Book Review: Body Mind Mastery by Dan Millman

I was gifted an interesting book called Body Mind Mastery  from one of my good friends from work recently, so I decided to spend a weekend to give it a good read. The author is Dan Millman, who is a former world-champion athlete (gymnastics I believe) and gymnastics coach at Stanford and UC Berkeley. The book was surprisingly very spiritual and tied in a lot of Eastern philosophies into the book which was interesting. Although I already knew many of the concepts within the book, I could see how it could be an extremely valuable resource for anyone looking to start the cultivation of their mental game in conjunction with some kind of physical performance. Here are my takeaways:

Natural Laws

“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.”

Just as how water cuts through rock over time, we must also adhere to the laws of nature. Millman calls this nonresistance, and explains that stress and tension occur when the mind resists what is. Body mind masters actually use less effort to create greater results, and accept and use the conditions around them to the best of their abilities. Accommodation is another tool I’m sure all of us know in which demand takes the form of progressive overload.  Progress is mechanical – if you practice something overtime, with attention and commitment to improve, you will become better but many people question this process (Instead of saying “Can I?” say “How can I?”)

Awareness and Preparation

Awareness of a problem is the beginning of the solution, and we must always strive to have awareness of the totality of our mind and body. This is a philosophical concept, but it’s a very powerful one. It calls upon you to “notice” things in your life and things about yourself. Don’t just go through motions mindlessly, but be conscious of your movements, actions, and thoughts. Preparation is also extremely underutilized and is the foundation of your future success. Champions form the habit of doing what most people find boring or uncomfortable.

The term “difficulty” has meaning only in relation to preparation.

Talent: Mental, Physical, and Emotional

Mental talent is the skill of being focused completely in the present moment. Many of us become lost in thought and our minds become distracted in performing at our maximum potential. We all began life as “movement masters” – that’s how we learned how to walk. You’ll never see a baby falling while learning to walk and thinking, “I’m such a klutz!” The baby is completely immersed in the present moment in learning how to stand up and keep it’s balance to move forward. Another mental strength is the ability to expand your self-concept and what you believe you can achieve for yourself. Always believe you are capable of great things, envision specific successes, give constructive criticism back to yourself, and never fear failure.

We develop emotional talent not by relying on motivation all the time but by applying our will no matter how we feel. It’s natural for our emotions to take control of us in certain situations, but this is where discipline comes in. You have much more control over your behavior than you do over your thoughts of emotions, so paradoxically the best way to master your emotions is to let them be, stay relaxed, and focus on constructive action.

As for physical talent, this is achieved through a partnership between ambition and hard work. Millman says that “if there is a cosmic instruction manual, the first rule is surely that we each receive a body. Its the only thing we are guaranteed to keep for a lifetime.” No matter what your physical circumstances are, the body is an ideal, highly visible medium for transformation in which we can easily see the results of progress.

Physical talent is composed of four primary qualities, each of which begins with the letter S: strength, suppleness, stamina, and sensitivity. When we call someone talented, we are pointing to these four key elements.

Millman also stated that relaxation was the best single indicator or your well-being. Your degree of relaxation across the three centers – physical, mental, and emotional – precisely reflects your alignment with the natural laws. I thought this concept was interesting. He continued by stating that strength should be measured based on effective strength, where your muscle groups act in complementary tension-relaxation (relaxing the proper muscle groups while consciously tensing others). Having too much tension could actually produce less strength and force, as opposed to relaxing irrelevant muscle groups and purposefully contracting the needed muscle groups.

Tools for Training and Competition

Learning how to learn is more important than simply learning. You could continuously practice a movement incorrectly and get better and better at doing it incorrectly. We have to have the awareness and tools (slow motion training, imitation, mental envisioning) to properly improve our skills over time. Then you need to practice consistently and a lot, but know when to take a break from practicing in a given session (stop when you can’t repeat the correct pattern anymore).

In learning any new skill, remember the formula PSP: First precision, then speed, then power. Each flows from the next their proper order. If you want power and speed, then practice precision in slow motion. Slow done to speed up.

Competition can be an important experience because it can become a form of moving meditation in which all of your attention is focused in the present moment. However, Millman states that it’s more important to gauge yourself on day-to-day improvement rather than a winner-loser mentality. We need to measure ourselves by our own standard of excellence and at the end of the day, find joy in the process of training, learning, and striving toward the heights of our potential. He also encourages us to view physical training/athletics as a long-term game – always question where the activity you are engaging in is contributing beneficially to your physical and psychological well-being and will it develop heightened capacity of your daily life.

Athletes practice athletics; poets practice poetry; musicians practice music. Body mind masters practice everything and create a ceremony out of every moment.