Feel and express gratitude. There are two parts to this one: feeling and expressing. The feeling of gratitude can uplift our energetic vibration and uplift our spirits, so incorporating a gratitude practice through meditation or journalling in the morning or evening (or both!) can help you set your mood right for the day or as you drift into sleep. The second part is expressing gratitude. The human connection is sometimes lost — particularly if you live in a big city — and you can wander around lost in thought, oblivious to what’s around you in the moment you’re in. A few years ago, I made a point to start making eye contact and smile warmly at people I pass on the street, and to stop to sincerely thank every person who helps me throughout my day. An expression of gratitude shares that energetic uplift for anyone who’s open to receiving it, and sometimes can be a difference-maker in someone else’s day!
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewingWendy Leung, an IBS Elimination Specialist and Registered Acupuncturist (wendyleungcoaching.com). Informed by her personal challenges recovering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome and her background in holistic healthcare and the Traditional Chinese Medical system, Wendy developed her online program — Conquer IBS, Reignite Your Life — to guide people out of the confusion of IBS diagnosis through to full recovery by addressing all aspects of health: physical, energetic and mental/emotional.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Absolutely! I didn’t start out in healthcare — when I was in university I studied graphic design, which was an attempt to merge creativity with business (my true passion was actually writing and performing music, but that’s not so stable as a career so I chose to do that “on the side” instead). For creative work especially, I think it needs to be your calling otherwise it can be a real struggle. I realized pretty early on that I didn’t share the same creative spark for design as my classmates, so for the first time school became a struggle and I was running myself ragged trying to stay afloat. As a perfectionist, I really wasn’t happy to be doing poorly, so I was working on projects at all hours of day and night, skipping meals, skipping sleep, and through all of this stress I developed intense stomach cramps, chronic constipation, and extreme painful bloating every day.
Iwas put through all the invasive gastro tests and they diagnosed me with GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) but everything else came out clear, so by process of elimination they diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) too.
Long story short, despite the diagnoses, neither my doctor nor gastroenterologist had solutions to help me. Meds made my symptoms worse, and both of them told me these were chronic conditions I’d have to live with for the rest of my life. This was unacceptable to me: I refused to believe that could be the case, so I went on a hunt to figure it out for myself. There really wasn’t a lot of help for IBS then — there still isn’t — but eventually, by pure trial and error, I figured out how to calm my symptoms and then overcome them altogether.
Despite my recovery, I never fully understood why I got better or even how I developed IBS and GERD in the first place. It wasn’t until I later made a massive decision to change careers to do work that truly helps people on a personal level — and started studying Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and acupuncture — that the answers fell into place, and the holistic perspective of illness in the body finally explained these digestive conditions to me in a tangible way.
It’s been 15 years since I’ve been completely IBS- and GERD-free, and since I started working in holistic healthcare, I’ve never looked back. I’m so grateful every day to be able to make a real impact on peoples’ lives, to help them shift their perspectives to realize what’s possible for them, and to help them restore not only their health and wellbeing, but their confidence in their own power to heal as well.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
Tome, my most interesting and inspiring stories are my clients’ recoveries from things that are considered “chronic”, like IBS, like hormonal migraines, like chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia…But from a personal standpoint I’d say that the most interesting thing that’s happened to me was when I experienced the transfer of client ailments from them to me!
This happened when I first started treating clients in student clinic — I’d see someone who had, say, right knee pain, and at the end of session they’d leave feeling well but I’d discover that my right knee was now hurting, despite never having had that issue before! If you’re not well-versed in energetic exchange this might sound a bit strange, but if you think about how one angry person can change the mood of an entire room, it’s a similar situation. Energy transfer can easily occur between people who are open (or accidentally open) to receiving it.
