’re in the moment, and we’re relaxed in the moment. And we feel a sense of oneness with what we’re doing. Do you ever feel that way when, you know, you’re making dinner, you’re managing this child, and you’re managing that, and you’re talking to your partner, you got this thing, and you’re in the flow, everything’s going quite well? This is a very different scenario than when we’re all stressed out, and things are really challenging.

And so, what I try to lead people to is how to access flow state, especially parents, because you are so right that parents are like extreme athletes. We have to be, you know, a wide lens of being able to take in all the energy from around us, and be able to manage our own energy, other people’s energy, in the best way that we can. And we’re all doing the best that we can, because we all want the best for our children. And there’s a variety of ways to do that, but number one, tend to your own energy first. Let’s clear stress and increase energy. So, qigong, if we could just put it in a nutshell, less stress and more energy. And who doesn’t want less stress and more energy? So that’s what this practice is designed to do, and I love giving people tools and resources to charge up, to clear stress, and to manage their life with more effortless ease.

Katie: I love that. You’re right. Who doesn’t want less stress and more energy? And I love that you have resources for this. Again, they’ll be in the show notes at wellnessmama.fm. For any of you guys listening while you are driving or exercising, you can find all the links in the show notes. And Lee, I’m so glad we got to chat again. Thank you for being here today, for sharing all of this, and for all the work that you do.

Lee: Thanks so much, Katie.

Katie: And thanks as always to all of you for listening, and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did, and I hope that you’ll join me again on the next episode of the “Wellness Mama Podcast.”

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.


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