I’ve been waiting a very long time to write this blog post. Something near and dear to me, the state of the medical situation not only in the United States but everywhere in the world should create concern for all of this planet’s inhabitants. The answers are out there. We have them all. Unfortunately, money and egos have kept all of our citizens under the thumb of their illnesses and the medicine conversation feels more like an intentional tap-dance.
The good news is, this will not become some sort of political rant. It won’t become a push to convince people that all western doctors are corrupt and are only out to make a buck. I enjoy a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, but this is not going to be one of those either. Very much on the contrary. We live in an age where our doctors are developing technology, perfecting techniques and blazing trails like we have never seen before. And I can say with confidence that 99% of our doctors are true healers whose intentions are to eradicate disease and cure their patients.
I spent the weekend of August 15/16 at Dragon Door’s inaugural Health and Strength Conference. A gathering of some of the most forward thinking health, strength and fitness experts in the country, our intention for the weekend was to inform and celebrate the ideas of these exemplary people. I traveled alone, and looked forward to meeting the presenters and make some connections to continue my own growth as a coach and doctor. First up on Saturday morning, Dr. Chris Hardy. Within 20 minutes of his 90 minute presentation, I couldn’t sit still. The information he was sharing was so on point, his approach to health was so progressive and his delivery of the information was presented in a digestible way where even a high school sophomore could understand the value. By the end my head was spinning and my level of anxiousness and excitement to speak with Dr. Hardy was tangible. My good friend Mike Krivka introduced us, we saw the value of partnering, and now we are here.
My name is Chris Holder and I am the head of strength and conditioning at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA. I am a Senior RKC for Dragon Door but what makes me more useful for the Strong Medicine family is, I’m also a Doctor of Medical Qigong. One of the four major pillars in Traditional Chinese Medicine, my expertise lies in the study and manipulation of the bioenergetics of the patient to create healing. My training specialized in oncology and energetic psychology but my doctoral thesis was directed at athletic performance and how exposure to Qigong will give a competitive athlete an unfair advantage come game time.
Since graduating in 2012, I have been on a self-imposed island testing some of my theories on my athletes with stunning success. We’ve been testing Qigong’s impact on flow state induction, concentration and focus during competition, accelerated healing in athletic injury and increased recovery as it relates to training. In the winter of 2015, I embarked on a formal study with my assistant and RKC Team Leader, Chris White, to investigate the potential benefits of a daily Qigong practice and its effects on strength gains. After 8 weeks of training, we found significance in nearly every single factor studied- and we had over 10,000 pieces of individual data at the conclusion. Years from now, I’m hoping, that this one specific study will be one of the propelling factors of moving mindful practices like Qigong into every locker room in America.
Enough about athletics and let’s talk about health. If you are reading this, you are likely an American or European born person whose health care system is firmly planted in western ideas. Great. You are the people who will benefit the most from reading this. Besides perhaps acupuncture, I will assume your familiarity with Eastern Medicine of any kind, but particularly Chinese Medicine, is limited at best. Awesome, you will extract the most from this article.
The differences between the western medical paradigm and the eastern medical set of ideas couldn’t be more different. When I was in medical school, I quickly realized I had to forfeit any notion of understanding what I was learning if passed through a western lens. They don’t match up in any way. Perhaps my greatest asset going into this study was an agreement I made with myself sitting out in front of the school building on night one. I made the deal that I was going to accept whatever I was being taught with no resistance whatsoever. A true “child’s mind” approach. This became enormously valuable from the onset because many of the ideas eastern medicine has challenge and even conflict with how a western trained doctor conducts business. I put up no fight whatsoever which helped expedite my understanding and quickly enhanced my abilities. I encourage you to do the same as you read.
Eastern medicine has been around for approximately 5,000 years. Compared to our western medical practices, which in contrast is a toddler in total years (around 150-200 years old), eastern philosophy is claimed to have been dated back before the written word. Medicine men, shamans and priests were credited for some of the fundamental practices that are still used in modern times.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is broken into four primary practices: Qigong (where my expertise resides); herbal medicine; acupuncture; and massage. Due to some feathers I have ruffled, I will qualify all of my medical knowledge to be isolated to the Qigong perspective only. I have done the herbs and the medical massage, and since I am not licensed to needle anyone, I have no experience with acupuncture from the provider’s vantage point. Lucky for you, the Qigong is not only the most interesting of the four, but also considered to be the mother of the other three, philosophically.
