Super Bowls and Acupuncture

Happy Super Bowl Sunday everybody! Are you excited? Going to a Super Bowl party? Got any money riding on the outcome? Before you start your festivities I’d like you to read a blurb from Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. Take a gander and lets look at some of the implications it has for our profession.

Let me tell you some of my thoughts. Linky here to the article.

First off, the news to me isn’t that pro athletes are getting needled. I remember reading in USA Today way back in ’85 of the second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles getting poked. If you are attuned to such things and you live in a town with pro athletes you hear that some of them are getting acupuncture. Hell, even I needled a pro bike racer in ’94, the day before his race- and his teammates who saw me doing it didn’t think it unusual at all. No, Acupuncture penetrated Tongue out the pro athlete community at a very early date.

What I find more interesting about the article though is Peter King writing about it and how he writes about it. King is your basic middle-aged guy. Overweight, couple girls in college, likes to write about patriotism and soldiers in Afghanistan without condemning the war, voted for Obama but you could see him voting republican in the past, lives in suburban New Jersey. Loves football. So in this section of his article, when he takes the tone of making acupuncture out to be this weird exotic thing, a tone that was normal for the press to take when they wrote about acupuncture until recently, I have to realize that still for a huge segment of the population (in this case mainly men) acupuncture is just not on the radar as a possible treatment.

Again, consider his audience- middle aged and younger men. Mostly middle class going toward working class. In many ways these guys aspire to be Peter King.  And when I say “these guys” I’m thinking of oh 200+ million Americans and it includes a lot of women too. I say guys because they are the core of this particular demographic. 98% of these guys have never given acupuncture one thought before reading this article.

But then, why would they have given acupuncture any thought? If you go back to the beginning of what I’m writing, how many of you are actually psyched in any way about the Super Bowl? I’d say that 90% of us Punks roll our eyes at the mention of the words Super and Bowl. To my little brain we are seeing a disconnect between our profession and our country. 

To me, if our profession is gonna get any type of traction in this country, if its gonna be taken seriously at all, we have to reach out to these folks who like the Super Bowl.  Not just reach out: we have to be able to banter with them. We have to be them. Boutique Acupuncture has always shunned these folks because its so narrowly geared towards rich people. (Pro athletes fit into that profile.) Only Community Acupuncture has a chance to work with these folks. But just being a CA clinic isn’t enough. You actually have to, you know, be part of your community. Said community (walk around your neighborhood) has a lot of football fans.

What we Punks tend to gravitate to are the anti-football fans. The folks who like to do things during the Super Bowl because the movies and restaurants or hiking trails are so empty during the game. Nothing wrong with them at all. Its just that confining ourselves to just them pigeon holes us a odd ducks. Quirky. Eccentric. Not necessary. Not important. 

The FPD fanboys think the way to reach the Peter King demographic is to get a Doctorate. The flaw in that logic of is that most Doctors are in the Peter King demographic and they feel most comfortable relating to others who are like-minded. If we Punks insist on staying quirky then we won’t be taken seriously and our profession won’t grow. I am not saying we need to put down our prayer beads and Buddha books. I am saying we need to relate to others around us. 

Enjoy the game. Myself, I hope the Cards beat the tar out of Pissburgh. 

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.


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  1. !!!

    what the..? 314 needles? that’s crazy. other than that i do think it’s great the way the author talks about acupuncture in this matter-of- fact, down to earth way. it is worth paying attention to that.

    and… i appreciate your point skip, but what if you just do not like football? i don’t, and know plenty of what you would call “regular” american that feel the same way. it does not mean i would not be comfortable with someone else relating their excitement about the superbowl, but when it is not my thing, i cannot pretend that it is. it would not at all help me feel more part of anything. i also think that when we get to know peole personally, we all have quirks. and relating to others authentically is a lifetime practice and an art…


  2. Yeah. So we have to

    put down our Nei Jings, finish our rice milk, get off the couch and meet the folks.  We get it.

