Take control of your stress, don’t let stress use you- Try to set aside time in your week to engage in some stress reducing activities such as doing a full Qigong routine, going to the gym, or taking a walk out in nature. These stress reducing activities will allow you to transform stress into vitality.
With all that’s going on in our country, in our economy, in the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. We know that chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. For many of us, our work, our livelihood, is a particular cause of stress. Of course, a bit of stress is just fine, but what are stress management strategies that leaders use to become “Stress-Proof” at work? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help to reduce or even eliminate stress from work? As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lee Holden.
Lee Holden is the CEO + Founder of Holden QiGong and is a world-renowned Qigong Master who brought Qigong, an ancient, Chinese practice into the modern world. Holden is the star of a highly successful PBS show called “Your Fountain fo Youth” which has reached millions of people through his warm, interactive approach to movement and healing. Through online and in-person courses, Holden teaches the transformative power of Qigong, a practice that improves the energy life force of individuals by activating dormant energy through a series of breathing and meditative exercises. Qigong is currently the most popular exercise in the world with over 50 million people worldwide practicing Qigong every single day.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!
When I was in college, I played D1 competitive soccer at UC Berkeley and suffered a pretty severe injury involving a broken tailbone which left me unable to walk. After seeing several doctors and trying out different methods that didn’t work, I was finally introduced to Qigong by my acupuncture doctor. Qigong was a powerful part of my recovery and after a few weeks of sessions, I had fully recovered. This life-changing experience inspired me to look into the practice of Qigong more.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
If I could go back in time and meet my younger self, I would tell him to listen to his heart more and to follow the things that really make him feel inspired, passionate and excited. Following my heart helped me to get to where I am; I didn’t do what everyone else was doing and always tried to carve my own path in life. Also, I would explain the importance of the different types of values to my younger self. Yes there is money and that’s important, but it’s not everything. More importantly, there are the values of family, friends, community, and adventure. I would tell my younger self to give the other values more credibility and influence. Also, try to travel and see the world more. Ultimately, it’s about mastering what you love to do, for if you love what you do, your time is valuable and the money will come.
None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?
One of my main influencers and greatest inspirations is Master Mantak Chia, the founder of the Universal Healing Tao System. Meeting him in Thailand during my youth was life-changing and I am forever grateful for his mentorship and guidance. Mantak Chia believed in me and gave me opportunities, even though I didn’t have the experience to perform the roles bestowed upon me. He believed in me when no one else would. To him, it was about seeing the potential in someone else and watering the seeds that were already there, even if I didn’t even recognize the potential within myself at the time.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?
I’m really excited to be working on a new book- I’m still working out the details on the title but basically, the book is about the important of “slowing down” and how slowing down gives us access to our own inner strength and power. It’s about the principle of “slow” and how it is helpful in productivity, health, exercise, and relationships. The book will incorporate the principles of Qigong, and the different ways to slow down with mindful practices and movement. When you take time to slow down, it’s very effective in yielding positive results to improve your physical, mental and emotional health. In addition to my new book, I’m launching live events and workshops across the nation this year with various locations across the country to be announced soon.
Also, I have a brand new PBS Show called “The Fountain of Youth” broadcasting across the nation and airing in several states across the US!
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?
Stress is not real objectively, but rather, it’s a perception of life. It can be perceived differently by two separate individuals. For example, say you go on a roller coaster with a friend, you could love the roller coaster ride, but your friend could be terrified and feel like they’re going to die. There is something called “mental stress” where your body creates a stress response in your nervous system based on the thoughts in your head. Stress is a response in your nervous system that brings you into fight or flight mode because you perceive that you’re being threatened. Most things we get stressed out about are not life-threatening in any way, but we tend to perceive them that way (for example, we get stressed sitting in traffic, and we get stressed about deadlines). One reason for mental stress is that our survival system is overreacting, and we are prioritizing it. Being constantly in a state of stress is detrimental to our physical health and emotional happiness. We cannot be stressed and happy at the same time. We have to find ways to manage stress so we can relax and be at peace.
If you’re feeling stressed, try practicing some Qigong techniques. Qigong can desensitize stress and bring relaxation back to your body by helping you “rest and digest”. You can do this by taking a 5-second inhale and a 5-second exhale 3–4 times consecutively. By doing this, you can see your nervous system shift out of stress.
In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out?
Chronic stress exists because our survival is so prioritized in our bodies. Even if we have all our needs met and we don’t have threats to our survival in the present, we tend to look towards the future to bring stress to the present. Our minds tend to wander into the “what ifs” and when our mind wanders, it’s usually toward the negative. Our minds and bodies are constantly in survival mode and hard-wired to think about oncoming danger.
What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?
Stress is the biggest factor in causing most of our health issues. Several statistics have reported that 89% of doctor visits are stress related. This means that mental and emotional stress is causing most of our physical ailments. We used to believe that emotions didn’t impact our physical bodies, but in reality, they are causing close to 90% of our problems. In Qigong, stress is known as the “root cause of disease”. If we want to prevent physiological problems from occurring, we need to learn to manage our stress. Some great ways for managing stress include trying Qigong, meditating, and making lifestyle changes such a healthy eating and exercsing. The key to managing stress is to notice when the stress is occurring and having the right methods in place to address it.
Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?