After this happened a few times, I realized that I needed to create parameters in which I could help my clients release their ailments without absorbing it into my personal field. So after that point I started wearing a stone necklace that was a physical reminder of energetic boundaries and I also set the intention that “what’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine” at the end of session. I’ve also since understood that as a practitioner I’m really the conduit, and change within session passes through but doesn’t belong to me, so it isn’t absorbed by me either.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Istarted my acupuncture practice first and the IBS coaching followed, so I’d say my biggest mistake when I first started my acu practice was not prescribing treatment plans for my clients.
When you first start out, it’s common to run into some new practitioner mindset blocks. You can second-guess your diagnostic skills, develop compareitis to more experienced therapists, and — because as healers all we want to do is to help people — struggle with “running a business” versus serving your clients at their highest. In reality, it’s not a versus situation: I’m running a business to serve my clients at their highest, and that in turn serves my business so I can serve more people, etc, etc.
In my first few months of practice, I let my fear of coming off too “salesy” stop me from advising my clients on frequency and quantity of sessions needed to heal their condition. They’re seeking my expertise to recover and get better and to do that I need to share all of it, not only within session and homecare prescription, but also by explaining the healing process and how to achieve the most effective and efficient recovery. By being tentative about rebooking their next appointment or leaving it up to them, I was really doing them a disservice. Clients experienced longer recovery times, or stopped treatment before achieving their recovery goal because they didn’t understand what was possible.
Once I shifted my perspective and realized that treatment plans were in my clients’ best interest, I found that not only were my clients agreeable and compliant, but they were appreciative of much quicker results. Healthy and happy client, healthy business, happy me!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people I feel grateful for who’ve helped me get to where I am so far. It’s important for me to have mentorship in my life so I can continue to learn, grow, be guided and inspired by people who’ve experienced lessons a few steps ahead of me.
I can think of two people in particular. I remember, in my childhood, my mom telling me that I could achieve anything I set my mind to. And even though my parents also instilled in me the necessity for stability, that foundational belief that anything is possible is what’s allowed me to take leaps in the name of happiness that I might otherwise not have risked. That’s meant pursuing my love of music in two different bands, completely changing careers and in the process discovering my true calling.
The other is a mindset mentor, Belinda Ginter. Often the biggest barrier to our own success is ourselves: we can create boundaries and limitations based on our past experiences and self identity. In the infancy of my IBS coaching practice, Belinda pushed me to see what was possible beyond my immediate vision. I brought the Conquer IBS program online because I knew that I needed to reach more people than I could help in private practice. But I struggled with my self-identity as an introvert. Belinda sees my full realized potential and challenges me to explore all the things I’m capable of beyond my comfort zone. She’s helped me not only be comfortable being seen online as an advocate for full IBS recovery, but also to have a YouTube channel, to public-speak, to do things that I might otherwise have avoided, even though they’re necessary to accomplish my higher goal of helping as many people as possible.
The throughline in both of these stories is mindset. As I continue to grow, learn, lead and mentor others, I look to mentors who can inspire me to continue to expand my mindset, so together we can all rise up, up, up!
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is diagnosed in an estimated 10–20% of the world population — that’s a very significant percentage of people who are suffering and struggling to find help, often alone and in private because gut health symptoms are so embarrassing. Since I was diagnosed almost 20 years ago, people have started to speak more freely about IBS but treatment options are still limited. Because it’s still considered a chronic condition in the Western medical field, any relief is focused purely on symptom-management, diet accommodations and food-avoidance rather than on recovery.
But from a Traditional Chinese Medical perspective, IBS is well understood and completely healable. When I started seeing so many clients come into my private practice living with long-term digestive symptoms, with IBS and IBD, and knowing that I no longer struggle with any gut health symptoms at all, I knew I needed to do something to change this situation. So, while working with my clients, I developed a program that systemizes the healing process for IBS and teaches people everything they need to know to recover naturally — without medication or supplements — so we can reduce the number of people chronically struggling with it and eventually ultimately eliminate IBS altogether.
