MSU Spartans Football Coach Ron Burton on Development of the Athlete | “Coaching the Coach” | Bikram Yoga

bikram yoga student spartans football coach ron burton Michigan state university

Just over three years ago, Michigan State University Assistant Football Coach Ron Burton started practicing Bikram Yoga with us.  Since then, he has been telling every coach and athlete he knows about this practice, encouraging them to come to class, and bringing his kids to class whenever they are in town.

They call each other “coach”, so if you ever hear Ann say that in class, you know who she is talking to!  🙂

Here you can read a short interview between Coach Burton and “Coach Chrapkiewicz”!  🙂


Can you tell us about your background professionally, as an athlete and a coach?

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and earned a football scholarship to the University of North Carolina, where I graduated with a B.A. in 1987.  I then played linebacker in the National Football League for 4 years (1987-1990). I played for the Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, and Los Angeles Raiders.  Following that I went to graduate school, and became a graduate assistant in football at North Carolina from 1991-93.

I have been a college football assistant coach for 26 years – now going into my 7th season at Michigan State University.  (You can read more about Coach Burton on his MSU profile here.)

What is your experience with yoga practice in general?

My yoga experience started with a few times during the spring in college, then a few times during my off-seasons in my professional football career.  While living in Colorado, I would search for workouts from our cable networks. So I rediscovered yoga in my basement believe it or not, and started following some of the 20-, 30-, and 60- minute yoga workouts.  

I just kept remembering how great I felt physically and mentally after a session.  I was refreshed, my body increased its fluidity and limberness, and the clarity of my mind and focus was always increased. 

We had been living in East Lansing for a few years, when Golf Coach Victor Whipp told me about Bikram Yoga.  I came to Bikram Yoga Capital Area for the first time in May of 2016 and have been coming as much as I can since then.  More frequently in the off-season, but during season whenever I can, too.

How does Bikram Yoga relate to teaching and coaching?

I am just a novice in Bikram Yoga, but I view it as a fundamental.  It is a necessary foundation that helps improve the physical and mental side of any sport or hobby.

The class connects with “we” …. I get to be coached by someone else in a hobby or sport that I know nothing about. 

This yoga forces you to listen fully in the moment, to understand what you are hearing, and then respond. It forces you to focus. Each time in class, I’m learning something new to further improve one of the 26 postures.  I learn how to adjust each posture with precise movements – all  according to my ability in the moment.

As a coach, you are constantly trying to improve your way of getting your point across.   The instructors here speak with clarity, and effective tone of voice.  They respond to and troubleshoot questions.  And they do it without being in a hurry, or loud.  And yet it is so effective.

This improves me as a coach because I get to see, hear, and understand a different way of teaching and getting a point across.  Coach Ann Chrapkiewicz has been a great example for me as a coach.  Not just talk…action!

How does Bikram Yoga contribute to athletic development?

Bikram Yoga definitely contributes to the development of an athlete, regardless of sport!  With a consistent practice, it contributes to mental development – it improves focus, clarity, discipline, and listening skills.  Physically, it improves range of motion at the arms, hips, core, and spine. It feels like it is rinsing the body of toxins.

It’s a lifetime journey!

Here is a video of Coach Burton and the whole class practicing the backward bending portion of Half Moon Pose:

What are some of the benefits that you have personally experienced with Bikram Yoga?

For me personally, the benefits have been numerous.  My focus and clarity have improved, as has my patience.  My stress level has definitely been reduced. My listening skills are better.  Physically, I have an overall better understanding of my body’s weaknesses and strength.  My posture is better, my flexibility has improved, and my breathing is so much better.

I have had numerous athletic injuries in the past – torn pectoral muscles, sprained ankles, pulled groin, broken fingers and thumb, torn ACL, meniscus tear, and multiple neck strains.  The way that Bikram Yoga includes modifications of depth in all of the postures helps you have a starting point.  So even with all of these injuries I can start each posture correctly.  And then when I try the same postures from class to class, I can see improvement in those injured or weak areas.

During the football season, I LOVE Friday morning Bikram Yoga to end my work week, and Sunday morning class before church to start my work week.  My goal this year is to add Wednesday evening class to my schedule.

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year has been to become more consistent in attendance at Bikram Yoga Capital Area.  Why? Simply because I LOVE IT!

