BILL MOYERS: Where I grew up in East Texas, it was a given that emotions could affect our health. There was always a neighbor who folks said, had died of a broken heart. Our ministers preached sermons from the book of proverbs. A merry heart, they said, does good like a medicine. Pleasant words are health to the bones. Health to the bones was a puzzler, because I also grew up with a healthy respect for Western science, which taught that disease was caused by bacteria that could be cured by drugs or scalpel.
But during the last years of my father’s long suffering with pain that no hospital or doctor could fix, I thought back to the folklore and biblical maxims and to the philosophers like Socrates who told his fellow Greeks that the body could not be cured without the soul.
What did they see in the natural world that our high tech age was missing? Why did they believe that intangibles like hope and joy and purpose could help in the process of healing the body?
This series is the result of that curiosity, and as I found out in our reporting, modern scientific researchers are also asking the same questions.
Some of them think we're on a cusp of a revolution in medicine as important as the discovery of antibiotics like penicillin. A revolution that could take us into the future, on the wings of modern science and ancient wisdom.
To see what I could learn about healing and the mind from another culture, I traveled to the People's Republic of China.
Chinese Communism is less than 80 years old. The Chinese way of healing is rooted in an ancient past and it survives today for just one reason, for the Chinese, it works.
DR. DAVID EISENBERG: They're really a wonderful people.
BILL MOYERS: My traveling companion and guide was Dr. David Eisenberg. Over a dozen years ago, David was the first American medical exchange student sent to China after the Cultural Revolution.
Today, he is an internist in Boston, practicing Western medicine and teaching at Harvard Medical School. Chinese doctors pride themselves on their skills in modern Western medical techniques, but they do not hesitate to draw upon their own medical tradition, a legacy that is thousands of years old. The Chinese have a different geography of the body.
What I discovered in China was another way of thinking about mind and body, about health and illness and a phenomenon called chi. Beijing, Dongzhimen Hospital. More than 2,500 patients pass through these doors every day. My journey into the curious world of Chinese medicine began here.
DR. EISENBERG: This is the largest hospital of traditional Chinese medicine in all of Beijing. Probably the most famous in the country. All the people in this country have a choice of two completely separate medical systems. Western medicine, which is practiced very much the way our system is, although, you know, they don't have all the facilities we do. Or this, this is purely traditional Chinese medicine with a few pockets of Western medicine here and there. But what they want is they want to be treated by herbs or needles or massage or meditation. That's why they're here.
BILL MOYERS: So what kinds of problems come in that door over there?
DR. EISENBERG: Every kind of known illness that we've ever seen in the west walks through these doors.
BILL MOYERS: When you came in that door a dozen years ago, did you
have trouble entering this world?
DR. EISENBERG: I ... I still do, twelve years later. They're calling out the numbers for people to pick up their medicines. This says, Western medicine. That says, soup medicine. These are medicines ....
BILL MOYERS: What kind?
DR. EISENBERG: Soup. You ... you buy the herbs. This ... this gentleman collects his bag of herbs and you go home and you boil them into a soup. There are hundreds and hundreds of substances back there that people are given as part of their weekly prescription for their severe medical illness and they are there picking up these bags of herbs that they'll boil. [Overlap]
BILL MOYERS: What kind of herbs are in there?
DR. EISENBERG: These…herbal medicines. These are all herbal medicines. [Chinese] Do you ... do you recognize these?
DR. EISENBERG: She said, I ... I recognize the words, but I have no idea what the medicines are. And there are twelve of them here. So in each bag there are these twelve medicines weighed out.
BILL MOYERS: Why does she use herbs instead of Western prescriptions?
DR. EISENBERG: [Chinese]
DR. EISENBERG: She's also taking Western medicines.
BILL MOYERS: Same time?
DR. EISENBERG: [Chinese] So she's taking, not at the same time, but Chinese medicine and Western medicine.
DR. EISENBERG: This is the herbal pharmacy. This is really the nerve center of this whole hospital. This is where the bulk of all the Chinese medical therapy is, right here.
BILL MOYERS: Look at this. These look like ... scorpions.
DR. EISENBERG: That's exactly right.
BILL MOYERS: What are those?
DR. EISENBERG: [Chinese] It is a scorpion.
BILL MOYERS: I'm not wrong. And this? Look.
DR. EISENBERG: That's ... that's a gecko, a lizard.
BILL MOYERS: That's a medicine?
DR. EISENBERG: [Chinese] What's the use of this?
