Physically demanding sports such as tennis and basketball have a lot in common with skills such as playing the piano. In addition to physical training, mastering these activities requires developing mental and emotional talents as well. Drawing on his own experiences, Dan Millman, in this revised and updated edition of The Inner Athlete, offers a regimen to integrate physical training with psychological growth. He examines the motivations for athletic excellence and offers a transformative guide to success that is as applicable in everyday life as it is in sports.
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Body Mind MasteryCreating Success in Sport and Life
By Dan Millman
New World LibraryCopyright © 1999 Dan Millman
All right reserved.
Nature's way is simple and easy, but men prefer what is intricate and artificial.
- Lao Tzu
For fifteen years I trained with great energy in the sport of gymnastics. Even though I worked hard, progress often seemed slow or random, so I set out to study the process of learning. Beginning with standard psychological theory, I read studies of motivation, visualization, hypnosis, conditioning, and attitude training. My understanding grew, but only in bits and pieces. Reading Eastern philosophy, including the traditions of Taoist and Zen martial arts, expanded my knowledge, but I still lacked the understanding I sought.
Eventually, I turned to my own intuitive experience for the answers. I understood that infants learn at a remarkable pace compared to adults. I watched my little daughter Holly at play, to see if I could discover what qualities she possessed that most adults lacked.
One Sunday morning as I watched her play with our cat on the kitchen floor, my eyes darted from my daughter to the cat and back again, and a vision began to crystallize; an intuitive concept was forming in my mind about the development of talent - not just physical talent but emotional and mental talent as well.
I noticed that my young daughter's approachto play was as relaxed and mindless as the cat's, and I realized that the essence of talent is not so much a presence of certain qualities but rather an absence of the mental, physical, and emotional obstructions most adults experience.
After that discovery I found myself taking long walks alone, observing the forces of wind and water, trees and animals - their relationship to the earth. At first, I noticed only the obvious - that plants tend to grow toward the sun, that objects fall toward the earth, that trees bend in the wind, that rivers flow downhill.
After many such walks, nature removed her veil, and my vision cleared. I suddenly understood how trees bending in the wind embodied the principle of nonresistance. Visualizing how gentle running water can cut through solid rock, I grasped the law of accommodation. Seeing how all living things thrived in moderate cycles, I was able to understand the principle of balance. Observing the regular passing of the seasons, each coming in its own time, taught me the natural order of life.
I came to understand that socialization had alienated me (and most adults) from the natural order, characterized by free, spontaneous expression; my young daughter, however, knew no separation from things as they really are.
Still, such insights seemed more poetical than practical, until, in a single moment, the final piece fell into place. I was taking a hot shower, enjoying the soothing spray, when my busy mind suddenly became quiet and I entered a reverie. The realization stunned me: The laws of nature apply equally to the mind and the emotions.
This may not seem like a big deal to you, but I dropped the soap. Grasping how nature's laws apply equally to the human psyche, itself inseparable from the body, made all the difference for me. The principles or processes of training were no longer merely physical. They became psychophysical. My perceptions even made a subtle shift: where once I viewed the world as a material realm, I now began to see a world of subtle forces and flowing energy, thus reaffirming our unbreakable connection to the laws of nature.
After fifteen years of gymnastics, my real training had finally begun. All that remained was to put this understanding to use. As I did, the fruits of training began to spill over into daily life. Training became a way of life, not just a means to an end. And the game of athletics became a vehicle of body mind mastery - training for the game of life.
In describing the river of life, or the delicate, ephemeral existence of the butterfly, or the sway of trees in the wind, the Chinese sages were painting pictures, drawing metaphors that pointed to the natural laws, the source of all human wisdom. Master teachers have each pointed to the same truth: that personal growth requires us to integrate the wisdom of life experience with the laws of nature. Pursuing success in sport and life, I sought to align myself with the following lessons and laws:
Principle 1: Nonresistance
There are four ways to approach the forces of life:
Surrender to them fatalistically. Rocks, because they are inanimate, have little choice but to surrender passively to the natural laws.
Ignore them and, in ignorance, experience accidents, or create unnecessary struggle by swimming against the natural currents of life.
Resist them and create turmoil. If we resist what is - the natural flow of life - we waste energy and fight ourselves.
