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Liberation Through Improvisation and Imperfection:
Stephen Nachmanovitch on PYP 444

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Stephen Nachmanovitch is an improvisational musician, and long-time teacher of improvisational arts. His 2019 book, The Art of Is, explores how we can use principles and practices of improv in our everyday lives.

As a long-time student (and occasional performer) of improv, I have first-hand knowledge of how these principles can enrich our experience and create opportunities for exploration, growth, and fun. What I didn't realize until reading The Art of Is is that improv can help us weave community, fight injustice, stay the course in the face of great odds, and heal ourselves and our planet.

In this episode, Stephen and I improvise a conversation (that's the only way to do it!) that explores some fundamental understandings of human potential. I come at it with an interest in how we can apply improv to be healthier in our everyday lives.

For example, many of my clients resist meal planning because they insist on spontaneity; the outcome, too often, of that spontaneity is unfortunate food choices made in the heat of the moment. Stephen highlights the Japanese tea ceremony as a delicate and robust balance of the intricately planned (the ritual) and the spontaneous (attention to the unique present circumstances).

We talk about how in improv, as in life, mistakes are opportunities for learning, and for new possibilities for action and connection.

And since the mantra of improvisational theater is “Yes, and…”, we explore how you can maintain an improvisational mindset when you refuse an offer – whether a piece of cheesecake, or as in the story of Shotaku and the Paper Sword of the Heart, a physical assault. Stephen helps us understand “how to refuse while remembering who you are.”

We cover the subtle art and science of cybernetics – essentially, course correcting through the interplay of a goal and attention to feedback. This is crucial in musical improvisation, especially on analog instruments like the violin, where there are infinite notes between the notes, and the fingers are always sliding, searching for accuracy. This relates to the challenge of self-regulation that all of us face as we navigate a world rife with unhealthy temptations. Stephen uses the metaphor of driving a car, constantly adjusting our steering, and not beating ourselves up for the myriad “mistakes” that we continually correct.

We explore the lessons of some of the heroes of The Art of Is, including Herbert Zipper, a holocaust survivor who wrote music for and conducted a clandestine orchestra at Buchenwald concentration camp, and John Cage, who composed a musical piece with a duration of 639 years.

We end the conversation with some concrete suggestions for bringing the benefits of improv to life, including practicing breathing in the supermarket, performing 1-minute pieces, and drawing a picture and then throwing it away in an artistic fashion.


The Art of Is, by Stephen Nachmanovitch

Free Play, by Stephen Nachmanovitch

Stephen's latest album: A Hermitage of Thrushes (improvisations with birds)

Searching for Sugarman – documentary

Csardas performance (not by me – the note that I could never hit comes it at 1:01)

Never Give Up – documentary about Herbert Zipper

John Cage, “As Slow As Possible” performance – 4 minutes worth, anyway

The Long Now Foundation

Hun Huur Tu Concert

Looking for Transformational Change?

You know how when you discovered plant-based eating, you basically went, “Holy shit, how come the entire healthcare system isn't totally embracing this as one of the most powerful keys to disease prevention and reversal!”?

That's how I feel now about a psychological approach to transformational change called “Memory Reconsolidation.” Few psychologists have heard about it, and when they do hear the radical transformations it can bring about in a very short time, they're often skeptical to the point of disbelief.

But I've added Memory Reconsolidation work to my own coaching, and can attest to its amazing efficacy. So much so, that I'm devoting the next year to mastering it, studying with the best clinicians and teachers in the world, and then introducing it into health coaching through my trainings.

Right now, I want to triple my coaching practice to get more and more opportunities to do this work. And I'm lowering my fees – a lot – to make it easier for people to work with me.

If you're interested in working with me (and willing to commit to a minimum of 2 months), click the link below to open the form in a new browser tab and I'll get back to you within 3 business days.

Yes, I'm interested in Memory Reconsolidation Coaching.

You CAN Change Other People!

Well, that's what Peter Bregman and I claim in our provocative book of that title.

What we really mean is, you can help the people around you make behavioral changes in their own best interests. If you think you're powerless to help people change, it's because you've been going about it the wrong way.

Discover our straightforward, replicable process here: You Can Change Other People.

Audiobook: Use the Weight to Lose the Weight

Listen to Josh LaJaunie and me narrate our latest audiobook, about how to start moving when you're obese.

It's $10, and Josh and I split it evenly 🙂

Tip Jar

This podcast is not underwritten by advertising, so I can experience complete editorial autonomy without worrying about pissing off the person paying the bills. Instead, I pay the bills, with your help. It's free for those who can't afford to pay, and supported by those who can. You can contribute to the growth and improvement of the podcast by clicking the “Support on Patreon” or “Donate” buttons on the right to help out.


The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.

It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.

You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website,


Thanks to Plant Yourself podcast patrons – Kim Harrison – Lynn McLellan – Brittany Porter – Dominic Marro – Barbara Whitney – Tammy Black – Amy Good – Amanda Hatherly – Mary Jane Wheeler – Ellen Kennelly – Melissa Cobb – Rachel Behrens – Tina Scharf – Tina Ahern – Jen Vilkinofsky – David Byczek – Michele X – Elspeth Feldman – Leah Stolar – Allan Kristensen – Colleen Peck – Michele Landry – Jozina – Sara Durkacs – Kelly Cameron – Janet Selby – Claire Adams – Tom Fronczak – Jeannette Benham – Gila Lacerte – David Donohue – Blair Seibert – Doron Avizov – Gio and Carolyn Argentati – Jodi Friesner – Mischa Rosen – Michael Worobiec – AvIvA Lael – Alicia Lemus – Val Linnemann – Nick Harper – Bandana Chawla – Molly Levine – The Inscrutable Harry R – Susan Laverty the Panda Vegan – Craig Covic – Adam Scharf – Karen Bury – Heather Morgan – Nigel Davies – Marian Blum – Teresa Kopel – Julian Watkins – Brid O'Connell – Shannon Herschman – Linda Ayotte – Holm Hedegaard – Isa Tousignant – Connie Haneline – Erin Greer – Alicia Davis – Heather O'Connor – Carollynne Jensen – Sheri Orlekoski of Plant Powered for Health – Karen Smith – Scott Mirani – Karen and Joe Crabtree – Kirby Burton – Theresa Carrell – Kevin Macaulay – Elizabeth Rothschild – Ann Jesse – Sheryl Dwyer – Jenny Hazelton – Peter W Evans – Dennis Bird – Darby Kelly – Lori Fanney – Linnea Lundquist – Emily Iaconelli – Levi Wallach – Rosamonde McAtee – Dan Pokorney – Stephen Leinin – Patty DeMartino – Mike and Donna Kartz – Deanne Bishop – Bilberry Elf – Marjorie Lewis – Tricia Adams – Nancy Sheldon – Lindsey Bashore – Gunn Marit Hagen – Tracey Gulledge – Lara Hedin – Meg from Mamasezz – Stacey Stokes – Ben Savage – Michael K – David Hughes -Coni Rodgers – Claire England – Sally Robertson – Parham Ganchi – Amy Dailey – Brian Tourville – Mark Jeffrey Johnson – Josie Dempsey – Caryn Schmitt – Pamela Hayden – Emily Perryman – Allison Corbett – Richard Stone – Lauren Vaught of Edible Musings – Erin Hastey – Sean Owens – Sagar Naik – Erika Piedra – Danielle Roberts – Michael Leuchten – Sarah Johnson – Katharine Floyd – Meryl Fury – for your generous support of the podcast.


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