I came online to change the conversation from IBS being a chronic condition that requires life-long symptom-management to IBS being a health issue you can fully recover from — naturally, holistically, and permanently. IBS can be confusing, embarrassing, literally gut-wrenching, and it can have a major impact on not just your physical and mental/emotional health, but your relationships, social life, and career as well. Rather than learning to tolerate and accommodate symptoms and flares the way people do now, my vision is to successfully shift this focus so that as soon as people are diagnosed with IBS, they are able to take steps to successfully recover.
Gut health is foundationally important to our overall wellbeing, and yet, so many people live with some degree of digestive discomfort on a daily basis. More people need to be aware that our bodies are phenomenally capable of healing with the right approach, and be able to experience this for themselves.
Can you share your top five“lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
Mytop five lifestyle tweaks are all about returning to basics: eating, sleeping, breathing, celebration, gratitude and connection.
- Celebrating your successes daily. This is something I’ve learned from various mentors and isn’t done enough. In adulthood we have a tendency to focus on every little thing that doesn’t go right in our day and only celebrate when we have big wins. But if we instead pay attention to and celebrate the small things that go right every day, it improves our mood, contributes to our self-love, and trains our brains to focus on and seek out the positive.
- Feeling and expressing gratitude. There are two parts to this one: feeling and expressing. The feeling of gratitude can uplift our energetic vibration and uplift our spirits, so incorporating a gratitude practice through meditation or journalling in the morning or evening (or both!) can help you set your mood right for the day or as you drift into sleep. The second part is expressing gratitude. The human connection is sometimes lost — particularly if you live in a big city — and you can wander around lost in thought, oblivious to what’s around you in the moment you’re in. A few years ago, I made a point to start making eye contact and smile warmly at people I pass on the street, and to stop to sincerely thank every person who helps me throughout my day. An expression of gratitude shares that energetic uplift for anyone who’s open to receiving it, and sometimes can be a difference-maker in someone else’s day!
- Eat mindfully. In our busy lives, we can often take food for granted and think of it simply as fuel to cram into our system. Unless it’s a holiday ritual shared with family, we don’t tend to pay much attention to when, how or what we eat. But the digestive process doesn’t just happen in the stomach — it starts the moment your eyes see your food. And the healthiest way to support your digestion is to dedicate distraction-free time to enjoy your meals — without your phone, your computer, or even your social interactions. Even taking 15 minutes away from your desk to eat your lunch at a proper table, will allow your body to focus specifically on digestion. Take it from someone whose digestion used to be a wreck: don’t wait until gut fails you to show it love and respect!
- Get enough quality sleep. Sleep is restorative time for your mind and body, yet so many people either don’t get enough hours of sleep or have poor sleep quality, waking unrested in the morning. This is a hugely important topic that could take another entire conversation to cover but if we’re looking at one simple tweak it would be to keep a consistent sleep and wake schedule, based on how your body naturally moves through the sleep cycle. Our bodies crave routine, so experiment a few weekends to find the right hours of sleep for you, and then work backwards from your weekday wake time, you can have a more natural and restful sleep routine.
- Breathe regularly. This is my favourite of all of them because it’s so basic and yet extremely effective. We don’t usually think about breathing: our autonomic nervous system automatically performs this task for us. But just as our breathing is affected by physical exercise, it’s also very easily affected by our emotions as well. One of my clients told me that he’s noticed, since wearing a fitness tracker, that he stops breathing every time he’s deep in thought. Other people hold their breath when they’re worried, or breathe shallowly when they feel nervous or anxious. I personally used a regular breathing practice to completely release my 3-year struggle with traffic anxiety after being hit by a car some years ago. There are many different types of breathing techniques, but my favourite is deep diaphragmatic breathing, 3–5 minutes every night before bed (and every morning for those who experience anxiety first thing). It’s simple, but it’s a gamechanger and I teach it to every single one of my clients.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Iwould love for more people to understand the power we have over our own health. Our bodies are capable of healing themselves, and if we can take ownership of our nutrition, fitness, and mindset, we can go a long way to becoming a healthier society.