HERBAL DOCTOR: [Chinese]
DR. EISENBERG: It decreases cough and relieves sputum. So that one
treats a symptom.
BILL MOYERS: This?
DR. EISENBERG: [Chinese]
HERBAL DOCTOR: [Chinese]
DR. EISENBERG: [Chinese] This is ginseng root, but it's ... it's the cheap form, because there are some forms that cost thousands of dollars.
BILL MOYERS: Like tea?
DR. EISENBERG: Like ginseng tea.
BILL MOYERS: Like ginseng tea.
DR. EISENBERG: That's right. Right. [Chinese] What is it used for?
HERBAL DOCTOR: Chi.
DR. EISENBERG: [Chinese] Wait, this is great. This ... this is to increase
chi, vital energy.
BILL MOYERS: Chi.
DR. EISENBERG: Chi. that's the way we can translate that is vital energy, the ... the force of life.
BILL MOYERS: What ... the life force?
HERBAL DOCTOR: Yes, yes.
DR. EISENBERG: So that's what they say this does.
BILL MOYERS: Will it grow hair?
DR. EISENBERG: [Chinese] Maybe. I don't think so, Bill, I've tried it, it doesn't work.
BILL MOYERS: This one will. Look at that. Now, what's this one?
DR. EISENBERG: [Chinese]
HERBAL DOCTOR: [Chinese]
DR. EISENBERG: [Chinese] Deer, these are deer antler, deer stump of the antler shavings.
BILL MOYERS: What would be Western equivalent of this?
DR. EISENBERG: I don't know that.
BILL MOYERS: You don't?
DR. EISENBERG: This is a shaving of a deer antler, how often do you find that in a hospital?
BILL MOYERS: But ... do we know what the chemistry is in these herbs?
DR. EISENBERG: We really don't, but the Chinese weren't interested in the chemistry as we know it. They're not prescribed because of their active chemical ingredient. They're prescribed because one of them increases heat and one of them decreases stagnation of vital energy. That's the language that they use. It has nothing to do with chemistry.
They see the body from a different viewpoint. To them, the body is based on energy, balance. All these herbs ... and this is where most of Chinese medicine happens, are . . . prescribed based on this sense of energy in the body. Chi, they call it Chi.
DR. EISENBERG: This is what they call the boil the medicine room.
That's what it's called.
BILL MOYERS: Boil the medicine room.
DR. EISENBERG: This is as close as they will come to an in-patient pharmacy. Each pot has the prescription for one patient in the hospital.
Altogether there are sixty-odd pots running at any moment. And every patient in the hospital gets their medicine for the day in these little thermoses.
BILL MOYERS: So what's in these pots?
DR. EISENBERG: In each pot will be ten to fifteen herbs for each patient. This whole style or making these herbs is hundreds, if not a thousand years old. And a lot of these prescriptions are five or six hundred years old. [Overlap] The same prescription they used 500 years ago.
BILL MOYERS: Is the formula written down?
DR. EISENBERG: Yeah, yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Each one looks different too. Boiling roots, boiling ... gecko. That's more like cabbage and collard greens. This is more like acorns.
DR. EISENBERG: What does it smell like to you?
BILL MOYERS: I can't describe it. I mean, it smells like everything I've ever smelled. Tea.
DR. EISENBERG: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Gum. Raisin. Root. You ever tasted it?
DR. EISENBERG: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: When? When you were here?
DR. EISENBERG: When I was here, you know, to understand it, but it is awful. Awful, awful, awful.
BILL MOYERS: I'd heard about operations performed using acupuncture needles as anesthesia. David took me to see one at the finest Western neurological hospital in China, Temple of Heaven Hospital.
DR. EISENBERG: This is ... what's called the pituitary coele. This is the area where the pituitary gland sits and it's enlarged. He's sure that this woman has a tumor smack in the middle of her skull. It couldn't be more central. And it's very large. [Chinese] It's about this big you're saying. That's a very large tumor .....
BILL MOYERS: It's about the size of a quarter.
DR. EISENBERG: And what they're going to do is use a combination of some Western medicine and acupuncture anesthesia to perform the whole surgery while the patient is conscious, awake and able to talk to us.
DOCTOR: subtitle Today they will use acupuncture.
DOCTOR: subtitle Are you afraid?
WOMAN: subtitle No. Not at all.
BILL MOYERS: They are giving her some, what we would call Western sedatives?
DR. EISENBERG: Absolutely. And the point here is that she's using less than half of the amount of drug that she would typically use without acupuncture needles. And for many patients, particularly patients at high risk of anesthesia, this has a lot of benefits.
