Since 1979, "the Chinese have cured hundreds of cancer victims through chi gong," and many thousands have used this practice to prolong their lives, reports Paul Dong, a journalist and chi gong practitioner and teacher based in Oakland, California.10 Dong, who was born in mainland China, went to China in 1984 to investigate chi gong. Case histories of recovered cancer patients are frequently reported in chi gong magazines. This physical-mental exercise has aided remissions in many lung cancer patients who found conventional Western therapies ineffective. On December 2, 1986, the New York Times reported that the twenty-six chi gong clinics in China had successes in treating some cardiac diseases, paralysis, and neurological disorders.
The modern use of chi gong to treat cancer originated with Guo Lin (1906-1984), a Chinese painter who was afflicted with uterine cancer in 1949 and was treated by surgery. The cancer recurred in 1960, with metastasis to the bladder. After another operation, Guo Lin had another recurrence and doctors told her she had six months to live. Turning to ancient chi gong manuals left to her by her grandfather, a Taoist priest, she practiced chi gong two hours every day, and in six months, the cancer had abated. Convinced that chi gong was responsible for her recovery, Madame Guo, in 1970, began giving lessons in what she called New Chi Gong Therapy. By 1977, cancer patients from all over China were pouring into Beijing to take part in her chi gong therapy classes. Guo Lin reportedly helped hundreds of cancer sufferers attain remissions while prolonging the lives and easing the pain of thousands more.11
Among the first masters of chi gong were Taoist and Buddhist monks. China's great scholars and philosophers, including Confucius and Lao Tse, were also students of this discipline, which predates all the martial arts and gave birth to tai chi, kung fu, and tai kwan do. Today, millions of Chinese rise every morning at dawn to practice the ancient technique of chi gong to promote mental and physical well-being. Chi gong translates as "manipulation of vital energy" or, simply, "breathing skill" (since the character for chi means both "vital energy" and "breath").
How chi gong achieves healing effects is not fully understood, though several mechanisms of action have been proposed. From the standpoint of traditional Chinese medicine, chi gong energizes the body's vital forces, balances yin and yang, strengthens blood circulation, and improves the patient's emotional and mental states. From the viewpoint of Western medicine, chi gong increases the absorption and utilization of oxygen from the blood, as does yoga. Nobel Prize-winner Otto Warburg found that oxygen deficiency is typical of cancer cells and that when the body is rich in oxygen, cancer cells die. Practicing chi gong exercises has a positive effect on certain enzymes that play key roles in the body's maintenance of health and in phospho~rylation, a basic biochemical process that supplies the energy necessary for cell work.12 Phosphorylation is central to oxygen provision for all of the body's cells and is vitally important to immune response.
Exercise can mobilize the body's natural killer cells, which seek out and destroy cancer cells and cells infected by viruses. An increased oxygen uptake from the blood can also neutralize free radicals. The slow, deep breathing and moderate body motion of chi gong (or yoga) can cause the newly available oxygen to bind with free radicals, rendering them harmless.13 Research in China indicates that after a chi gong exercise lasting about forty minutes, the body's internal regional blood volume increases by 30 percent, which greatly improves the supply of oxygen available to the cells.14
Through intensive practice of chi gong, "a whole set of beneficial psychological and spiritual conditions emerge," observes Paul Dong in his book Chi Gong: The Ancient Chinese Way to Health. Besides promoting emotional well-being, chi gong exercises build patients' confidence and steel their will to defeat cancer. Dong, who has practiced chi gong since 1980, notes that positive attitude plays a role in curing disease. He likens chi gong's apparent immune-boosting effects to Western mind-body healing approaches such as the new field of psychoneuroimmunology.
In addition to internal chi gong, the manipulation of energy flow within one's own body, there is also external chi gong, the reputed ability to project one's internal chi toward another body. In external chi therapy, widely accepted in China for the treatment of many disorders, no physical contact is required. The advanced chi gong expert simply projects his or her chi energy through the fingers or palm toward the patient, thereby purportedly killing cancer cells. External chi gong practitioners in China claim that through this technique, they can destroy bacteria and transmit health-promoting energies. They believe they have proven the existence of chi as a physical reality evident in psychokinetic (mind-over-matter) powers, clairvoyance, and healing effects. To skeptics, these assertions spring from self-deception and heightened suggestibility.
Paul Dong tells of a Japanese cancer victim, with a tumor the size of an egg deeply imbedded in his nasal cavity, who made a trip to a Beijing hospital to undergo external chi therapy. After twelve days of treatment, the man's tumor had shrunk and his pain had considerably eased.15 Dr. Feng Li-da, professor of immunology at Beijing College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, has done many experiments on external chi transmission and claims that a chi gong expert can destroy uterine cancer cells, gastric cancer cells, flu virus, and colon and dysentery bacilli with varying degrees of success. In The Scientific Basis of Chi Gong, Professor Xie Huan-zhang of Beijing Industrial College states that chi effects detected with scientific instruments include magnetic fields, infrared radiation, infrasound, and ion streams of visible light and superfaint luminescence.16
Dong stresses that external chi treatment should only be considered a temporary measure. But he also suggests that if a patient is too weak or otherwise unable to practice chi gong regularly, external chi should be tried. Combinations of internal and external chi treatment can also be attempted.
