Improv Acupuncture—effective and rapid relief from stress & pain

I have been rolling some thoughts around in my head for a while now that attempt to describe my acupunk process in the clinic. I observe this process in all of my coworkers at WCA as well and it seems important to find some words for it. What I came up with so far is something I call Improv Acupuncture.

What is improvising? In her book Improv Wisdom, Barbara Ryan Madson shares this description: “A good improviser is someone who is awake, not entirely self-focused, and moved by a desire to do something useful and give something back and who acts upon that impulse.” I find that improvising acupuncture tx’s, using the observantly awake and giving communication method suggested in the book Improv Wisdom, is awesomely effective and efficient. Improv acupuncture seems to be a natural method for helping patients in the CA setting.

When I think of improvising acupuncture treatments I picture myself carefully observing my patient as we discuss their health concerns and following acupuncture treatment and then developing a clear and specific plan of action based on a these varied observations. I develop my plan of action by combining my patient’s main concerns with my observations of the state of health of my patient, a distilled result of the verbal and non-verbal cues communicated between acupunk and patient. Once the direction of the first treatment is clear, actions like how to most effectively communicate with my patient and specific point selection for their specific concerns emerge easily and clearly.

A note on observing patients: observing patients for me is about carefully tuning into how my patient is feeling, picking up information that is being unconsciously shared by the person in front of me. This feeling that I tune into is a mix of particular forms of unconscious self-expression in varying levels of intensity; for example, the look in her/is eyes, fast or slow physical movement, loud or soft voice, tense or relaxed body, and active or quiet pulse. All these signs come together quickly in the clinic to form a specific impression-mood-feeling. It takes careful observation to grasp a clear impression of feeling in my experience. I can always get a general impression, we all do that all day long in everyday interactions. Truly observing is simple to do, yet not always so easy. It takes work from my experience. It also pays off big time in building trust with our patients.

The basic theoretical know-how for which regions of the body help for which issues are already known to us as acupunks to a large degree. Even if you are always learning more, you know enough right now to create a powerful treatment.

To understand why I think acupuncture can be provided in an improvised method it may be useful to get a sense of how I view health and dis-ease in general:

My view of how we get into dis-ease: 1- fear and negative thoughts that come from our past experiences stimulate us into holding stress in our body (in the form of tension) and stress in our mind (in the form of fear, anxiety, and depression); 2- This stress feels many different ways in our body and mind. It often feels like pressure or a blockage, making our bodies feel tired and internally stuck somehow. Other feelings that come up are fear, sadness, frustration, anger, and so on…(insert negative emotion here)

My view of how we heal: 1- find a way to release the built up stress in our body and mind on a regular basis. Regularly releasing physical and emotional tension offsets the daily build up of stress that happens in all of us from life experience; 2- I also think there is value in consciously questioning our unconsciously accepted beliefs that may not be serving us. Acupuncture has a way of clearing away the mental chatter/ monkey mind for a time so that our intuitive sense or inner authentic voice is more perceptible. Moments of clear-headed contemplation that sometimes follow acupuncture treatments can be used to become more self-aware. In these moments of silent contemplation, we can sometimes identify some of our beliefs that are not serving us well. With the awareness of where we are feeling resistance in our beliefs, we have the chance to question those beliefs and possibly replace them with new ones that serve us well. I suspect that there is some version of a negative thought clearing process that acupuncture helps to us to work through without consciously trying to do it.

Improv Acupuncture for me is all about using my acupuncture knowledge in an intuitive way. Remember Lisa and Skip sharing the idea of using your heart first, hands second, and head last to practice acupuncture? Improvising is my interpretation of how this process works for me. I find that as I use my intuitive process to observe and care for my patients, improvising my acupuncture treatments, I work very effectively and quickly.

Improvising works well for my patients and for me. I invite you to consider how it might work for you.


Moses Cooper
Author: Moses Cooper

hello POCA family, I found community acupuncture in the early days of Working Class Acupuncture. I was lucky enough to be the first trial employee at WCA in 2005 after Lisa and Skip survived a string of uncomfortable independent contractor acupuncturists. I remember showing up during a clinic expansion painting moment and grabbing a brush. I was feeling grateful to be working with folks that were so obviously helping people of all kinds afford pokes. That was a very attractive bottom line at the time, and still is! I consider my family roots working poor where I come from, so I was both familiar with and willing to 'walk through the fire' to figure out how to punk. I was a well-meaning, yet slow and mentally mired punk in the early days. I made all the communication mistakes you can make as a newbie poker... It took all of my energy to develop a punk mindset and clinic awareness. I often felt like I was on trial both from my employers and my patients as I figured out the basics of being a real punk. Having solid boundaries instead of being over-comforting; connecting with subtle body language as much as...

Related Articles

Conference Keynote: Breaking the Ceiling

The theme for this conference is “Breaking Barriers”. You know, there are so many barriers to break in acupuncture that it was really hard to choose which ones to talk about for this speech. But since I’ve spent so much time talking about classism as a barrier, I thought it might be fun to shift gears a little and talk about numbers.


  1. Thanks

    Few things delight an author more than to have her work become useful to others. I love your application of the ideas of improv to acupuncture. I am a fan and believer in your work and can see many connections to the philosophy of improvising. Thanks so much for mentioning the book in your blog. It made my day!
    Oh, and I like my new first name! TA-DA!!!
    Patricia Ryan Madson
    Warmest regards

  2. Hello Patricia,

    It kind of blows me away that you responded to my acupuncture blog. That’s so great! I am thoroughly enjoying your words of wisdom around staying present and awake in life in general. Many gems to be mined in your book. As you can see, I find these ideas are a great fit for working as a community acupuncturist. Glad you found CA and this blog.





  3. Wonderful!

    love it that it “blew you away” That is the magic of the Internet and the way we can find wholesome and nourishing ideas. Keep up your important work. Your patients are lucky. Here’s to a community of improvisors and those who help. Happy to meet you.
    Warm regards,