DR. EISENBERG: Bill, I'm going to try and ask a few questions.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] Can you hear me?
WOMAN: [subtitle] Yes.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] Do you know where you are?
WOMAN: [subtitle] The operating room.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] Do you feel comfortable?
WOMAN: [subtitle] I'm fine.
DR. EISENBERG: (subtitle) Do you feel any pain?
WOMAN: [subtitle] I feel no pain.
BILL MOYERS: I just looked into her brain and saw the tumor and she's talking to you.
DR. EISENBERG: Yeah. We've opened her skull. She has no pain and they've used less than half the drugs we'd use in the West.
This must be very strange to you.
BILL MOYERS: Well I have lots of questions. The professional skeptic in me says that those herbs work because they have chemicals in them, not because they ... they have chi. And ... and that traditional medicine is a kind of placebo, the power of suggestion.
On the other hand, I've never talked to more credible people than those patients in that hospital and the doctors.
DR. EISENBERG: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: So I ... I have mixed feelings. I'm skeptical, but
I'm also open because I think there is something here that might translate back to our society and be useful to us. But when you got here twelve years ago, when you arrived, were you skeptical?
DR. EISENBERG: Very. I ... I had exactly the same questions.
BILL MOYERS: What was your attitude toward traditional Chinese medicine?
DR. EISENBERG: It was really very simplistic, does it work? And if it works, how does it work? And ... if it works, how much of it is the placebo effect? Is it just people's belief or ... do the drugs work, do the needles work, does the meditation work? I asked all the same questions that you're asking. And I didn't know a thing about this chi, this vital energy. In fact, it wasn't until I was in the traditional medical college here for months that my teachers finally drove it home that the whole system is based on this odd thing called chi and if you ... I ... I came here without ever hearing of that before.
This is the acupuncture ward, but these people aren't here for acupuncture anesthesia, they're here to treat all their different chronic diseases.
BILL MOYERS: With needles?
DR. EISENBERG: With needles.
[Chinese] I asked her if it hurt. I asked her if it hurt. And he . . . she said, it doesn't hurt and he said, the doctor said it doesn't hurt.
BILL MOYERS: It hurts me.
DR. EISENBERG: I know it's hard to watch. Uh, this woman uh, has what we call Bell's palsy. It's a paralysis of her face. And this doctor, who has been practicing acupuncture for sixty years is treating her by putting needles in her arm and her face.
BILL MOYERS: Where exactly is he putting them, by his light?
DR. EISENBERG: he's putting them in what he calls the ... the large intestine meridian.
BILL MOYERS: I don't understand that.
DR. EISENBERG: Well the body in Chinese medicine is made up of all of these circuits of energy.
BILL MOYERS: So the ... the circuit or the channel from here ....
DR. EISENBERG: Circulates through the whole body and is called the large intestine meridian.
BILL MOYERS: Professor, may I ask you something? [Overlap] Can you simply explain this to me? What these are meridians?
DR. EISENBERG: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: Meridians are channels.
DR. EISENBERG: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: This is where the needles go.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] Yes, they do.
BILL MOYERS: There really is nothing like this. I mean there's ... we have the nerve charts, the nerve paths.
DR. EISENBERG: This map has almost no correspondence to anatomic maps we use in the West.
BILL MOYERS: So this is a completely different geography of the body.
DR. EISENBERG: Absolutely different. It doesn't correspond to nerves or arteries. Their way of finding disease and getting to it is totally different from ours.
BILL MOYERS: How does he know that he's hitting the right point?
DR. EISENBERG: he's asking her in Chinese, du chi, which means, do you feel the chi? Do you have a sensation? [Chinese] She has a sensation. So that's how he knows and he also has to feel it. You know my ... my acupuncture teacher said it's like ... like fishing and you know the difference between a nibble anda bite.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah.
DR. EISENBERG: That he puts the ... the needle in and if it gets a
little stuck, if there's tension pulling back, then he knows even without
asking the patient. But you know to me it's an art. It takes a long time.
DOCTOR: [subtitle] Is the chi rising?
WOMAN: [subtitle] Yes, rising.
DOCTOR: [subtitle] Now?
WOMAN: [subtitle] Not yet. Oh! There it is!
BILL MOYERS: Did they teach you to do this ten years ago? Twelve years ago?
DR. EISENBERG: They ... they tried very hard.
BILL MOYERS: How?
DR. EISENBERG: Well they put me in a room with a teacher and said, memorize these points. And ....
BILL MOYERS: All the points on the body.