I get to be “a COACH being Coached….. “

THANK YOU, COACH CHRAPKIEWICZ!


 

Happy Yoga Birthday!

by Ann Chrapkiewicz

Last month marked my 15th year of practicing Bikram Yoga.  I was fortunate to find this healing practice when I was just about to turn 25.

This past week, I turned 40.  (And I got to hear Happy Birthday in Triangle Pose – in 3 different classes!  Great for the lungs, people!)

I feel so much better at 40 than I did at 24.  And I credit this almost entirely to yoga.

Age 25, at Bikram Yoga Ann Arbor, after 9 months of near-daily Bikram Yoga. 

This photo was taken just a few weeks after I had fractured two of my lumbar vertebrae on the porch of my co-op house.  I think I must have been so excited that my back was feeling better after each class…that it warranted a photo. 

Otherwise, I simply had no interest in anyone seeing my body or my postures.  Class was so hard, I did not perceive any strength or ability in my practice, and I had no idea how important it was to share the practice as widely as possible.  (Plus, this was the age of disposable Kodak cameras, and even the rare people with cell phones sure weren’t taking photos with them.)

Representation

Although 95% of the transformations are on mental, emotional, and other levels that aren’t even representable in photographic form, I still wish I had a true “before photo.”  Or some photos of me attempting postures with my fractured back bones. 

Oh well. 

(This is why I bug all of you for posture photos ALL THE TIME.  You will be glad they exist, and to have physical and visual proof of your transformation for all of your friends and family who cannot understand your love of the 90-Minute Miracle known as Bikram Yoga.)

Birthday Celebration!

And this is the “same” human, right around her 39th birthday.

In any case, as these years pass, I realize and appreciate – more and more – what an amazing system it is.  New realizations of all types happen for me on a near-daily basis. 

Yet the lineage and tradition of Bikram Yoga is struggling in many parts of the country these days. 

First, various hot fitness franchises sell themselves as similar, or as capable of providing the same benefits as Bikram Yoga (even though they are nothing like it). 

Secondly, Bikram Choudhury’s personal issues seem to be quite serious, and outsiders mistakenly believe that we independent yoga school owners are some how financially connected with him, or supportive of his behavior in some way.

(Some other traditions actually love to speculate and gossip about how “impure” and definitely not spiritual Bikram Yoga must be because of the imperfect person who brought us this lineage from Calcutta.) 

Yet once people realize that we are committed to carrying on a transformative yoga system in mom-and-pop-shop fashion – once they realize that this yoga’s healing power is not about the flawed human who brought it to this continent – once they hear or experience or see firsthand that this yoga is saving lives every day – all of that gossip usually sounds empty, ignorant, or selfish to them.

What is really at stake?

Amidst these ultimately small and silly battles of gossip and perception, there is a massive thing at stake.  People’s lives.  And the yoga system itself.  Its potential and ability to transform suffering into realization in a way that – for so many people – nothing else can. 

So, it is becoming more important to me to share some of the wisdoms that have been passed on to me, or the little insights that come to me every day when I teach or practice.  I have books worth of things to share, yet most of it only comes through in class or in conversation or at the yoga school.

Here is my birthday commitment to share through more writing, better apprenticing, stronger mentorship.  And I invite you to join me.  To being part of the leadership community who carries this lineage forward in strength, intelligence, and honesty.  Who takes it to areas of the country and school kids that don’t yet have access to it.  Whose actions support existing, traditional Bikram Yoga schools many decades and generations into the future.  Your leadership, your love, and your courage will make this possible.

Recent Writings

I started this blog with the simple intention to share something I wrote from this past spring! 

Finally, here it is, in case you want to keep reading:

Over the past year or two, it has been a lot of fun to try to sort through and communicate some of the things about Bikram Yoga that make it so powerful.  You can find some of these ponderings in print or online at Healthy & Fit Magazine.

If you would like something fairly quick to ponder this coming week, the list here is an excerpt from one of my articles in mid-Michigan’s print publication, Healthy & Fit Magazine.  It was my attempt to sort out and describe Six Elements that Make up a Traditional Yoga Practice. 


  • SEQUENCE: The sequence of postures is central to a therapeutic or hatha yoga practice. Foundational sequences are always practiced in the same order. Changing a sequence is only done with master guidance and for very specific reasons.

