I did watch an episode of Is it Real? the other night though, and I thought it was interesting. They were investigating spiritual energies, including what the Chinese call qi (pronounced "chee") and what the Hindu's call it prana.
One of the people they featured was martial artist George Dillman, who can not only knock people out using pressure points but also without even touching them by using his qi. Dillman is no fraud or stage magician though, he is a legitimate black belt in Ryukyu Kempo Tomari-te and has even trained with Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali. He was not only shown knocking people out without touching them, but he was also shown to be able to make a line of people move without even being able to see them (and them not being able to see him).
Two scientists who were skeptical of his ability to knock people out with his qi were bought on the show, and they felt his ability had more to do with hypnotic suggestion than qi. They thought the people being knocked out were expecting it to happen, so therefore, it happened. One of the skeptical scientists even let one of Dillman's top students attempt to knock him out with his qi (I'm not sure why Dillman himself didn't try; they may have been filming the scientists in different location where Dillman wasn't present). Dillman's student failed to knock the scientist out with his qi. Afterwards, Dillman said if a person was holding their tongue a certain way, it wouldn't work, or if they press one big toe against the floor while raising the other big toe up, it wouldn't work. Dillman did appear to have an impressive ability, but in the end, he sounded like he was just making excuses.
Another person featured in the episode was a clinical psychologist named Howard Hall who is also a hypnotist. He went to Baghdad in 1998 to investigate whether or not a sect of Sufi Muslims who perform self mutilations without any apparent ill effects and then heal almost instantly were under some sort of hypnotic suggestion. The Sufis shown had blades in their chest, head, and mouth. According to their belief, a sheikh channels the energy and 'protects' them. Dr. Hall did not think the faithful who were mutilating themselves were under any sort of hypnotic suggestion and was so impressed by what they were doing that he asked the sheikh if he could have 'protection' too. The sheikh said he could, and Hall stabbed a pointed object through his cheek with no ill effect.
After that experience, Hall began studying the Sufi religion and agreed to repeat the mutilation for National Geographic. He and another doctor used some sort of machine that supposedly shows a person's aura (something similar to Kirlian photography, but more updated). After Hall stabbed an ice pick through his cheek from inside his mouth, a gap was shown in what was alleged to be his aura where the ice pick had been in his cheek. He bled very little and the wound closed up quickly.
The skeptics brought in to counter Hall's claims didn't think the machine that supposedly shows an aura could be trusted, and they had their own machine that they claimed was similar and showed why the machine Dr. Hall used couldn't necessarily be trusted (although their machine that they claimed was similar seemed to be quite different to me...I'm not sure if it was really an accurate comparison). Another doctor said that the wound Hall inflicted on himself was small and he wasn't surprised that it didn't bleed much. He also said putting pressure on it afterwards probably helped to close the wound up quickly. So he wasn't impressed with how quickly the wound healed; he thought the healing seemed normal.
The show also featured a Hindu version of a shady televangelist who was setup by a debunker with a group of people with problems that they made up. The shady Hindu holy man, who I don't doubt was a fraud -- he was deceiving the poor and making himself wealthy (and he had a shady looking smirk on his face too) -- didn't catch on to the deception being played on him and he was considered debunked...and this case, I think the debunker was right on.
The show also featured a guy who could inflict self mutilation without ill effects who claimed it was just mind over matter. I think the program basically just featured that guy because he didn't claim to use any spiritual energies -- in other words, they were just showing more evidence of their bias against the concept of spiritual energies.
They also featured some yogic flyers who don't really fly, but just sit in the lotus position and then start hopping quickly across the floor. Apparently they get really happy and just start hopping. It looks hard to do, but I'm assuming Nat Geo took the stance that there wasn't really any spiritual energy involved and just included it as part of their bias against the belief in spiritual energies.
But anyways, lets look and Dillman and Hall again, who were the two most intriguing people featured in the episode. In the end, it looked like Dillman's ability may have had more to do with hypnotic suggestion than qi, and Dillman was left making excuses. I've often wondered if hypnotic suggestion may be how televangelist Benny Hinn is able to knock people down with a light touch. However, hypnotic suggestion still doesn't explain how Dillman was able to make a line of people move without them being able to see him. In the end, it may have appeared that the skeptics won in Dillman's case, but I'm not thoroughly convinced. I think it may still be possible that Dillman really does know how to use his qi to make people move (or knock them out).
In Hall's case, I don't even think the debunkers did a very good job of debunking it. The doctor may have been correct in saying he thought the wound closed up and healed in a normal way, but it still doesn't explain how Hall was able to jab an ice pick through his cheek without feeling pain. And even if you think the machine that supposedly can show a person's aura is hokey, it still doesn't explain how Hall could jab an ice pick through his cheek without feeling pain.
In the end, Nat Geo took the position that the abilities had less to do with spiritual energies and more to do with the power of the mind and the belief in an ability. And although I agree that the mind and belief can be very powerful, I'm not convinced that spiritual energies don't exist. I think there is ample evidence to suggest that spiritual energies do exist, even if little of that evidence was present in that particular Nat Geo program.