DR. EISENBERG: Yeah. Well and ... and they painted me with ... iodine dots. I had to recognize all the dots on my own body and then on their body. Then the practice exercise was ten pieces of paper. If I could put the needle through ten pieces of paper without bending the needle, then they'd let me near a patient. Until I could do that, no go.
BILL MOYERS: Did you finally learn it?
DR. EISENBERG: No. I mean I ... I got to the point where they let me put needles into people, but I never felt it pulling back, I never felt the chi. It's a very difficult thing to learn.
BILL MOYERS: Millions of Chinese routinely use acupuncture to treat their illnesses. But I discovered Chinese doctors don't need the acupuncture needles to manipulate chi. They can use their hands.
DR. EISENBERG Massage is taken very seriously. Like we would have surgery or pediatrics or OB-GYN, massage is one of the main units of the hospital. These are all doctors. These are people who graduated five or six years of traditional Chinese medical school and then did a residency of at least one year in the hospital. And then passed a formal series of examinations and specialized in massage.
BILL MOYERS: Did you study massage here?
DR. EISENBERG: I did.. This ... this man in the center, Dr. Zang is my teacher and one of my favorite teachers actually.
BILL MOYERS: Dr. Zang, in the West we think of massage as making the muscles feel better, but it's much more than that here.
DR. ZANG: [subtitle] It's to cure her. I'm treating her illness. She has a lump we are removing.
DR. EISENBERG: These two women have what we would call fibrocystic breast disease. In the West, we don't have a treatment for this disease where a lot of women suffer a long time. So if he's really helped her, that would be an example where we can't do very much.
BILL MOYERS: So is it your hands that are doing this? Does he have special hands for this?
DR. EISENBERG: He ... he has unbelievably gifted hands.
BILL MOYERS: What did he teach you about using your hands?
DR. EISENBERG: Well the first time he taught me, he brought this bag of rice that he uses for his ... students. And to show you what he said, you know, he threw down the bag of millet in our little room and he said, when you can learn this hand manipulation so that you can crush this millet or rice into dust, then you're ready to work on a human patient and not before.
BILL MOYERS: How does she feel?
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] Has the massage helped you?
WOMAN: [subtitle] Yes, it has. Over the years I have tried all kinds of medication. Nothing really worked. After a few treatments the cysts are much better. I hardly feel any pain now. The lumps are disappearing.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] Have you had many patients like her?
DR. ZANG: [subtitle] I have had 27 such cases. Out of 27, I cured 11, healing them completely. In most other cases the lumps were reduced. In two cases, nothing worked. Otherwise, in most cases the method has been quite effective.
BILL MOYERS: What are you doing here?
DR. ZANG: [subtitle] The chi in her liver is stuck. That's why I'm working this point. •
DR. EISENBERG: Bill, he believes that the chi in her liver is the cause of her breast disease.
BILL MOYERS: Why is he dealing with the liver and the spleen way down here almost to the ankle?
DR. EISENBERG: In his way of thinking the body is made up of these conduits where the chi goes all through the body. He's working on the liver, using this point down by the foot because the liver meridian flows down the feet. And unfortunately, in a certain part of it, according to him, it's stuck. So he's got to push it, move it, help it flow. And then in his way of thinking, the breast disease will become better.
BILL MOYERS: Why? What's happening when that chi is flowing?
DR. EISENBERG: I can't tell you. If I knew, I wouldn't have to keep coming back here.
BILL MOYERS: Show me how my chi flows.
DR. ZANG: [subtitle] In this area, I want it to go down.
BILL MOYERS: It's getting warm.
DR. ZANG: [subtitle] Here, with this hand, I want it to go up.
BILL MOYERS: I felt that. Yes, yes I did feel it. Like a ... blood flow.
DR. ZANG: [subtitle] This will go up.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, it's right there.
BILL MOYERS: At dawn one morning, David took me to People's Park in
Shanghai. He said if I really wanted to understand chi, this would be the place to do it. This is extraordinary. This park is absolutely full of people doing exercises.
DR. EISENBERG: Yeah. And all over China, the same thing is happening.
BILL MOYERS: Every morning?
DR. EISENBERG: Every morning in every part of China. But these aren't exercises like we think of them, you know, aerobics, situps and pushups. This one for example is part exercise and part martial arts.
The Chinese name is Tai Chi Ch'uan. This is a kind of exercise that is centuries old. There's this idea in Chinese medicine that the body has to move, that movement is as important as eating or sleeping. And 23, 24 centuries ago they started to write pictures about how people should move, to keep the body healthy. So they're moving, but it's more than that.