  • PRECISION: The precision with which each posture is attempted is really not up for debate! While there are infinite levels of depth and expression – depending on body size, shape, strength, and mobility – the precise, specific form of attempting each posture is not changed. Keep trying the right way and you will realize more about yourself.
  • STILLNESS: There is complete and total stillness in every single posture, for no less than 20 seconds. Each posture is done 2 or 3 times, and nearly every posture is done for the same number of repetitions. Practicing one set of each posture is considered a backup plan for occasional use only.
  • BREATHING: Breathing must be normal at all times during yoga postures. This means the air only flows by the nose, the breathing makes no sound at all, and the flow is relatively even (the inhales and the exhales take about the same amount of time). Certain portions of Bikram Yoga and Ghosh Yoga insist on a 5th element:
  • REST: After every posture, a rest period is taken. The rest period should be at least as long as the posture immediately preceding it, or longer.

Bikram Yoga, in particular, adds in a 6th element.  Which, contrary to public perception, adds to the accessibility and effectiveness of the therapeutic aspects:

  • ENVIRONMENT: Carefully controlled heat, humidity, and fresh air in a well-designed Bikram Yoga school make the yoga sequence more doable for the stiff-jointed, more effective for the athlete, and more noticeably powerful for anyone looking for mental relief from anxiety, stress, and our culture in general.

It is my joy to be of service and to facilitate healing through this yoga method.  I look forward to seeing you in class.

Guest Teacher Highlight: Mike Morris

Bikram Yoga Guest teacher original hot yoga

by Mike Morris

Special Guest Teacher Mike Morris visits Bikram Yoga Capital Area

I was 43, singing songs and playing guitar in bars, and living with pain in my neck and low back.  I had attributed it to a lot of long drives, heavy gear and a less-than-healthy lifestyle.  I also thought the pain was a normal part of getting older.  When I went to play at a local radio station, I was given a six month membership to Bikram Yoga Portsmouth (New Hampshire).  It took me six months to walk in and take my first class.  It was hot, and hard.  It felt like a good workout, and the bike shorts I was wearing felt like they weighed 10 pounds after class.

I had been practicing for a year or so when the studio director suggested that I go to the yoga training.  “I’m too old,” I said, though secretly I really wanted to give it a try.

The Worldwide Bikram Yoga Community

I trained in Las Vegas in 2009.  The first person I met was Erik, a 20-something heavy metal drummer from Sweden.  My roommate was Bob, a 60-year-old waiter from Massachusetts.  There was a 19-year old massage therapist from Australia, and an “age unknown” healer from China who communicated mostly in smiles.

All of us had, like you, walked in to our first class, and the yoga had brought us all together.  I’ve probably taught some 4000 yoga classes since then.  I still have the first pair of proper yoga shorts I ever bought, though the elastic has long since worn out of them.  My back and neck feel good, and I don’t mind the New Hampshire winters as much as I used to, though I still like to complain about them.

bikram yoga original hot yoga backbend ardha chandrasana

I’m still making music.  I’ve also become a husband, father and yoga teacher.  And like you, I’m still a yoga student.  I still force myself into posture every now and then.  I’m much better at noticing it.

A few years ago, I was going to the park with our youngest daughter, who was 3 at the time.  She had bought herself a kite, and was excited to try it out for the first time.  When we got there, there was no wind.  Nothing.  “I don’t think we can fly a kite today, Lily,” I said.  “Maybe we should wait for a windier day.  “Daddy,” she said back, “we can try.”  That was a good yoga lesson.  Walk through the door, and give it a good, honest try.  Show up, and keep doing it, and the yoga will give you tools towards building a strong body, a clear mind and a full heart.

This yoga is challenging every time we step into the hot room.  It is also beautiful, inspiring, empowering and, most of all, healing.  Take as many classes as you can, one at a time.  Ask questions of your teachers.  Share your story.  Work hard, and breathe soft.

I’m excited to be visiting you next week.  See you soon.  We’ll try together.

Bikram Yoga Guest teacher original hot yogaTriangle Pose in Summertime
Mike playing music at a New Hampshire Farmers’ Market


You will find Mike teaching – and maybe even singing! – at BYCA over the 2017 holidays as follows:

Sunday, December 24: 8:00 am

Tuesday, December 26: 9:00 am

Thursday, December 28: 9:00 am

Saturday, December 30: 8:00 am

There is No Such Thing as Monday

Toe Stand - Original Hot Yoga - Bikram Yoga

by Ann Chrapkiewicz


A few Sunday mornings ago, I was teaching* class.