  3. A couple of replies

    First, I’m not condemning any one practitioner for not liking football, a common american spectator sport. We all have our own paths. However as a group if we are to ever enjoy treating most of America we have to eventually be able to relate to most of america. We are a service industry first, a way for personal enlightenment, second. being able to banter with our patients is vital and if we are too far removed from most of our culture then there’s simply no way that our profession will grow. We are not a priesthood but too often I get the vibe from practitioners that we are. Its all about them.

    We do do a decent job with the types of people who don’t particularly value things like football. Rich people. Alternative, new age people. They’ve always been our focus groups.  Before CA came along there was little chance of ever breaking out of these groups.  Now in theory we do have that chance. I think we could become as common as dirt.

    But breaking through to men is not so easy. And by men I don’t mean the types of males who go to Acu-school or those who think “yoga” when they think exercise or who see Gangaji. I’m talking about the guys who read Peter King or who would if they liked football. Again I am not asking for practitioners to put up a false front, but somehow we need to move beyond where we are now.


  4. agreed

    and yes, i often wish i could do better at getting through to “regular” american men or other people who i do not have cultural resonanse with. i actually find wealthy people just as difficult, generally speaking. sometimes it can surprise you though…

    when i was a starving yoga teacher living in chicago, some 15 years ago, i had a private yoga client, a woman, who happened to be the vice president of a huge university hospital. she once invited me to teach some yoga at a day-long retreat for “young presidents’ club” – all members had major executive positions before the age of forty. it was at fancy country club in the suburbs and i had to take the train. my yoga client lady was the only woman in the group – the rest of them were suit-and-tie white guys. it was a challenge just to get them to sit on the floor for a few minutes. i quickly realized that we had to keep things pretty simple and worked out a way to get them to do a bit of breathing and stretching and being witht heir bodies. they loved it. then we all had lunch together and they could not stop asking me questions about yoga and health and stress management. one of the guys offered me a ride back to the city. i felt a bit weary of the long drive with this guy who i felt i had nothing in comon with. i guess i also had a lot of liberal judgement running through my head, but i said yes. we talked while he drove us back to chicago. turned out that he was very easy to connect with, had been all over the world and even though we disagreed on many things, that conversation really opened my mind. just thought i’d share…


  5. Theres an Aussie in the Cardinals this year

    Ah Superbowl Sunday. I am at my clinic with a surprisingly busy shift and I read this post and then asked my patients what they were doing here on Superbowl Sunday. A gamut of answers.Some were getting away while the hubbie was minding the kids, some were not interested , others had made appointments and needed to be out much sooner than their usual lazy Sunday treatment and needed to get back to do some cooking. One came in and told me that there was an Aussie in the Cardinals this year and I googled it and found that he had finished his Aussie Rules career in Oz at the ripe old age of 30 and in his dotage a lucky trade had him in the Cardinals just right now.

    For me coming from Oz ,growing up with 4 brothers comandeering the living room for footy in the winter and cricket in the summer Superbowl Sunday is a little slice of my childhood and a great chance to natter with the mostly women in the kitchen while the men jump up and down on some couch . Comfortable as an old flip flop or as we say in Australia, thong!!I am due to take chili to my kid and his friends after I am done here

    I like having clinic on Superbowl Sunday as it is sooooo quiet out there and my patients seem to love being able to come here to get away from it or the fact that they can nick round the corner for a shortened treatment and still get back to see the Steelers get slaughtered. 

  6. I’m hip to your lingo…


    I so agree with you.  Gene & I were just talking about this very same thing, and it’s the same message that I try to convey to our other partners.  We should be traveling through our “hoods”, meeting folks that work at the grocery store or fix our cars..etc..The Whole Foods people aren’t interested..or they already have a “FABULOUS acupuncturist.”  