BILL MOYERS: What do those motions, some of those physical attitudes have to do with chi?
DR. EISENBERG: If you ask this woman, she will tell you she can feel that. She can actually feel it and she can move it. And in the Chinese rhetoric, that is health. If you can do that, you're healthy. If you can figure out where your center is, your right, your left and how to concentrate your mind, that defines health.
The idea is to connect with nature through movement. There is this old expression that the body has to be like a hinge on a door. If it's not swung open, it rusts.
BILL MOYERS: What's he doing?
DR. EISENBERG: Moving. This man is doing chi gong, although it looks like he's just rocking back and forth, he's really trying to focus where the energy in his body starts from. In his mind he's trying to plant himself so that he feels as though he's rooted like a tree and his arms are probably moving in his mind like a bird. And with that, he will tell you that he can feel balanced and centered and then he can begin to move his energy.
BILL MOYERS: Do you believe that that happens? Moving energy?
DR. EISENBERG: I ... I have never experienced it. I mean I ... I practiced tai chi for a year and felt deeply meditative and centered and balanced. I never felt the energy.
BILL MOYERS: Why did you give it up when you went back? You don't have to just be in China to do tai chi.
DR. EISENBERG: Well because I became an intern at a big teaching hospital. I had to be at work at 6:30.
BILL MOYERS: So health was no ... your health was no longer as important as other people's.
DR. EISENBERG: Well it ... it was as important, but I could no longer take care of it the same way.
BILL MOYERS: And what does that say?
DR. EISENBERG: It's a relatively recent phenomenon that Western medicine has suggested that calisthenics and aerobics and taking care of your physical stamina is essential to maintaining health or intervening in illness. So the Chinese, they started on the other side. They said, that's a basic principle. You can't have health unless you maintain your body and use both physical exercise and mental meditation to be healthy.
What this gentleman is doing, when I first saw it, it looked so strange to me. He's doing what's called moving chi gong, walking chi gong. He's trying to meditate while he walks. He's walking you know with a purpose, to move his energy with every step.
BILL MOYERS: What's happening to his body while he's doing this? Medically. Do we ... do we know?
DR. EISENBERG: Well he's not getting a cardiovascular workout. I mean it's not like he's on an exercise bike or a treadmill. But you know this is one of the ... the big questions, that ... do any of these martial arts change people physically enough to alter their disease, or make them live longer?
You ask me as a Western scientist, I don't know. But what I know is that you know, there's hundreds of millions of people out in the fresh air every day and have been for 24 centuries with the belief that if they do these exercises, that's how they'll maximize their health. So the question to Western science is are they right? Or are they just all deluded?
BILL MOYERS: I can see that although traditional Chinese medicine seems alien to Westerners, it does have something to offer our practice with medicine. On the one hand there's the practical contribution it can make, herbs for certain diseases, acupuncture. But there's another level that's becoming clear to me ... that to these people it seems that health is not just the absence of illness, it's a philosophy of life.
DR. EISENBERG: Right. The idea is that the way you live your life, your thoughts, your emotions, that's what shapes your health or your illness.
BILL MOYERS: That philosophy goes back a long way doesn't it?
DR. EISENBERG: Yes, very, very long way. It's ... it's based in Taoism. And Taoism ... this is a Taoist temple, the ... the White Cloud Temple. Built in ... 500 years ago. But you know by the time this temple was built, the Taoist ideas of Chinese medicine had been practiced for 1500 years. In the old days the doctor was very much a teacher. He wasn't just somebody who ... who fixed ... who felt pulses and gave herbs, but had to be a role model, had to teach somebody how to live in the society.
Their role was to teach people the best way to live and that, that would help their patients maximize their health. It's ... it's a very ... you know It sounds rather odd, but it really raises the question, does the way you behave and the way you think and the way you feel, does that change your physical well- being? From the very beginning, 2000 years ago,
Chinese medicine said, that is what changes health.
DR. EISENBERG: This man's one of the more gifted people that I've met in China. Professor Wang Jinhuai.
BILL MOYERS: You studied calligraphy under him, when you were here?
DR. EISENBERG: Yeah. And he, partly because of his training and partly because of his interest, is also a scholar of Chinese medicine, because he knows Taoism. He knows the philosophy of the whole culture. What he's drawing here Bill are the characters for water and mountain.
BILL MOYERS: If I were reading about a mountain in Chinese, I would be seeing that picture.
DR. EISENBERG: You would be seeing it, knowing it and he's feeling it.