Please place your Eastern cap on now. All things in the universe are comprised of energy. The sun, your coffee cup, your dog, the water in your tub, the rocks in your backyard, your cell phone and your physical body are all-energy. Quantum physics supports this. At its fundamental roots, TCM is trying to restore the human body into perfect balance of Yin and Yang. Everyone is born with a special recipe of both (for the purposes of this blog we will say an even 50/50). When your balance has been established and all that is YOU is in harmony, the human machine thrives. Digestion, sleep, cellular regeneration, respiration, circulation, hormone balance, cognitive function, sexual performance, immune function… the list goes on and on. Imagine your body is a car that is not running well. You take it to the mechanic and he returns it to you tuned up and ready to go another 5,000 miles. When the Yin and Yang of your being is in balance, you are ready for another 5,000 miles.
Where the great divide between east and west begins (in my mind) is the way we approach health care and healing. Please let me explain. Here in the west we like to use the term “holistic”. It’s that all-encompassing word that implies there is an attempt to heal the body, the mind and in some cases, the spirit. Unfortunately, we have compartmentalized each component to the point where a true healing, under the above definition of holistic, would take around 8 different doctors, nutritionists, psychologists and ministers to achieve the desired effect.
In an eastern framework, the three (body/mind/spirit) are one. We’ve never separated the three. They are one system that work in rhythm to complete the human experience, to live a long, healthy abundant life. When a patient comes to me for my services, they are usually in fairly deep trouble. Because of the inherent obscurity of my practice, many of my patients are at the end of the road and at a stage where considering getting their affairs in order is recommended. Their team of doctors have performed the appropriate surgeries, prescribed all of the best drugs known and given this patient the most cutting edge care fathomable and yet, they are still declining. What gives?
What if I told you that in the current system of practice here in America, in many cases, is looking in the wrong place when it comes to healing? Let’s put together a hypothetical. Susan has just been diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time. She endured a lumpectomy, radiation and chemotherapy four years ago but is facing the same problem again. On paper, Susan has lived a very healthy charmed life. She’s happily married with three fantastic children. She has her dream job and is very successful within her thriving company. She’s not a smoker, her stress levels are as low as they can be, she eats a very healthy diet and exercises four times a week. Her support system is strong, she has a tight nucleus of loyal friends and has an incredible relationship with her family who all live nearby. She was surrounded by amazing doctors who followed protocol and now she and her medical team are considering a full mastectomy. Everyone is very hopeful for a full recovery this time but the entire team is mystified by the reoccurrence due to Susan’s lifestyle, demeanor and overall positive approach to life.
Five years ago Susan lost a pregnancy. It was hard on everyone, especially Susan. Her husband John was a rock and that amazing support system we mentioned above came to her side and helped her pick up the pieces. Susan is the posterchild of poise and perseverance and after a very short time away after losing the baby, she jumped back into life feet first. I mean let’s face it, she’s got three other children to take care of, a husband who couldn’t live without her and a company that needs her presence as much as possible. In doing so, she never gave herself a chance to fully grieve, if that is at all possible in this type of tragedy.
Unfortunately, her doctors will go more aggressive this time with both the surgeries and the drugs and Susan will be in a bigger fight than she ever imagined. In this case, her medical protocols are like taking a fishing pole and trying to catch the evenings dinner in a swimming pool. Yes, fish live in water… just not that water.
From my perspective (the Qigong approach), we begin with the timeline in which the original diagnosis was made. We understand that the doctors have determined we are stage two. The mass has returned. But we are not interested in the mass itself… we are more concerned with its fuel source and origin or root cause. Where the disconnect resides with her current care is in the lack of understanding by her medical team of the emotional/spiritual versions that make up Susan (the entire person). When I’m treating a patient, I’m not just looking at their physical body or managing their physical symptoms. We are looking at the emotional and spiritual bodies as well (think of a holographic copy of that person that represents one of the three aspects of their being). In many cases (more than you might understand) the illness is in the emotional or spiritual body and simply manifesting in the physical body. The emotion of grief/sadness is assigned to the lungs from this perspective. Each of what we call the five Yin organs (Liver, Lungs, Kidneys, Spleen and Heart) are responsible for setting the energetic stage for the entire body. The motion and fluidity of the energy moving in the body keeps everything functioning normally. But, when Susan lost the baby, the overwhelming grief that accompanies an event like that created a thunderstorm of sorts of dank, stagnant energy within the lungs. Since Susan didn’t get to take the time to care for herself emotionally and chose to dive back into life, her grief was never resolved. Over time, or in this case, the following year, that storm sat into the lungs until on a nuclear level, gave birth to a flower. That flower manifested into her breast and this is where our original story began.
