In this episode of the Third Opinion MD podcast, I’m honored to be interviewing a renowned qigong master. Master Liu He is a part of the Ling Gui lineage of qigong, a school with teachings that have been passed down for 2,000 years. I have worked with Master Liu since 2015, and have found that her presence and teachings guide me and ground me in profound ways.
Master Liu began her training at the age of 4 under the guidance of her grandfather, a highly respected qigong master and Chinese medical doctor who treated the last Emperor of China. By age 14, Master Liu attained the level of qigong master and was given permission by her grandfather to teach others; a privilege traditionally reserved only for men.
Her life has been dedicated to sharing with others all that has been given to her. She teaches medical qigong and healing techniques extensively throughout China, Europe, and the United States, and is currently on the faculty of the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in Portland, Oregon.
“Our mind is a projector that projects into our body. Per se, if you have some stuff, just projected images. If you want to change the images, it’s not that you change the images itself, you have to change the projector. Who is the projector? It is our mind, our thinking.” – Master Liu
Impact on Your Third Opinion
In our Western training as doctors and as individuals in Western society, we have limited introduction to energy work, lifestyle medicine, and the role that nature plays in our lives. I have discovered that, as a doctor having trained in both Eastern and Western medicine, there is a great deal that we can learn from Qigong and its principles. That’s not to say that my Western medical training is not good; it was just missing a big component of lifestyle’s role in creating health.
The more people don’t listen to their bodies or live a life that is healthy (in accordance with who they are and how their bodies are), the more people get sick with chronic disease. The teachings of Eastern Medicine and Master Liu’ s work offer powerful insights on discovering your inner workings, your energy, and your intuition. She has taught me so much over the past seven years. A discussion about learning to trust your own third opinion would not be complete without also sharing this wisdom with you.
In this episode, Master Liu and I discuss:
- The definition of Qigong (Qi is translated loosely as “energy” or “life force,” and Gong as “practice” or “cultivation”)
- The role Qigong plays in your energy and health
- Some of the differences between Eastern and Western Medicine
- How integrating Eastern and Western practices in medicine can help us better develop our own third opinion in medicine
- Cultivating good health
- Our minds as fourth-dimensional space, and how this is different from the standard Western thinking
- The roots of Qigong, and its relationship to Traditional Chinese Medicine, yoga, Yin Yang theory, and Five Element theory
- Approaching Qigong from a beginner’s mindset
- Learning to trust our senses and bodies
Master Liu’s Website: https://linggui.org/
Master Liu on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/masterliuhe/
Barbara: Welcome to Third Opinion MD. I’m your host Barbara de la Torre. I’m a physician and artist bringing questions to you about healthcare and exploring simpler ways to restore and maintain your health.
In this episode, it is my honor and privilege to introduce to you a master and a mentor who has grounded and guided me over the last seven years. Her name is Master Liu He. Master Liu is a renowned qigong master of the Ling Gui Lineage, a school with teachings that have been passed down for 2,000 years. These forms and these techniques continuously evolve through each master to serve the current needs of the world around them.
Master Liu began her training at the age of 4 under the strict but loving guidance of her grandfather, a highly respected qigong master and Chinese medical doctor who treated the last Emperor of China. By age 14, Master Liu had attained the level of qigong master and was given permission by her grandfather to teach others. This was a privilege traditionally reserved only for men.
Her life has been dedicated to sharing with others all that has been given to her. She teaches qigong and healing techniques extensively throughout China, Europe, and the United States, and is currently on the faculty of the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in Portland, Oregon.
Master Liu, thank you so much for taking time to speak with me today.
Master Liu: Thank you, Barbara. It is my honor.
Barbara: Today we’re going to start a few discussions, and I hope to bring you back on another episode as well. I wanted to start with just the very first word I think we should talk about. That word is qigong.
This is a word that can be pretty tricky for people to pronounce, but also one that is difficult for people to understand because it’s still very new to the United States. Master Liu, how would you explain qigong to someone who has never heard of it?
Master Liu: First, we can just look at Qi. What does it mean? Qi is energy. Everyone can easily understand, you have energy or don’t have energy. Gong has many meanings, but the foundation, how we can practice and managing the Qi, charging the Qi, then we feel good every day, more energy, more positive.