PROF. WANG: [subtitle] As I wrote "mountain", it was like climbing a mountain. As I wrote "water'', it was like swimming in water. When this happens I become calm. Once you are peaceful the chi in your body flows more smoothly. There is much less obstruction. Then the chi circulates freely.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] So you use chi?
PROF. WANG: [subtitle] I use a little chi. But it is a particular type of chi. It's not the chi I use to raise a heavy object. It comes from inside.
DR. EISENBERG: He has to control his chi like somebody doing the martial arts, in order to get the meaning right.
PROF. WANG: [subtitle] Ancient Chinese philosophy describes the creation of the universe. It evolve from "yuan chi". This "primordial" chi continues to evolve around us. No matter how invisible it affects and animates our bodies. This is the mass of primordial chi. It is surrounded by a layer called "chaos". The chaos had a yellow hue. Then it changed.
BILL MOYERS: That's the Tao symbol isn't it? The Yin-Yang?
DR. EISENBERG: Yin and yang. Bright, dark, up, down, male, female.
BILL MOYERS: So the earth, which was chaos, divided into ....
DR. EISENBERG: Yin and yang. In everything. In every part of the universe there are these two opposing forces. They're interdependent. They can't exist without one another. Even in the picture one ends where the other begins. And the struggle is in maintaining the balance.
BILL MOYERS: Uh, Professor, what does this have to do with traditional Chinese medicine?
PROF. WANG: [subtitle] This idea is the basic principle behind Chinese medicine. Our oldest manual of medicine says if you follow yin/yang you will not get sick.
DR. EISENBERG: We're born in a balanced state, but we fall out of balance. There's this notion that the physician's job is to figure out where the body and the mind are no longer in balance. Where the yin or the yang are too much or too little. Find it and either teach the person to fix it, or use herbs or needles or diet to fix it. But that's the whole goal.
BILL MOYERS: Balance.
DR. EISENBERG: Balance. And that all comes from this very, very ancient notion of yin and yang, the two forces of nature in everything. You know, my calligraphy is worse than my acupuncture or my herbs. I can barely write my name in English. But he would tell me the meaning of every character and explain to me, not only the meaning of the word, but you know, this notion of balance for everything that exists in Chinese written words and ideas. That's what he taught me. There's a wonderful proverb in Chinese that says--a teacher for one day is like a parent for a lifetime. And he's a teacher.
PROF. WANG: [subtitle] Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: David, what brought you to China in the first place? Why did you make such an enormous personal investment in this?
DR. EISENBERG: I don't think I was aware of it at the time, but looking back, I think it had to do with some personal tragedy when I was a boy. When I was ten, three of my grandparents passed away, of unrelated illnesses. And the same year, I lost my father who was 39, of a heart attack. And, it was hard to think about why that happened and I always wondered is there more of a reason than just fate, why people live longer or shorter lives? And does it matter how you live, how you think, how you feel? Does that change your physical health or your life? Or is that even important? So from the very earliest part of my interest in medicine, I was interested in more than just the chemistry.
DR. LU: [subtitle] Imagine that Dan Tien is a bright place. It is like a small, shining ball.
DR. EISENBERG: A Taoist proverb says "when you have a disease do not try to cure, find your center and you will be healed. This clinic puts that proverb into practice.
This is Xi Yuan Hospital. It's primarily a traditional Chinese medical hospital, but it's most famous for this, chi gong. These are real patients with real physical problems and this is a medical doctor, Doctor Lu. Doctor Luis trained in both Western and Chinese medicine. We've seen herbs, needles, massage, that's doctors doing things to patients to reestablish some kind of body balance. This is ... the doctor is the guide teaching the patient to use their mind exclusively to change their health.
BILL MOYERS: You know this looks like many meditation classes I've seen in the states. Or classes in breathing.
DR. EISENBERG: Right. It is very similar. But in Chinese theory, once you've learned to relax, focus on your breathing and let go of all the thoughts, you know, where is my laundry and when is my car coming, then in Chinese theory you can actually find a spot in your body where your chi, your energy begins. And they ... they call this the dam tien point. It's a spot just below your bellybutton, your navel.
BILL MOYERS: Literally?
DR. EISENBERG: Literally, it's ... it's in your abdomen, your pelvis. So when they talk about find this ball at the dan tien point, they're talking about a ball of energy, which is where chi begins in the human body.
And then with practice, while you're focusing on your breathing, while you're letting go of thoughts, the physician says, concentrate on this ball to energy and begin to move it, that's the skill.