Use them and blend with nature. Like birds that ride the wind, fish that swim with the current, or bamboo that bends to absorb the weight of fallen snow, you can make use of natural forces. This is the real meaning of nonresistance. We can express the law of nonresistance in many ways:
Don't push the river.
Let it be.
Go with the flow.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
Turn problems into opportunities and stumbling blocks into stepping-stones.
On days of slow physical progress, you can cultivate patience and trust in the natural process of growth. Nonresistance transcends passive acceptance and actively rides the currents and cycles, making use of whatever circumstances arise.
True nonresistance requires and develops sensitivity and wisdom. For the master, outer accomplishments are significant only as indicators of one's alignment with natural law. Master golfers, for example, make intuitive use of the wind, of the direction the grass grows, of the moisture in the air and the curves of the land. They use gravity by letting the weight of the club head guide the swing in a relaxed rhythm. Master gymnasts learn to blend with the forces and circumstances in their environment. Masters of tennis learn to use the texture of the court to their advantage.
In daily life, those of us who resist change inhibit growth. Bob Dylan reminded us that those who aren't busy being born are busy dying.
What a caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly.
- Richard Bach
A martial arts principle teaches, "If pushed, pull; if pulled, push." You can use your opponents' movements to your advantage through nonresistance. Apply softness in the face of hardness - absorbing, neutralizing, and redirecting force. Body mind masters reject the adversarial mindset; they cease perceiving and resisting "enemies." Rather, they view opponents as teachers or sparring partners who challenge them to bring out their best.
The Martial Arts Principle of No-Collision
Test 1. Stand squarely in front of a partner. Tense your body. Have the partner push you with one hand as you resist. How does that feel? What happens? You are likely to lose your balance or control as your partner pushes you backward.
The next time he or she pushes, take a smooth step back; just let your body flow backward at the same speed as your partner's push. Give no resistance at all. What does this feel like? Do you feel the cooperation and harmony you have created? Centered and in control, you allow your partner to go where he or she wants to go.
Test 2. Stand with your right leg and right arm extended toward your partner; root both your feet lightly to the floor. Breathe slowly in your lower abdomen; relax. Cultivate a feeling of peace and goodwill. As you maintain this spirit, have your partner come toward you rapidly from a distance of about ten feet, with the intent to grab your right arm, which is extended toward him or her at hip level.
Just as your partner is about to grab your hand, whirl around and behind your partner by taking a smooth, quick step slightly to the side and beyond your partner as he or she lunges past, grabbing for the arm that's no longer there. If you do this smoothly, facing your partner as you whirl around, you'll maintain equilibrium and control as your partner totters on the edge of balance.
Test 3. This Aikido approach can also be applied to potential verbal confrontations. On such occasions, instead of engaging in verbal tussling - trying to prove a point, win an argument, or overcome someone with reason - just sidestep the struggle. Simply listen, really listen, to your opponents' points; acknowledge the value of what they are saying. Then ask gently if there isn't some validity to your view also.
In this way, you can learn to blend and apply nonresistance not only to physical opponents but to all of life's little problems. Remember that you create the struggle in your life; you create the collisions. And you can dissolve conflict through nonresistance.
Nonresistance: Psychophysical Application
In judo, he who thinks is immediately thrown. Victory is assured to those who are physically and mental nonresistant.
- Robert Linssen
Stress happens when the mind resists what is. Most of us tend to either push or resist the river of our lives, to fight circumstance rather than make use of things as they are. Resistance creates turbulence, which you feel as physical, mental, and emotional tension. Tension is a subtle pain, which - like any pain - signals that something is amiss. When we are out of natural balance, we create tension; by listening to our body, we can take responsibility for releasing it.
Athletes commonly resist the natural processes by trying. The word "try" itself implies weakness in the face of challenge. The moment you try, you are already tense; trying, therefore, is a primary cause of error. In more natural actions, you don't try. You simply walk to the refrigerator, write a letter, or water the flowers; you don't have to try, yet you perform these tasks easily and naturally. But when faced with something you consider an imposing challenge - when self-doubt arises - you begin to try. And when competitors feel pressure and begin to try, they often fall apart.
When archers shoot for enjoyment, they have all their skill; when they shoot for a brass buckle, they get nervous; when they shoot for a prize of gold, they begin to see two targets.
- Chuang Tzu
To illustrate the effect of trying too hard, imagine walking across a four-inch-wide plank of wood suspended a few inches off the ground. No problem, right? Now raise the plank ten feet over a pond filled with alligators. Suddenly you begin trying harder. You feel tense. You have the same plank but a different mental state.