Barbara: What would you say Qi is for people? I think here in the states we talk a lot about science in medicine, but we’re not very used to talking about energy. I know that energy is not the exact translation of Qi. How would you describe Qi?
Master Liu: Qi is inside of air. Just like you need air, inside air it is the power of the air which is its Qi.
Barbara: Then gong would be more like the cultivation?
Master Liu: Cultivation and different method allowed how you’re processing bringing the Qi more efficiently in order to help you maintain good health. Also, to help your physical and emotional level problems, it can help recovering.
Barbara: Recovering from illness?
Master Liu: Yes, from illness.
Barbara: In a typical visit, because I’m a physician in Western medicine and also a physician in Eastern medicine, in a typical clinic people will go and get their checkup. They will get their bloodwork, they get a mammogram, they have a colonoscopy, and they’re told that everything is okay. What would you say about that? Is that enough?
Master Liu: Yes and no. Some indication can tell certain things, some they cannot, even in Western prospect. Just like a person, if their blood vessels are blocked more than 50%, they can tell, but before that, they cannot tell. That’s why a lot of people just have their health checked up, and then six months later have a heart attack. How do you explain that?
Barbara: Yes. And there are so many people that get a cancer diagnosis, and they are surprised by the diagnosis.
Master Liu: Right. Yes. Also, sometimes because it’s a machine that tells you, sometimes machines make a lot of mistakes because it’s hard to read everything. Machine and the body, it’s different. Body is body, it’s not a machine.
Barbara: No, it’s greater than that. Isn’t it?
Master Liu: Yes. Sometimes a lot of cancer might be just images. When the person has a lot of negativity, a lot of negative thought, so that can project images that might read cancer in the machine. When the person changed everything, their mind, their subconscious, getting better, those images just disappeared.
Barbara: You mean the images like an x-ray or a CT?
Master Liu: Right. Yes.
Barbara: A lot of times the Western doctors will say, “Well, it must have not been that serious,” almost dismissive of what the power of human potential can be.
Master Liu: Right. Yes. I had a client, every year she did a checkup for her breast cancer. On the 50 year, they said she was at a stage four.
Barbara: And what happened?
Master Liu: Then they don’t know, they cannot explain. Herself, she was so surprised. She was like, “How could that be? Every year I did a mammogram. They could not tell I had stage one. Why suddenly I’m at stage four?”
Barbara: Oh. So, she did everything she was supposed to, she went year after year getting her test, and then suddenly it’s there, and it must have grown.
Master Liu: To stage four.
Barbara: In seeing her after that diagnosis, did she look back and realize that there were signs that she missed herself?
Master Liu: Yes. That’s why she wants a third opinion, like your program. That’s why she came to see me. She said, “Is there anything else I can do, or just believe the machine?”
Barbara: We need to believe ourselves, but sometimes we don’t know how to listen.
Master Liu: Right. Listen to your body, listen to your feeling, how you feel. It’s not what the machine tells you.
Barbara: In our system where it’s not that Western medicine is bad, it’s good at some things.
Master Liu: Definitely. It depends. Some it’s really good with Western medicine. Some have to, particularly for chronic problems and also lifestyle.
Barbara: I think more and more, the more people don’t listen to their bodies or live a life that is healthy, that is in accordance with who they are and how their bodies are, the more people are getting sick with chronic disease. The hospitals and the healthcare systems can’t take care of everybody at once.
Master Liu: No.
Barbara: With health, what does health mean to you then?
Master Liu: Health means all levels, physical, mental, and emotional, all in a positive way and healthy. Basically, I think healthy, first of all, have a healthy mind. That’s the most important thing.
Barbara: The positive thinking?
Master Liu: Positive thinking, because actually humans, our body is three-dimensional space.
Barbara: What do you mean by that? Like height, width, and depth to create a volume in 3-D?
Master Liu: Yes. Then our mind is four-dimensional space.
Barbara: Can you explain that for us?
Master Liu: Four-dimensional space, it means whatever our thinking, it’s like a projector. Our mind is a projector that projects into our body. Per se, if you have some stuff, just projected images. If you want to change the images, it’s not that you change the images itself, you have to change the projector. Who is the projector? It is our mind, our thinking.