BILL MOYERS: But what does that do for the lady with arthritis, or the lady with stomach pain?
DR. EISENBERG: They'll tell you that after weeks or months of practicing this meditative medical tradition and moving their energy, that their symptoms have decreased enormously.
DR. LU: [subtitle] Comb your hair with five fingers. Like five dragons climbing mountains.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] Describe it. How does it feel to practice chi gong?
WOMAN: [subtitle] I feel light. So light that I don't feel my own weight. I feel like I'm floating. My pain is gone. I feel heat.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] Is it really heat?
WOMAN: [subtitle] I really feel heat.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] Real or imagined heat?
WOMAN: [subtitle] It's real heat. The heat makes me feel very comfortable. And I feel like moving. I move the uncomfortable parts of my body to make them more comfortable.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] Is it difficult to learn?
WOMAN: [subtitle] No. But you must be confident and sincere. If you're not serious it won't work.
BILL MOYERS: The strangest thing David took me to see in China was here in Beijing at Purple Bamboo Park.
DR. EISENBERG: If you can believe that there is an energy called chi flowing through the body, that it can be felt and manipulated, then perhaps you can see why some Chinese go one step further. They call this teacher, Master Shir. And he tells his new students, come here every morning at dawn for three years and then I'll know you're serious.
BILL MOYERS: Three years.
DR. EISENBERG: Right.
BILL MOYERS: And that's just the beginning?
DR. EISENBERG: Yes, but I'm warning you, Bill, what Master Shir claims he can do just doesn't look real.
BILL MOYERS: What's going on here?
DR. EISENBERG: Master Shir will tell you he just used chi to throw his student. This is where a lot of the Chinese stories come of all the martial art masters. They could emit energy. And it wasn't just a physical force that beat their opponents, it was their chi.
BILL MOYERS: But that goes against everything we know and understand in Western science. It defies the biophysical laws.
DR. EISENBERG: This is where Chinese medicine takes a wide turn off of what we understand and accept in the West.
MASTER SHIR: [subtitle] I can project my energy. This is me. These are my thoughts. I can send my energy from here to there. When I do that, it affects his body.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] You didn't use force?
MASTER SHIR:: [subtitle] None at all.
STUDENT: [subtitle] He didn't grab my hand.
MASTER SHIR: [subtitle] You can't pull it to move him. I use the will of my thinking. That will is a kind of energy.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] What did you feel? Did you feel warmth?
STUDENT: [subtitle] I felt nothing.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] Nothing?
STUDENT: [subtitle] The sun pulls the earth in its orbit. Can you feel the earth's magnetic field? All you feel is a kind of balance. See the master strike at me with you in-between.
BILL MOYERS: His hand trembles when he does that.
BILL MOYERS: All right. Now as an American student here studying this, what's happening?
ANDREW: What happens is, let's say ... I practice a lot of hard martial arts. I go in with my strength and I push hard as I can and actually what happens is his energy goes out of his body and into your body so that you become sort of a marionette on strings, where if he wants to all of a sudden jerk you with just energy, he doesn't have to move his hand, suddenly every muscle in your body, every cell expands or contracts.
BILL MOYERS: But that defies all the biophysical laws as we in the West understand them. You don't emit energy, that's not the nature of things.
ANDREW: Well I guess we have to advance our techniques of studying because whether I want to believe it or not, I cannot affect him. I studied a lot of hard martial arts. I can hurt people. I can do all sorts of things with my feet, my hands and there's nothing I can do to him. And the harder I use muscles, the more muscle I use, boxing, tae kwon do, the more violence is directed back at me. Not by him, but my own violence.
BILL MOYERS: Try it one more time. Try to throw him. Millions of people are going to be watching and I want to see you try to throw him. I ... really, this is for real. This is not a stunt.
ANDREW: No stunt and I wouldn't be here to waste my time if it was a stunt. And we haven't done this in two years together, because the last time I did this with him I got very hurt in my spine.
BILL MOYERS: How long have you studied here?
ANDREW: I've been here now four years, studying with him every day.
So if I can do what I'm doing now and affect him, upturn him, that means I've graduated to the next level and he will teach me something new.
BILL MOYERS: All right, let's see ....
ANDREW: So for me it's very important that I do this, that I actually affect him.
BILL MOYERS: All right, let's see it.
BILL MOYERS: Come on Andrew, give it the old heave-ho.
DR. EISENBERG: Come on Andrew, it doesn't look real. So ... so ....
BILL MOYERS: You didn't do it.
ANDREW: No, not yet.