It was one of those lovely classes where everyone spaced themselves so beautifully in the three rows of our practice room; people hardly took their eyes off of their focus points for the entire warm-up portion of class.

We were finishing up the standing series, on the second side of Toe Stand, when one of the great yoga lessons emerged.

One of my long-time students, Amy, – who has been with us for around 120 classes, since summer 2013 – was in one of her usual spots in the third row.  She smiles quite a bit in and outside of class and really enjoys the learning process.  She is a joy to have in class and at our school.

Communications in the Moment

Expressions of Toe Stand vary from person to person – many people are much closer to what looks like a bent-over tree pose – but Amy happens to be able to sit down quite easily – kind of like these humans (Eric, I love so much that you can hold a phone and use it while in this posture!!):

Toe Stand - Original Hot Yoga - Bikram Yoga

Some Deeper Expressions of Toe Stand, Spring 2015 – Lauren, Eric, Melissa, Jess

I saw that her left knee was high up above her right, as was common for her.  I thought I would see if – through our constant teacher-student communication in class – we could make the next posture adjustment happen for her.

My instructions directed her to push her left knee towards the ground and stretch her spine up towards the ceiling.  I encouragingly repeated the instruction a few times to see if a physical response was ready or possible in that moment.  It probably sounded something like this:

Stretch your spine up to the ceiling, hips up

A little more

Stretch your spine up

Suck your stomach in

Top of the head towards the ceiling

Left knee down, Amy

Both knees in one line, parallel to the floor

Left knee down a little more, please

I noticed that instead of trying these things, Amy was very focused on something else; putting her hands together in front of the chest.  Nothing wrong or ultimately bad about it, but – as long as she is not having knee pain – it is not where the posture would be most beneficial for her at this point in her practice.  The hands element is relatively unimportant relative to the leg, spine, and abdominal control in this posture.

Dialogue bikram yoga teacher teaching
New Teachers’ Foundation for leading Therapeutic Hatha Yoga in the Ghosh Lineage – Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class

Dialogue: Checking In

The direct instructions of the Dialogue that we initially learn as Bikram Yoga teachers really is and – in my opinion – can/should be used constantly as a dialogue.  When used well, the teacher is gaining at least as much information about the student as the student is receiving from the teacher.

So, in those moments, I did not perceive that my instructions had gotten through successfully.  After everyone had rested in savasana, I checked in with her.

“Did you have any pain in the posture?  Was your left knee bothering you?”

“No.”

“Ok, well that’s good.  Did what I was saying make sense?”

…Amy thought about it for a second, and then said…

“It’s been a long week.”

I repeated back to myself quietly, “It’s been a long week.”

“Ok,” I thought….

And then I laughed out loud and said,

“No!  No, no, NO!!”

“Does what happened yesterday, or what happened for the past several days, have control over your ability to focus in the moment?”

Amy smiled and said, “No.”

“Is last week in control of what you do in toe stand?”

She smiled again and shook her head.

And then the words just flew out of me:

“No!” 

“YOU are in charge here!!  In the moment when you are in toe stand, or any other posture – you are breathing, you are calm, you are trying, you are following the words…

…and last week does not exist.  Does that make sense?”

By this point, Amy (and half the class) was smiling and nodding quietly.

“Monday does not exist.  Friday does not exist.  These labels are made-up entities when it comes to your ability to breathe well or absorb an instruction. 

Please do not let them control you.  They only exist for the purposes of getting to the right place at the right time with the right people.

Days of the week are for scheduling function only.  

When you are in toe-stand, just be in toe-stand.”

bikram yoga toe stand

One of the infinite correct expressions of Toe Stand

Then I settled down and we all had a lovely, light, quiet minute in savasana.

The Personal is Political, or Cultural Baggage = Personal Baggage

Yoga leads to nothing less than self-transformation.  Yet so much of what I call “myself” or you call “yourself” is essentially the cultural baggage that we have picked up along the way.

I think I am original in my suffering.  You think your stress is special.  And we actually try to preserve our suffering and stress in order to be unique, post-modern, identity-based individuals.

All of this is an aspect of human nature, of course. But it is not permanent, static, nor completely inevitable.