Barbara: What we think matters in terms of what our bodies do and how health develops and changes.
Master Liu: That’s right. Yes.
Barbara: What else is important for health?
Master Liu: Follow the nature. Sync with nature, because we are part of nature. The problem currently in the 20th Century, everyone tries to be machine, compete with machines. We want to see who is faster. We move more and more away from nature. That’s the bigger problem causing more and more problems. Physical level, mind level, and emotional level. Also because of that, we end up in this big pandemic.
Barbara: You mean the way we have been behaving, going against the current of nature, the pandemic that we have now is partly from that?
Master Liu: Yes. Exactly. First of all, we try to compete with machines, we treat the Earth like a machine, so that’s why now the Earth is suffering. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to help ourselves help the Earth.
Barbara: It’s interesting about waking up and how qigong will go back to that concept of it’s not really taken hold yet here in the United States, we see it more in Europe. You’ve been teaching actually in France for longer than you have in the United States. Which part of China are you originally from?
Master Liu: North.
Barbara: You still teach both, right, in France and Europe?
Master Liu: Yes.
Barbara: How would you say the students are different in Europe versus here, because they’ve been learning qigong from you longer?
Master Liu: Well, I think people who are interested in qigong, their awakening level, their Qi level is pretty much similar. Their thinking is also pretty similar. The only difference is maybe in Europe people have more vacation, they have more time to practice qigong.
Barbara: They have a better life.
Master Liu: Right. So, they can join the class and everything better.
Barbara: I have thoughts about how qigong is not taking hold here and it has a lot to do with our culture and the loss in translation of the language of Eastern medicine here. In Europe and France, the Jesuits brought back Chinese texts from China and had been working with acupuncture for centuries. Here, it’s not so old. It’s less than a century that we’ve really had qigong here. What would be one thing that you would tell someone who says, “Why do you want us to learn this? Isn’t this like yoga? How is that different from yoga?”
Master Liu: It has some kind of relation with yoga, but qigong is what we call the medical qigong, it’s also to help you in this life as well as the next life. A lot of times, yoga is attached also with religion, this life and next life. They’re pursuing spiritual life versus this body. Qigong will take care of you in this body and also have infinity for life.
Barbara: Are you referring to the roots, the Taoist, the Buddhist Confucian roots of medical qigong?
Master Liu: Yes. Combined all together, which is also a foundation of Chinese medicine.
Barbara: And similar theories, Yin Yang theory, five elements…
Master Liu: Right. Yes.
Barbara: Can people practice qigong and still be religious or spiritual in another way?
Master Liu: Yes, of course. Definitely. It does not have any conflict, because qigong is really the way of how you should flow and harmonize with nature. It’s a philosophy versus just religion. Actually, they work great together. I have students that have all kinds of religions.
Barbara: Many patients and other people have told me over the years that learning qigong is too hard when they haven’t taken it yet or if they tried a little bit. They say it takes too much time. They tell me they can’t sit still to practice. If there was just one thing a person could remember from all that we talk about today, about being healthy and practicing qigong, what’s the one thing you would recommend to the listeners?
Master Liu: It’s so easy. Just brush your mind. I always mention that. 100 years ago, we tell people to brush their teeth, at least two or three minutes each time you brush. Just take three minutes breathing, then you brush your mind.
Barbara: Then what would you hope to see in 50 years?
Master Liu: Exactly the same things. 50 years later, everyone at least brush once their mind, take an internal shower at least once per day.
Barbara: Like brushing their teeth twice a day.
Master Liu: Yes.
Barbara: I hope so, too. At least I’ll be working on this with you. I’m wondering if once people have been practicing, because a lot of people also when they say it takes too long, you’re saying as little as three minutes is something, it’s better than nothing. There are forms involved in qigong, and I would love to talk about your background in just a moment, but does qigong have to be about the form as people progress with their cultivation of Qi?