    Anywho, great post…

    Melonie (Sarasota CA) 

  7. awesome blog post

    this is a subject that ive thought a lot about being involved in activist communities over the last few years. for all the “community building” that gets talked about so much why is it that for every infoshop, community center, protest, etc. why is it always the same group of assorted (mostly young and white) punk rockers and a few token wing nuts who show up to every meeting that ultimately falls apart? in a sense it is a real community, but only a small sample of the world outside of our cliquish counter-culture, and this sort of community isnt sustainable. i see CAN as stepping out of this same naieve assumption that our profession has held on to for so long. we are asking the same question activists should be asking, which is why do only a few hundred people show up for an average protest which undoubtedly has a very negative impact on all of us, but many thousands will show up for a sporting event on any given day? we cant live in our ghettos any longer and hope to be “as common as dirt”….what a great thought. ultimately it seems to me that being yourself and finding more of what makes you the same as the next person and taking a true interest in trying to understand who they are is what creates real connection and mutal respect. it did me a lot of good to look at myself and how i box myself in to MY world…the greatest and most intelectually profound of them all of course, to see how i could change that and i learned how much more enjoyable and interesting life really is. people i meet also became more willing to share themselves too. i think people for the most part care more about if you are real with them much more than whether you like stupid haircuts and obscure eating habits and they like football….they often will respect you even more for it if you respect them for who they are.

  8. Good discussion.

    I’m chewing my thoughts still (lots of thoughts about treating/reaching men) but curious if anyone saw this Kremer pre-game show and if they referred to the acupuncture in it.  Because I’m with Tatyana, my first response was “314!?!?!?!”  (A patient invited me to a superbowl-watching party – it didn’t work out for me to go, unfortunately; I’m not a big pro football fan but being a Big 10 alum I have sympthies.)

  9. Thanks for bringing this up

    Thanks for bringing this up again, Skip. It reminds me of a conversation we had a few months ago ( I have to say that I feel the need to reach out to the average joes, but at the same time I sometimes feel like I’m talking to a wall and that I shouldn’t waste too much time on it because it doens’t pay off in the short term.

    I do think that we shouldn’t give up on this group of people–middle-aged, middle-class, average education, etc; even tho we don’t get immediate results (in terms of appointments made). I have to believe that long term results will be different. The more people are exposed to acupuncture, the less weird it will seem, so this work, this reaching out beyond our comfort level is important, too. 

    Oh, and too bad “pissburgh” won. I was rooting for the underdog, too.

    Darlene Berger

    Community Health Acupuncture Center

    801 Livernois, Ferndale, MI 48220


  10. Football

    I hate it.

    Guys on the job site are aright with it.

    Plenty of working class folks don’t watch football. 


  11. Macho acupuncture

    I always enjoy it when I get a macho type in my practice
    because I have developed a rap to address their skepticism. I used to work in
    construction, I was a journeyman in two different trades, so I spent many hours
    around these types. My two older brothers are still in the trades. I sometimes
    tell people about how I also worked as an auto body mechanic, and that the work
    I do as an acupuncturist is kind of similar. As an auto body mechanic, I
    needed to develop a fine sense of feel to feel the smallest scratches, dents or
    imperfections in a body panel. Now, I do human body work, again feeling for
    imperfections or abnormalities in the flesh (I rely a lot on palpation in my
    technique). The one big difference I point out, is that in auto body work, you
    must fix the imperfections directly in real time. But in human body work, because
    the human body has the ability to repair itself, you don’t have to directly repair
    the imperfections. You can make adjustments in the flesh by stimulating
    problems spots, then step-back and let the body’s self-healing ability take
    over and repair itself.

    So when I meet these types, I give them a very firm hand
    shake and shade my explanations of the practice toward the almost mechanical aspects
    of it. With my experience of working two trades in construction and auto body
    work, I try to get across that I am a guy who has fixed things with his hands
    most of my life and now I am fixing people instead of buildings or cars. This
    helps break the ice and makes them feel less stupid for trying acupuncture, but
    of course I have to deliver positive results or else they will be gone. I am
    going to copy this Peter King article as the great things this football player
    had top say about acupuncture is impressive although I will make sure to point
    out 314 needles is overkill.

    By the way, the guy featured in the article – James Harrison
    – was named the defensive player of the year this year and he intercepted a
    pass at the goal line and ran it back 100 yards for a touchdown that ended-up
    winning the Super Bowl for the Steelers. Learning now that he is a big
    supporter of acupuncture makes me feel better about it as I was rooting for the
    Cardinals. They should have went no huddle much earlier in the game.