And that is what the yogis have always understood.

The deeper I go down the yoga path, the more I see how subtle this process is.

The stories we have culturally, collectively created and absorbed have so much power over us that they affect our individual, moment-to-moment ability to breathe.  To focus.  To listen.  To do a task at hand.  And to live in our physical bodies in a fully alive way.

We not only are emotionally, neurologically, and respiratorially** controlled by things like “TGIF” or the dread of Monday, but by a stressful week that is 100% in the past.

Yoga leads to nothing less than transformation of the cultural stories that control our bodies.

bikram yoga teaching coaching locust pose

What is Yoga?

Just your friendly reminder that this is not a stretching class.  Not a fitness class.  Not a sweat box.  (Although all of those things do occur.)

It is you, your cultural baggage, and ultimately, how you live your life.


Ann is an amateur ethnographer who happens to have experienced, witnessed, and facilitated ridiculous amounts of healing and transformation through Bikram Yoga, Isha Yoga, and medical anthropology.

*Lately I have decided to stop calling myself a “yoga teacher”; it has become meaningless in this country.

**I admit that I made this word up, but I am sticking to it.

No, YOU! YOU are ready for yoga!

all ages full locust bikram yoga
by Ann Chrapkiewicz

Are you ready for yoga?

As inclusive as North American yoga wants to be, yoga in its deeper dimensions demands certain qualities.

Are you ready for yoga?

Well, I have a yoga mat and I hydrated well.  So yes, I think so.

But the question again: are you ready for yoga?

The yoga clothing companies would like you to think you are.  They would like you to picture yourself as one of those long, lithe, young bodies, wearing their pants.  And maybe you have that body.

But most people don’t.  And the tragedy therein is that you might not think that you are ready for yoga.  You might even think you need to look like that in order to start yoga.

Getting ready for yoga

After spending 3 days and nights off the grid (literally), it was a joy to come back to my other favorite place – the hot room – on Labor Day to teach the evening class.

30 humans prepared themselves.  They were ready.

They brought themselves to class and faced themselves in the mirror for 90 glorious minutes of their days off.

You may have heard from various sources that that is really the hard part of the class.  To stand there, to look in the huge mirrors at your own self, and to not try to fix anything.  Not to mess with your out-of-place hair, not to fidget, and especially not to try to solve any problems your mind has decided needed solving.

Instead, you stand still and breathe.  You physically transcend and transform the mental disturbances.  You live so fully in those uncomfortable moments when you choose to only breathe.

In any case, we had a fun little exchange tonight in the front-and-center, right in front of that giant wall of mirrors, 70 feet long and over 8 feet high.

“I am not ready for yoga.”

A week or two ago, a retired man – visiting from the Middle East – started taking classes with us.  It was his first time practicing yoga, but even before he took his first class, I could tell he was ready.

And tonight I found out that he is much more ready than he thinks.

This man is cheerful.  He laughs at himself.  He stands in the front row in the center of the room.  He laughs and smiles with me when I fold up his hand towel and have him hide it under his mat so it will not tempt him.  We discuss the salty sweat that drips into his eyes.

He tries so hard.  He communicates – often only with his eyes – when he needs a break.  He listens to me speaking constantly in his not-native language.  He persists.  He is already loved by our morning regulars.

At one of those special, irreplaceable, and almost indescribable group of moments that happen in class, it all came out in a little dialogue tonight.  All of a sudden, in between standing postures, I fully understood something and immediately shared to him:

“Mr. M, you are SO ready for yoga!”

He replied, in friendly disagreement, and with a smile:

“No, I am not.  She is.”

He signaled with his eyes to the young woman standing immediately to his left.  From outward appearances, she is young, lean, flexible; the yoga “type”.

(And certainly she may be just as internally ready for yoga as he is.  She in fact has an extremely calm and focused practice.  But that was not the point here.)

I said something like – and I meant:

“NO.  YOU are ready.  She is bendy and beautiful.  Being flexible has absolutely nothing to do with being ready for yoga.”

I could not stop there.


“YOU are ready for yoga, Sir!  

Why?  

Because you are not afraid.  

You are not afraid of the mirrors, you are not afraid of me, you are not afraid of yourself.  

You are not afraid of the yoga process.  You are ready.”

 


Be not afraid!  That is the only thing – and everything – you will need.

 

9:30 am Class Bow Pose