Life is a play of polarities. Whenever you try to accomplish something, you often experience - and create - internal forces in direct opposition to your goal, just like those who try to lose weight but end up gorging. You can measure this opposition in your own physiology: if you try to hold your arm straight, you'll tend to tense your extensor muscles (triceps) but also your flexor muscles (biceps). You end up fighting yourself and wasting energy. If you try to stretch you may feel your muscles tensing in resistance, just as golfers who try to wallop the ball often end up topping it into the rough.
In all activities of life, the secret of efficiency lies in an ability to combine two seemingly incompatible states: a state of maximum activity and a state of maximum relaxation.
- Aldous Huxley
Body mind masters use less effort to create greater results. Even while engaged in intense competition they "let it happen" without strain. This may seem like idealistic fantasy, but numerous descriptions of the lives of martial arts masters testify to the existence of this kind of grace under pressure. The higher the stakes, the calmer, clearer, and more relaxed these masters became - indeed they became unbeatable. Peaceful warriors like Morehei Uyeshiba, the founder of Aikido, at more than eighty years of age could evade an attacker wielding a razor-sharp sword, tapping him on the nose with a fan, while remaining relaxed and breathing deeply.
Body mind masters take an easy, relaxed, progressive approach while working within the higher reaches of their comfort zone, thereby avoiding the burnout that accompanies a stressful approach to training.
If you gently take a child by the hand and lead him or her smoothly, the child is more likely to follow than if you give a sudden tug. Our subconscious minds work the same way. In the long run, it works better to use a carrot than a stick.
If you play golf, just let the club swing. If you're a gymnast, form the intent, then let the body pirouette. If you play basketball, let the ball go through the hoop. In life, form clear goals, prepare, then let things happen naturally, in their own good time.
Every bamboo shoot knows how to bend with the wind, but masters have the insight to build windmills. Understanding the spirit of nonresistance, you create a partnership with nature. You take the first step on the path of body mind mastery.
Principle 2: Accommodation
Life was never meant to be a struggle, just a gentle progression from one point to another, much like walking through a valley on a sunny day.
- Stuart Wilde
Let's take a look at some key points in the process of learning:
In athletics, as in life, development follows demand. With no demand, there is no development; with small demand, small development; with improper demand, improper development.
Demand takes the form of progressive overload. By persistently asking yourself to do more than you're comfortable with, slightly more than you are capable of, you improve.
Progressive overload occurs in small increments within your comfort zone. You need to stretch your comfort zone but not ignore it. Most athletes constantly work outside their zone, and they experience extremes of fatigue, strain, and pain. By staying within (but near the top of) their comfort zone, masters take a little longer to improve, but their improvements last longer.
Development inevitably entails a constant stream of "little failures" along the way to your ultimate goals.
Tolerance for failure comes from an intuitive grasp of the natural process of learning. Realism breeds patience. By understanding natural laws, you develop a realistic, lighthearted approach to temporary failures and come to see them as stepping-stones to your inevitable progress.
When you make realistic and gradual demands on the body, the body will develop. If equally progressive demands are made on the mind and emotions, they will develop as well. This process of accommodation reflects a law that has allowed human beings to evolve and survive through time.
Excerpted from Body Mind Mastery by Dan Millman Copyright © 1999 by Dan Millman
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Enjoyed the book. It is a theoretical book without a lot of practical advice.
Want to know more about this amazing author? View an exclusive interview with Dan at my website: http://www.bestofyoutoday.com/inner-spirit/author-dan-millman-answers-your-questions-our-exclusive-interview.html See you there!
Overall this is a worth while book to read. I think the best insight and information from this book comes within the first 75 pages or so. I think some of the ideas he talks about towards the end of the book are hardly worth reading, as when he discusses new sports he would like to see happen (e.g - slow motion running). The end of the book to me seemed to drag and lose some of the good information I found at the beginning. The book gives great information on how to improve the mental side of things in sport and life. Best to check this book out from a library or something rather than to buy it.
I was actually lucky in finding this book. I came upon it while looking for a good sports psychology book and I couldn't have asked for a better one. This book taught me a lot about like and how to go after my dreams. If you are at all interested in gaining that mental edge, whether in sports or daily life this book is for you!