  12. Machopuncture!

    I think I need to create a flier with that heading…

    Thanks for this set of metaphors; I tend to think in terms of textiles (or gardening or cooking metaphors) since those tend to be the kinds of material things I know a tiny bit about manipulating.

    Heaven help us when there’s nobody left who knows how to make or fix or grow *stuff* (though I suppose coding is also apt).  We had a lot of men at Grassroots who were landscapers, and they were always good patients. 


  13. I think this is an important

    I think this is an important discussion, but I also think we need to be careful not to “other” working class people/ average joes.  Maybe I feel differently because I did grow up working class, but the only reason I didn’t watch the superbowl is because New England wasn’t in it!  And actually, I did watch the final quarter, very exciting…

  14. Most of my clients

    are middle aged, middle class and average education.  They hear acu works from their friends and come right on in.

  15. Journey vs. Career

    It seems that our profession will only become more “normal” if we can become known as a viable career option financially. Right now most of us got into acu because it was somehow tied up with our “path”. This is cool and all, but it does seem to foster more of that “inessential wierdness” that has been discussed. I’ve heard that the student demographic is starting to change at the bigger schools. A more practical minded student population will look for business models that work, meaning more interest in CA. So CAN is the revolution that will bring us into the mainstream? Man, I hope so.

  16. Slinger

    <Darlene wrote: at the same time I sometimes feel like I’m talking to a wall and that I shouldn’t waste too much time on it because it doens’t pay off in the short term.> 

    I was raised in a small, conservative, WI town of 2,000 people…prior to entering TCM school I’d never heard of Reiki, didn’t know who Caroline Myss was, and had never seen a chiropractor.  I remember one of my high school classmates deciding that she wanted to go to massage school, and I thought “Oh, massage–that’s so exotic and unusual!”  My family and friends thought I was weird for going to acupuncture school, and when I told them that it takes a series of visits for someone to get better, they thought I’d lost my mind.  “Who’s going to do THAT?!” they wanted to know.  (There are still no acupuncturists in that county of Wisconsin.)

    For me, the idea that body work (like acupuncture) needs to be received regularly was a foreign concept.  It took a long time for me to appreciate that intellectually.  Even now as a patient, I struggle with making a commitment to receiving such for myself with any frequency…it wasn’t something I grew-up with. 

    So I *get* how frustrating it can be (as a practitioner) to explain to someone that they need to come in 3 or 4 times a week until their symptoms diminish, but then having them drift-off from care shortly thereafter…and I also *get* how challenging it is to incorporate a shift like that into my own life (as a patient).

    I think that there are lots of different types of patients in our practices.  Some are able to commit to being seen as often as necessary, some struggle with it and do the best that they can, and with others we may feel like we are “talking to a wall”. 

    Here’s an analogy that works for me…  When watering a plant, if the soil is bone dry from neglect, you cannot dump a pitcher full of water in it at once…the water will pour-off the dirt and wash away the soil.  It’s too much; overload.  ~  When watering a plant that has already been well-maintained, you can add more water more quickly and it will be readily received, soak into the soil more effectively. 

    I see the same in my practice.  Patients who haven’t already learned how to take care of themselves can’t go from neglect to saturation overnight… sometimes they have to incorporate our services into their lives a little at a time, like a slow gentle rain soaking into the dry earth…  So they may not come in with the frequency *we* want at first, but they will come back…and back…and back again until it becomes a new way of their expanding lives…

    <The more people are exposed to acupuncture, the less weird it will seem, so this work, this reaching out beyond our comfort level is important, too.>  Bingo.  Smile

    “Let the beauty we love be what we do.  There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” –Rumi

  17. Thurmont

    My husband has an office in a community like this here in MD.  He told me that he’s learned to not say the words “qi” “energy” or “meridian” because they’re too weird for the community.  I actually had a twelve-year-old patient say to me once, “Can you please stop saying the word ‘Meridian!’  I find that offensive.”  Language can be such a barrier sometimes, and we don’t even realize it.