BILL MOYERS: Four more years?
ANDREW: Four more years.
DR. EISENBERG: This is the strangest and to me the most unbelievable form of traditional Chinese medicine. It's called external chi gong. This doctor claims to be using his energy to help redirect the flow of the energy of the patient. When this doctor claims to be emitting energy, he's doing the same thing that the chi gong masters, who we've seen in the park claim to be doing that. At an advanced stage of practice they can move energy outside their body. This has been the claim for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
BILL MOYERS: The closest I've ever seen anything to this is looking at people who claim to be faith healers in our culture.
DR. EISENBERG: I ... think in every ... in every culture and in fact every medical tradition until ours, a lot of medicine was based on energy and the ability of people to move it. That's what this man claims to be doing as well.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] What is this patient's illness?
DR. LU: [subtitle] He has a brain tumor.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] May I question him?
DR. LU: [subtitle] Yes, slowly.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] Your name?
PATIENT: [subtitle] My name is Lu.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] What do you feel during the treatment?
PATIENT: [subtitle] The top of my head feels warm. This side feels a little full. I also feel a special energy. I feel a pulsing, like a blood vessel. Sometimes I feel sweaty on this half.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] Is this caused by the master's chi?
PATIENT: [subtitle] Yes. You can do it yourself, but it works faster if the master does it. You can practice chi gong yourself by entering a certain state.
DR. EISENBERG: [subtitle] How do you project your chi?
DR. LU: [subtitle] That's a hard question to answer. I'm reminded of a proverb. "Some things can be sensed, not explained." In order to understand chi gong, you must first cross the threshold. Once inside, you can ask me questions. We must take external chi gong seriously. Some people want to deny its powers. Chi gong should not be dismissed lightly. But let's not exaggerate its effects or overestimate its power. We should continue to explore it.
BILL MOYERS: I didn't know what to make of Dr. Lu and the emission of chi to cure diseases. To be honest, I'm too much of a Westerner. He just didn't convince me. But for most of the Chinese, an imminently practical people, chi isn't something to be pondered, it's just a part of everyday life. David introduced me to Ma Yueh Liang, one of the greatest living practitioners, a grand master of tai chi ch'uan.
What's amazing is that he was trained in Western science and ran the clinical laboratories in a prominent Shanghai hospital. But at the same time, for more than 70 years he has taught and practiced tai chi ch'uan. He is now 91 years old.
MASTER MA: [subtitle] I started to do tai chi for my health. Now I know that tai chi ch'uan does more. It also heals many chronic diseases. There's no mystique to tai chi ch'uan. What's difficult is the perseverance.
It took me ten years to discover my chi, but 30 years to learn how to use it. Once you see the benefit, you won't want to stop. Five of my students are over 90 years old. The oldest one is 97. Many of the students are in their eighties. We have a saying: "Diligent practice of tai chi will restore your youthful vigor." The old can recapture the vitality of youth.
BILL MOYERS: Well you're not an acupuncturist. You're not an herbalist. You're not a doctor of massage. You're an internist at a Boston hospital. What ... what practically do you think this has to offer your patients and your practice?
DR. EISENBERG: I wonder. You know I still ... when I'm asked a question, what do you think, doc, does it do the job, I don't know. To know, there has to be a marriage of Chinese medicine and Western medicine. The two sides have to come together because the Chinese doctors are not trained in science. They don't know about control groups or randomization and statistics. That wasn't part of their theory, any more than Western style physicians know about chi.
BILL MOYERS: In the medical sense I guess this marriage has to be tested just like any good drug is tested back in the United States.
DR. EISENBERG: That's right. And you need to apply the sharpest, most insightful science to figure out, does it really work, is it helpful, is it safe, does it save money? That's what needs to happen and that's never happened before, either in the West or in China. So the offspring of that marriage would be a brand new thing.
BILL MOYERS: What about yourself, David? Have you found what you're looking for?
DR. EISENBERG: Well I've learned a lot about health and how neither the Western medical system or the Chinese system has all the answers. I think that there are a lot of things here that have helped me understand the limitations of medicine, that we in the West don't have a monopoly on understanding the human body, or the relationship between the mind and the body. I think many, many people in America now want their doctor to be very much like the ideal Chinese doctor, a teacher, an advisor. My studies in China have convinced me more and more that to understand health I can't just limit it to studying the physical body, I have to also expand it to understanding one's spirit.
And to me, China, Chinese medicine, the millions of people practicing these ancient art offer a wonderful opportunity to study how the mind changes the body.