Master Liu: No. Not at all. Different qigong form is just different example. Just like when I tell you Yin Yang, then a lot of people say they don’t understand. Then I give you another example, sky and earth, some people say, “I’m blind. I cannot see it.” Same thing. I show you another qigong, like eight treasures, some people say, “I still don’t feel the Qi. I still have this problem.” Practice another form. Just like if I show you parents, your dad is Yang and your mom is Yin, again another form.
Barbara: It’s almost like you don’t read just one book for your education, you would read several books to form an idea.
Master Liu: Yes. Exactly. It’s just like when you read many books, then we write something, it’s like water, it just comes easily. It’s not we read one book and get everything.
Barbara: I wish it was that easy. How many students do you think, give or take, are they continuing qigong practice out of the ones that start the journey?
Master Liu: I think the majority of people.
Barbara: What do you think stops the ones who don’t continue?
Master Liu: First of all, because they have too much work and family reasons. There’s that. Also, it’s depending on their environment, the world, just too much luggage they could not continue to take some qigong class.
Barbara: Like true baggage, and Qi baggage.
Master Liu: Yes. Exactly.
Barbara: I wanted to talk a little bit about my qigong journey. The reason why I’m doing that for the listeners is that I want you all to understand that I may have master level certification, but I’m just a beginner.
Master Liu: We’re all beginners.
Barbara: We’re all beginners. It took a while for me to feel Qi. Like you were describing, I had to learn many forms before I started to feel something significant. One thing I wanted to ask you is, do you remember when we first met?
Master Liu: Not really.
Barbara: How about do you remember when I first saw you, what you told me?
Master Liu: I think, kind of roughly.
Barbara: I’ll tell you what I remember. One of the reasons why I do is because it was very significant to hear that from you at that time in my life. I saw you seven years ago. There were three people that told me to see you that didn’t know each other within a month’s time, so I thought I probably better see you.
When I did see you, I remember that it wasn’t that you were angry with me, but you were very adamant, like it was almost very urgent that you tell me that I better change or else. You mentioned that deeply rooted things sometimes takes pulling it out of the body very gently, like a silk thread. I was wondering if you could talk about that.
Master Liu: Yes. First of all, you mentioned that just beginning you don’t feel the Qi, and after you’re practicing a while and learn several forms, then you start gradually. But actually you don’t feel, it did not change. Just like you become a gardener, you’re planting a tree, tree always start or bamboo always start as roots, but you don’t see anything on the top. A lot of people say, “I planted that tree, but it does not grow.” But the roots grow.
When the roots grow twice as big, then you see the results. It’s exactly the same thing. When you’re practicing qigong one form, you don’t feel it, but deeper roots are sprouting. At the same time, gradually you start to pull up all of the blockages. One by one, it’s like you pull a thread, it’s very gentle, invisible, and maybe you don’t feel anything, but it’s so subtle that it does the job.
Barbara: To the audience, by blockages you mean that for good health we should have Qi flowing.
Master Liu: Like a river. If a river is blocked, then it cannot flow, and it just becomes dead water and it starts to smell and have a lot of blocks. Exactly the same thing in the body, Qi and the blood has to flow.
Barbara: In Chinese medicine, one of the reasons I think that people don’t understand it or take it as seriously is because beautiful metaphors are used in the language. Describing types of water, whether it’s a pond, or a river, or sea, or a bubbling spring. In our language, we use different focus. We also don’t talk about channels in the West, we focus on the muscles and action of muscles at the surface, structure, anatomy. But they’re both equally important. They can play well together, actually.
Master Liu: Exactly. Again, as we said, we cannot see Qi, but gradually you can feel it. Our body and muscles are visible, but invisible thinking can damage or repair your muscles. Thinking we cannot see, but it can impact so much for our physical health, emotional health.
Barbara: Why do you think so many people are emotionally so imbalanced currently?
Master Liu: Because with this fast-paced life, people start gradually losing our senses. Of course, a lot of things you don’t know you can learn, that’s okay, but we cannot lose senses. Look at your dog or your cat. Whenever you give them food, they never eat right away, they always smell. Not humans. Most people, they bring the food, and they eat right away. What if it’s poison? They cannot tell if it has poison or not. Gradually people’s senses start to shut down, smell and taste. While you taste the food, you’re looking at something else, you don’t really know what you’re eating.
Barbara: Even knowing whether there’s a cancer growing inside them, the feeling.
