While a lot of practitioners know about Lee’s personal journey, there are few who really understand the origin and inspiration of his life’s work. As this blog post will reveal, Lee wasn’t the first revolutionary teacher in his family to bring Qi Gong into new communities in the West. Rather, his mother, Karen Holden, is the original Holden trailblazer who discovered, learned, and taught the practice we all love. 

Awakening To The Power Of Beliefs (and Aerobics and Fitness)

One afternoon in the early 1970s, Karen Holden sat down on her living room couch feeling frustrated about the possibilities that lay in front of her. As the mother of three young children, it just didn’t seem realistic to make a living pursuing her passion of dancing and connecting mind body spirit. She longed to teach people how to cultivate a deeper connection with themselves through movement, but there were no signs that that was a viable career option for her…until the next day…

The following evening, her husband, Lee Holden, returned from work and showed her an article in the newspaper about a woman who created aerobic dance. This was big news, especially since it was someone Karen went to U.C. Berkeley with where they danced and choreographed together.  

Karen started attending classes and loved it. She studied dance and communications at UC Berkeley, and realized the power and healing qualities that movement has to offer. As she puts it, “movement is one of the most important forms of communication that we have access to.”

Not only was it affirming to learn that being an aerobics instructor was a real possibility, but this experience also awakened her to the power of intentions and beliefs. Within twenty-four hours of sitting on her couch visualizing herself as a fitness instructor, her dreams started to manifest effortlessly!

After becoming familiar with the staff at her gym, they approached her about training to become an instructor. She viewed this sequence of events as a clear lesson that the universe responds to the intentions and beliefs that we give our attention to. Empowered with that awareness, she decided to dive in and start training to become a teacher. Karen spent countless hours rehearsing her workout routines at home. This gave her family the unsolicited opportunity to listen to the same song 100 times on repeat.

Yoga, NLP, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong

By becoming an aerobics instructor, Karen knew she had taken the first step on a lifelong path that offered endless possibilities. While aerobics/fitness continued to be an important focus for learning and growth, it also opened the door to a variety of other practices that she would study and integrate.

Aerobics/Fitness led to yoga, which introduced her to the nourishing qualities that flowing movements offer. She loved how yoga allowed her to discover mindfulness through her body, rekindling the magic that she felt when dancing. While the vigorous exercises of fitness felt highly stimulating for her youthful body, yoga allowed her to slow down a notch and attune her awareness to the connection between her mind and body. 

Soon after, Karen found her way into a Tai Chi classroom where she was able to further explore the nuances of physical sensation and energetic awareness. Tai Chi led to Qi Gong, which she quickly adopted as a core practice for her own personal well being and her clients and students.

She went on to star with David Carradine in a Tai Chi video, was on Paris TV in a fitness commercial and coached Olympic athletes. 

As a curious and bold thinker, Karen noticed that each of these practices were valuable and important in their own ways. She also recognized that each would support the others, and decided to start integrating Tai Chi and Qi Gong flows into her fitness classes. This resulted in creating experiences that combined vigorous exercises with meditative movements that her students were completely unfamiliar with.

To add to the list of practices and skills, Karen also discovered neuro-linguistic programming, also known as NLP. Unlike many areas of psychology that provide explanations for issues without any solutions, she saw that NLP taught actionable techniques, or “maps for excellence” to help people overcome limiting beliefs and improve their state of being. Karen was blessed to have the opportunity to work with the NLP founders, John Grinder and Richard Bandler and the world leading authority on hypnosis, Dr. Milton Erickson.

As a teacher, Karen found NLP to be an invaluable tool for working with both students, teachers and clients. Instead of just identifying issues, she was able to use her arsenal of practices to get to the root causes of the challenges she encountered in order to enact true healing and transformation. 

It’s important to note that all of this took place in the 1970s and 80s. At that time, yoga wasn’t very well known to many people, much less Tai Chi and QiGong. It wasn’t like living in Santa Cruz in 2020 where there’s a yoga studio in every shopping plaza and most people are at least aware of Qi Gong (although, at Holden QiGong our goal is to dramatically increase awareness of the practice). When Karen was exploring these practices, almost no-one was familiar with what she was learning and sharing. It was pure curiosity and courage that allowed her to truly think outside the box and blaze forward on the frontier of personal empowerment and wellbeing. 

A Life of Learning, Growing, and Sharing

When asked about how Qi Gong helps her in her everyday life, she responds with overarching gratitude towards the practice. She talks about how it offers her tools for addressing whatever challenges or changes come her way. 

If she wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, she simply does some pressure point exercises, practices a Qi Gong movement (cloudy hands), and goes back to sleep. If she encounters some sort of limiting belief, she is able to quickly identify her thoughts and reinstill her sense of purpose and confidence. 

Karen also recognizes how powerful Qi Gong is for cultivating grace in both relationships as well as in aging. By attuning to the forces of the world and people around her, she’s able to find harmony with the natural and universal rhythms that underlie all experiences. 

As an example of aging gracefully, Karen talks about the importance of accepting where you’re at, and cultivating an appreciation of what you have. As she’s grown older, there have been points when she realizes that her body doesn’t appreciate certain movements that she once loved. Instead of allowing feelings of resentment to control the experience, Karen seeks to explore what other movements her body still feels nourished by. Then, she can direct her focus and intention with a constructive and positive approach. In this way, she’s able to reinvent herself and find harmony throughout the natural and inevitable process of aging.

In addition to the countless benefits that she herself has received from Qi Gong, she also has been deeply nourished by the opportunities to teach and coach others. Over the decades, she’s taught in exercise classes, Qi Gong classes, conducted workshops and was even featured on PBS television.

It goes without saying that Karen has been one of Lee’s biggest inspirations when it comes to learning and teaching Qi Gong. Some of Lee’s first Qi Gong classes were facilitated by his mother. Her approach to exploring energetic awareness was an important part of encouraging Lee’s excitement about personal discovery and growth.

While Karen was one of Lee’s first teachers, today, Karen learns from her son. Over the years, she’s taken every single workshop, immersion, and training that Lee has ever created. She loves the fact that her son is continuing the journey and furthering the practices that she first became passionate almost fifty years ago.

Even though Lee is his own revolutionary and original teacher, Karen is quick to point out that every once in a while she notices that he “borrows” one of her phrases or jokes to use in his own classes. However, she also admits that he’s full of great ideas and that she takes his jokes and lessons every now and again also.

Looking back, Karen feels blessed to have discovered and committed herself to these practices. She recognizes that they’ve been incredibly powerful in helping her cultivate empowering beliefs, loving relationships, and a joyful approach to life. At Holden QiGong, we’re grateful to be part of her vision for creating a happier and healthier world. 

Karen offers life coaching. If you’re interested in exploring the possibility of working with her, please send a message to the Holden QiGong support team at: [email protected]. Subject line: Please forward to Karen Holden. Thanks!

Also, if you’re interested in learning about our online teacher training program, be sure to click on the banner below.


Written by Ian Drogin