Stress is not always bad thing and can definitely be good for you! Bad stress is chronic-low grade stress and that can be detrimental to your health (i.e. stressing about traffic or deadlines). Good stress is called “eu stress” or “hermetic stress”, which can be beneficial to your health (i.e. when you exercise you can put stress on your respiratory system, but your lungs get stronger). Practicing Qigong is a form of “good stress” because it involves exercises that may stress your body and respiratory system, but ultimately it allows you to be comfortable even when things are not comfortable. Practicing Qigong can make you feel centered and resilient, so that you’re ready for whatever life throws at you.
Is there a difference between being in a short-term stressful situation versus an ongoing stress? Are there long-term ramifications to living in a constant state of stress?
There is a big difference between short-term stress and long-term ongoing stress. Short term stress are short burts of stressful situations that creates resiliency. For example if you exercise you are pushing your body to it’s limits which can be stressful, but in return you gain strength, balance and a healthier body. When it comes to long-term chronic stress, this can create huge problems with your physiology. Examples of long tern stress include driving in traffic everyday and feeling rushed or having many deadlines to meet that makes you feel overwhelmed. This chronic type of stress can cause your health to deteriorate in the long run.
Is it even possible to eliminate stress?
It’s not possible to totally eliminate stress because it doesn’t just go away, however, your relationship with life can change and this will help improve stressful situations. It’s all about finding ways to manage your stress and changing your perspective. For example, if you are stressed out about traffic but then start to realize that stressing over traffic won’t improve the situation, you can start to relax and find ways to manage traffic issues. You may start to listen to relaxing music to pass the time or check out an interesting podcast to enrich your mind while sitting in traffic. When you start to respond to life with relaxation versus intention, you’ll be able to take steps to reduce stress.
In your opinion, is this something that we should be raising more awareness about, or is it a relatively small issue? Please explain what you mean.
Stress is a huge issue and is the root cause of almost every single medical problem. We absolutely need to raise more awareness on it and educate ourselves on the steps we can take to reduce stress. From an economical standpoint, when stress occurs, productivity goes down. Businesses lose billions of dollars a day because of stress in the workplace. In schools, students who are stressed out can’t remember important information and lose focus in class. If we want to improve efficiency, creativity, and focus, we need to find ways to be out of stress.
Let’s talk about stress at work. Numerous studies show that job stress is the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades. For you personally, if you are feeling that overall, work is going well, do you feel calm and peaceful, or is there always an underlying feeling of stress? Can you explain what you mean?
When I’m working, I recognize when I’m getting stressed and I take steps to manage it immediately. Like in martial arts, I get knocked out of my center all the time, but it’s never for more than a few seconds. I usually regain my center and composure without anyone noticing. As humans, it’s natural for us to get stressed out. Ultimately it’s not about not getting stressed out, but rather regonizing it and taking steps to clear it quickly. You can notice when your neck and shoulder are tightened, notice your breathing, and notice your mind running away with negative thoughts. Like a martial artist, regain your composure as fast as possible. Slow down your breathing, relax your neck and shoulders, and bring your thoughts back to where you want them to be rather than what you’re worried about.
Okay, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview: Can you share with our readers your “5 stress management strategies that busy leaders can use to become “Stress-Proof” at work?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Slow down your breathing- If you notice you’re breathing rapidly (usually caused by stress), try to take a moment and pause, then control your breathing in a slower manner. Make the inhale and exhale about 4–5 seconds long. Breathing is directly connected to your nervous system, so if you slow down your breathing it will calm your nervous system.
- Let go of stress in your neck and shoulders- Relax your neck and shoulders and take a deep breath at the same time. Gently remind your neck and shoulder to relax, and your body will listen to your mind. A lot of our stress is carried in our neck and shoulders.
- Be like an athlete- Give you body a good shake like an athlete before their performance. Shake out your arms and hands, and jump up and down while shaking. This will allow you to transform your stress into pure energy, which leads to peak performance. This 1-minute Qigong exercise will allow you to relax your spine and transform your stress into vitality.
- Have a stress coping strategy in your life- Recognize or write down the things that are most stressful for you. You can do this by taking mental notes or keeping a journal with your thoughts. Once you recognize your stress inducers, think about limiting the amount of time you put into activities that cause you stress. If that’s not possible, try to change your relationship with those circumstances. For example if you have to deal with traffic everyday, try listening to some relaxing music while you drive or try some easy Qigong techniques that are easy to do on the go.
- Take control of your stress, don’t let stress use you- Try to set aside time in your week to engage in some stress reducing activities such as doing a full Qigong routine, going to the gym, or taking a walk out in nature. These stress reducing activities will allow you to transform stress into vitality.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?
Currently my favorite book is “The Tao Te Ching”- a classic philisophical Chinese text written around 400 B.C and is considered the second most widely read book in the world next to the Bible. The book provides readers with poetic ways to think about life. Another favorite book of mine is “The Second Book of the Tao” by Stephen Mitchell, which chronicles stories and passages on ways to look at life through a different lens, and the benefits of Qigong are mentioned in the book. Additionally, I love all audio books by Alan Watts, a zen philosopher who wrote several books on Buddhist, Taoist, and Hindu philosophies.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to host a huge event where large groups of people are doing Qigong and meditation at the same time. A big dream of mine is to book a whole stadium or concert hall where there are tends of thousands of people doing Qigong movements at the same time. Everyone would be able to share in the experience of Qigong movements and having peaceful thoughts. It would be a Qigong concert!
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
Holden qigong website
The best ways for readers to follow my work online would be to visit my website www.holdenqigong.com for all updates regarding my classes, events and workshops. Sign up for my email newsletters ad we will keep you updated on all the exciting new things happening in the near future!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.