Even though her doctors jumped on things in time and were able to remove the tumor, the root system (that grief which energetically becomes prime soil for regrowth) is intact and will bear fruit once again… unless she sorts out her grief. With the help of a savvy psychotherapist and some high end energy work, her chances at beating this disease once and for all goes up exponentially. It’s the grief, the emotion that is the fuel for the illness. Think of Qigong and other mindful practices as the grand gardener of all chronic illnesses.
See, the primary problem with our healthcare system isn’t that one side is right and one side is wrong. I’ve said for years now that if the greatest minds of both sides could meet somewhere and sort out philosophy, fill gaps in one another’s approach, we would have a complete system of care. Even the side I am most aligned with, the eastern side, is saturated with ego, stubbornness and an unrelenting need to be right… so much so that they regularly stifle the information to contain the power of the medicine. I was fortunate to study with a person (Dr. Jerry Alan Johnson) who was willing to put everything on the table for us. He was retiring at the conclusion of my doctoral work and closing the school, so we ended up getting the gold. Because my work is so heavily entrenched in the esoteric and what most would consider supernatural, many of the religious fundamentalists would rather suffer, and some willing to die, because of misled fear tactics their leaders have imposed on them. I’ve seen it over and over.
Listen, I understand that some of this information can be overwhelming. And I know that health care can be expensive, especially when most of the “alternative” services are not covered by conventional insurances. The purpose of this blog post is to open your mind. I want to expose you to a new way of looking at health and wellness. Along with the rest of the Strong Medicine team, I want to educate and create dialogue about healing and vitality.
In the months to come, I will be contributing extensively to the Strong Medicine blog about all things Qigong related. I look forward to answering questions and encourage all of you to keep an open mind and do a little research of your own. I’m excited about partnering with Dr. Hardy and Marty Gallagher and hope to become a valuable ally in helping you achieve lifelong wellness and longevity.
I have been trying to find a person with the requisite expertise for applying Eastern concepts to Western Medicine, and was fortunate to have crossed paths with Dr. Chris Holder. This article may raise some eyebrows for some of you, but I encourage you to open your minds to some of the concepts Chris has introduced above. “Mind-Body” techniques such as Medical Qigong are the missing link in contemporary medical care. They have been developed empirically for thousands of years with modern science recently starting to uncover the molecular mechanisms behind the observed benefits. Mechanistically, most of the mind-body practices work by reducing the stress response and inflammation, the primary driver behind many chronic diseases, including cancer.
Medical Qigong and other mind-body practices reduce the stress response (see Strong Medicine for more). Chronic stress response can dramatically influence the progression and growth of cancers (no convincing data for initiation of cancer at this point). Thus it is no surprise that these practices have shown to have a significant favorable impact of quality of life and even long term outcomes in cancer patients. I have put some links below to some recent research with Medical Qigong and cancer treatment for those interested in more information. Chris will be a regular contributor to the Strong Medicine blog.
Chris Holder comes to the Strong Medicine Blog with over thirty years as an athlete and coach. A football player first and then spending his entire professional coaching career at the college level, Holder has been in love with everything weight lifting since he was a little boy.
Holder, a Senior RKC with Dragon Door, has an incredibly diversified training background that brings a unique product to his athletes. Known in many circles as a pioneer of kettlebell training at the college level, Chris opened the door in the early 2000s to break the mold and monotony of the traditional methods of training college student-athletes. Additionally, his preparation of football players for the NFL Combine has gained recognition from the NFL for years.
In his “other” life, Chris is a Doctor of Medical Qigong with an emphasis in oncology. Under the tutelage of legendary Kung Fu and Qigong Grand Master Dr. Jerry Alan Johnson, Dr. Holder has developed protocols to enhance every aspect of an athlete’s competitive life. Blending disciplines of both East and West, Holder has created a holistic training environment for his athletes and is at the forefront of Qigong research at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California.