Master Liu: Right. Exactly. Then touching, with all the screens, you’re touching a machine. Then you start to fall in love with the machine. The problem is a machine can never love you.
Master Liu: You touch your body, you fall in love with your body, your body will love you. You touch another person, another person loves you. But not a machine. That’s why people will get more and more depressed, more and more problems.
Barbara: And why the pandemic has awakened some people and made things worse for others, because of that disconnection with themselves and with each other.
Master Liu: Yes.
Barbara: With all of the technology and medical advancements, what could the healthcare system do to improve, to make it better?
Master Liu: I think like what you do is exactly it. The Western medicine should collaborate. It’s also like Third Opinion, functional medicine. It’s not just you have a blood pressure problem, take medicine right away. Instead, they can take medicine to help control it, but they need to change their lifestyle, they need to do something for their body, for their mind. Then there’s 100% healing.
Barbara: It has to change in elementary school, and medical school, and college. It has to change so early. In medical school, I had one nutrition class. One. That’s another topic, we’ll do that another time, we’ll talk about food as medicine.
Master Liu: Exactly. Yes.
Barbara: In our Western training, we get very little lifestyle medicine. That’s one of the things that I want to thank you for is that in the last seven years you did more for my health than all of my years of training. Not to say that my training is not good, it just was missing a big component of that lifestyle.
Master Liu: Yes. This is the roots. That’s why qigong and Chinese medicine we’re treating the roots. It’s not the plant. The leaves turn brown when cut off. You need to change the roots. When the roots change, healthy leaves will sprout. It’s not just keep cutting them off.
Barbara: In your background, you trained very early. Right? Your grandfather passed down to you when you were just 4 years old.
Master Liu: 4 years old, yes.
Barbara: Were you excited about that at first?
Master Liu: No. At this age, of course you want to play, you don’t feel it. Then with age, of course you step into the qigong, it’s part of nature, just right away you can feel, you can experience qigong and take it in much easier. When you go earlier, the easier it can be.
Barbara: For children to learn qigong.
Master Liu: Yes. Because children are at the stage of qigong already, children can focus, they have all their senses, they have their six senses. Adults, more and more are replaced by machine, we start losing the six senses. Just like people with the high technology, they replace your memory. One day when you’ve lost your iPhone, how many phone numbers can you remember? If you can remember 5 or 10, people will think you’re a genius. Six sense level becomes lower and lower.
Barbara: Because kids are getting their hands on the digital technology earlier and earlier, as a babysitter in some cases.
Master Liu: Right. Yes.
Barbara: There are high rates of anxiety and depression in the younger population.
Master Liu: Exactly.
Barbara: How would you look at the events in your life when you had big challenges? Everyone sees you as the qigong master. What were the challenging parts in your life when you were cultivating your Qi and on that road in the beginning?
Master Liu: Well, I won’t say challenging. Just I feel through the qigong, actually really helped me discover myself, I can do this, I can do that, actually developing my potential. Instead of challenging, it’s not challenging, as I grade myself, I can see the things that you don’t see. Do you know what I mean? I can see the channels. Then you can be the person you want to be.
Scientific, a lot of times, you have to see it and then you can believe. A lot of things, you see it not through your eye. You see a lot of things at once.
Barbara: Like an integration, an integration of your true self.
Master Liu: Yes. Of course, this is easier for children because they have less blockages. As adults, actually everyone has this potential.
Barbara: Really, a goal would be to become the child.
Master Liu: Right. Everyone can sprout as beautiful flowers. It’s just between seeds and flowers. The between has something, how you want to sprout these seeds to become the flower. Between, you need water and earth and to take care of it, then you can sprout the best part of you. You can be the best part of nature, you can develop. You have a lot of seeds inside of your body. You just need to put the right amount of earth and right amount of water.
Barbara: I believe you, because it’s happening for me. That’s what I’m really grateful for and that’s why I love to talk about this and bring you on the show for it. Thank you so much for taking time for this episode.
Master Liu: Thank you, Barbara. You do really great work for the world from a Western doctor to help people better. I’m sure that’s the way it should be.
Barbara: Here’s to the new chapter. Thank you.