I’m also a huge fan of QiGong practice — literally “air work” or “energy work” in Chinese — which involves flowing movements with breath and meditation to regulate our bodies and minds and promote circulation throughout. We live so much in our brains that we don’t listen or pay attention to our bodies sometimes until it’s too late. If everyone started their mornings with a practice that cultivated the mind-body connection, we’d be more aware of our wellbeing and able to maintain our health before things ever got too out of hand.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- You can build online relationships just like in-person: through organic conversation. When I stepped into the online coaching world, I sought mentorship to help me set up my business because the only experience I had previously was in a brick and mortar office. At the time, my coach had taught us about ads to webinars to phone calls as the only method of outreach (which is not an inexpensive endeavour). Now looking back, I wish I would have leaned a little more into my strengths, starting organic conversations with people to establish relationship, before testing out the ad world.
- Practical business knowledge, in general. I touched on this a little earlier but as healers, all we want to do is help people. In school we’re taught all the expertise we need to do that — different modalities, diagnosis, technique…but not everyone is taught the specifics of how to run a successful business. When I started my practice I drew from my previous experience working in another small business, but some things like prescribing treatment plans, client retention, etc, could have been learned in school instead of by trial and error!
- You will constantly be refining, refining, refining, refining, refining.Being online is very different from running a brick and mortar practice. Technology is constantly evolving, there’s endless possibilities of ways in which I can reach people who need my help, and finding better and better ways to reach them involves constantly refining, refining, refining and refining what I’m doing. If I didn’t really love and really believe in what I was doing I would’ve been done by now. That’s probably the one thing I’d tell others about starting a business in general: really, truly LOVE what it is you’re doing because if you don’t, it’s not worth the effort and it’ll burn you out.
- Stay in your own lane and don’t be afraid to share your story.This is advice I received early on in my coaching practice but it would have been valuable when starting my acupuncture practice as well. When you’re starting out you might be tempted to look to others in your profession to model the “standard,” but you actually want is to highlight what’s unique about yourself and put that out there for everyone to see. Everyone has their own story, their own path, their own reason for doing what they’re doing and it’s those personal stories that resonate with people and call them to work with you. For example, one of my colleagues loves working with fertility and pregnancy while I’m passionate about digestive health. We have similar training and skill sets, but our expertise differs because of our personal interests and stories.
- Schedule in time for rest and restoration. This is something I tell my clients all the time and it’s so important for your physical and mental/emotional wellbeing. I am very adamant about practicing what I preach: if I don’t do it myself, I can’t, in integrity, ask someone else to do it either. But I also admit that a healthcare practitioner, healer and an entrepreneur, I often take care of myself last. I’ve certainly suffered burnout as a result of doing too much and not taking regular time off, so this is a message that would have been important to hear before I started too.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health, without a doubt.
I once had an insightful conversation with my sister about the struggles of mental vs physical illness. With physical illness or injury, people around you know how to show support because they can more easily empathize, and it’s often easier for the person struggling to ask for help. With mental health, unless you’ve experienced depression or anxiety yourself, it can be difficult to know how to support someone through it, even if they’re your closest loved ones. And it can be particularly difficult because the person who’s struggling may not be able or know how to reach out for support either.
From a holistic health perspective, illness in mind or body are considered one and the same. Whether you experience physical or mental/emotional symptoms or both, the healing principle is to restore balance to mind and body as a whole. Physical illness very often impacts our emotions, and mental/emotional illness greatly impacts our body as well, so in order to fully recover it’s important to address both simultaneously. That’s part of the reason why I developed the Conquer IBS program — not only to heal the physical symptoms in the digestive system, but also to address the stress and anxiety that accompanies them.
It’s only recently that people have begun to speak publicly about mental health and share their stories to dispel the stigma and embarrassment that once kept many people in private suffering. And this conversation needs to continue so more people can feel safe and supported reaching out for help.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
I’m on IG, LinkedIn and Facebook @wendyleungcoaching and for anyone who’s struggling with IBS, my YouTube channel is a great resource to learn how to get on the right track to recovery!
Thank you for these fantastic insights!
You’re very welcome, thank you for having me!