    My DH uses the garden-hose analogy: when there’s a kink or knot in the hose, water can’t get thru…he talks about how we gets kinks in our bodies and the needles help untie them so the blood and nutrition can flow properly again.  He says he’s putting needles along a pathway that’s similar to our nervous system; most people understand that.

    The chiro I worked w/in the past used an oil change analogy: you take your car in for a 3,000 mile oil change…need to do the same with your body. 

    “Let the beauty we love be what we do.  There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” –Rumi

  18. I have to ask…

    What did your patient find offensive about “meridian”?  (Also, just imagining what a self-righteous firebrand I would have been at 12 if I’d felt entitled to tell grownups when they offended me…)

  19. I have no idea.

    He said he was sick of hearing about qi and meridians from everybody in the media and just wanted the needles in already.  Watch-out world… 

    I remember when I was in school and everybody was talking about the energy work they’d studied, or the healing books they’d read, or the special cleansing diets they were on and I felt totally disconnected and out of the loop.  (So I crash-coursed and learned everything I could on it…) 

    When I remember how hearing about things I didn’t understand then made me feel inferior or like I wasn’t part of the “in” club of knowers, I can relate to how that language can also serve as a barrier in the clinic and make patients feel like they might not belong in the chairs… 

  20. Tailgating Acupuncture


    How timely is your post!!  I was just detailing to a client how this coming fall I’m going to do tailgating acupuncture to get more ‘manly men’ into the clinic.  A neighbor (in exchange for acu) will loan his cable tv signal (I’ll need to buy a long cable) and we’re going to set up a tv in the clinic, put out an APB for those with old football related injuries, get them in with their friends during the game, serve popcorn, chips, dip!  What’s not to love.  When they can move their limbs again, they’ll start telling the gang.  God, get these guys on video–group sports mob mentality.  How can it not succeed??  We’re also planning on Acupuncture at Wimbledon, complete with strawberries and cream.  Tennis elbow anyone?


  21. I meant Tailgaiting!!

    Geez, I mean Tailgaiting, not tailgating!  Although, if anyone can come up with a definition for that, I’m certainly willing to try it.


  22. Beer?

    Beer?  Will you serve beer? Nachos?

    What happens if there is a dramatic play and everyone throws thier hands in the air and ends up bending all those SJ5 needles?Oh, the tragedy.

    Do you think AAC will cover you for such an event?



    (who has fond memories of growing with the 70’s Dalls Cowboys — will there ever be another Staubach?) 

    Circle Community Acupuncture

    San Francisco

  23. I’m a huge football fan.

    I’m a huge football fan. Manchester City FC all the way!  Those dirty Man Utd. fans are nothing but a bunch of glory seekers.

  24. acu jargon

    This type of issue gets me going because I have gone through the same experience too often: “…hearing about things I didn’t understand then made me feel inferior or like I wasn’t part of the “in” club of knowers…”

    I make a point to explain anything I want to share re acupuncture theory with my patients and friends in simple digestable analogies. After treating regular folks for years I notice my heckles go up when someone asks me about terms I’m not sure I even really understand, like”qi”. I find I can communicate honestly and clearly with people without bringing “stomach qi” and “yin deficiency” into the conversation.

    I think it makes sense to relate with my patients using terms they are already familiar with. Developing and using regular language to describe acu jargon concepts takes a little more creative thinking, but it makes the ideas clear for my patients, and that’s what matters.

    – Moses

  25. Couldn’t agree more with Moses.

    My tact is to avoid OM language at any cost with my patients.

    Functionally descriptive metaphors are often worth a laugh and most importantly, understood more easily than say…the term ‘dampness’.

    Thanks to Matt and others who have shared their talking points – it’s all very helpful.

  26. yeah, what’s up with 314 needles?

    I got your point loud and clear, Skip.  Trying to be a football fan would mean trying to be something I am not, BUT, I am a mountain biking fan.  I will be out with some cycle advocates working on building some trails on Saturday.