Acupuncture is another Chinese therapeutic method for changing the flow or quality of the life force and rebalancing body energies. The Chinese say that chi circulates within fourteen major meridians, or energy channels, traversing the body from the top of the head to the tips of the fingers and toes. Each meridian is connected to an internal organ. Specific points on each invisible channel, when stimulated, affect the flow of chi in that and other channels or in the associated organs. By stimulating these points with extremely fine needles or massage, acupuncture unblocks energy or adjusts its flow. Inserting and manipulating the needles-hairlike slivers of stainless steel-is believed to correct the imbalances that underlie disease.
Acupuncture has been used to treat persistent pain, arthritis, asthma, infertility, and acute and chronic diseases. In cancer, it can alleviate the pain and functional disorders associated with the illness, for example, improving the ability to swallow in victims of esophageal cancer. Acupuncture is also used to mitigate the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, and has been employed as a primary treatment for very early signs of breast and cervical cancer, though the Chinese are more likely to utilize herbal remedies to support immunity and control malignant growth. Acupuncture can also be helpful in stress reduction and the alleviation of pain following surgery.
Some practitioners advise against acupuncture in the treatment of cancer, arguing that the increased energy flow and circulation pose a risk of spreading the disease. Most others disagree, however, pointing to the benefits already cited. Leukemia has been successfully treated with acupuncture therapy.1~7 In addition, acupuncture has exhibited a wide range of actions in boosting immunity, including increasing the number of white blood cells,~18 boosting natural killer cell activity,19 and increasing the amount of B-cells, which manufacture antibodies, chemicals that help destroy foreign invaders in the body.20 Acupuncture also elevates the levels of circulating immunoglobulins and stimulates the production of red blood cells.
A major use of acupuncture, at least in China, is as an alternative to anesthesia during surgery. Dr. David Eisenberg of Harvard Medical School assisted with the acupuncture during a surgical operation performed on a fifty-eight-year-old man who had a chestnut-sized tumor located in the center of his brain. The successful surgery was done without anesthesia at the Beijing Neurosurgical Institute. The patient remained totally awake and responsive during brain surgery and felt no pain. He laughed and talked with Dr. Eisenberg during the four-hour operation while a few well-placed, ultrathin needles protected him from pain.21
Since acupuncture needles are extremely fine, minimal or no pain is experienced when they are inserted. Many people feel a slight pinprick when the needle goes in, followed by another mild sensation as the needle goes deeper. The response to acupuncture treatment is highly individual; many patients report a dreamy sense of relaxed well-being and elation. The needles are often left in place for twenty to thirty minutes.
For those who feel uncomfortable with the idea of needles being stuck in them, other techniques are available to stimulate the acupuncture points and balance the body's energy system. The points can be activated by acupressure, a term encompassing several massage techniques, such as tui na, a traditional Chinese system to mobilize chi and promote blood circulation. In shiatsu, a Japanese equivalent of Chinese massage, the practitioner presses his or her fingers into the acupuncture points and massages them. The points are held for just three to five seconds. In another technique, moxibustion, the glowing tip of a tiny cone of smoldering moss is held next to the acupuncture point. When the patient finds it too hot, the moxa stick, made of compressed dried leaves of Chinese mugwort, is withdrawn. Finally, electroacupuncture devices stimulate the points without any needles or bodily invasion. .
The energy meridians and acupuncture points are invisible-if they exist, they do not correspond to any known anatomical entities. Critics dismiss acupuncture as a placebo effect. However, it is now known that acupuncture triggers a significant release of morphinelike substances called endorphins and enkephalins, natural painkillers that also promote healing and relieve depression. Some scientists speculate that the needles cause an anesthetic effect in surgery by closing "gates" to the brain along the spinal cord, blocking the pain message so it isn't felt. Nobel Prize-nominee Robert Becker, M.D., a pioneer in tissue repair and regeneration through electrotherapy, has theorized that the meridians are electrical conductors and the acupuncture points, amplifiers. With the help of a biophysicist, Dr. Becker proved to his satisfaction that "at least the major parts of the acupuncture charts had, as thejargon goes, 'an objective basis in reality.'"22
Two French physicians have done a series of intriguing experiments that they claim make visible the acupuncture meridian system. Jean-Claude Darras, M.D., and Professor Pierre de Vernejoul, M.D, injected radioactive isotopes into the acupoints of patients and traced the isotopes' uptake by gamma-camera imaging. They found that the isotopes migrated along the classical Chinese meridian pathways. In contrast, injecting the isotopes into random points on the skin produced no such results. Further tests demonstrated that the migration was not through the vascular or lymphatic system. The research, conducted at the Nuclear Medical Section of Neckar Hospital in Paris, was reported at the World Research Foundation Congress in 1986.
When seeking a doctor in the United States who practices Oriental medicine, cancer patients need to be aware of what doctors can do and what patients can learn to do for themselves. According to Dr. Roger Jahnke, "There are four basic things that the doctor of Chinese medicine can do for you: herbal prescriptions, acupuncture, massage, and external chi gong. At least as important, however, are the things the doctor can teach you to do for yourself. These include guidance in the use of tonic or wellness herbs, in proper nutrition, and in devising a suitable exercise program that may involve activities like swimming or walking. A competent practitioner can also teach the patient self-applied massage, meditation and relaxation techniques, and chi gong exercises. Finally, the doctor can offer guidance to help patients fulfill their unique spiritual purpose. Prospective patients should look for a doctor who provides all of these things, or one who can help patients network to all of these things, from body care up to the spiritual components of health."