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!


 

Physical Meditation

Bikram Yoga is often referred to as a “90-minute moving meditation”.

Lately I have started to prefer the term “physical meditation” over “moving meditation”.  It is true that we move our bodies, but the emphasis of class is always on stillness.

Physical Meditation as the Beginning Point

Physical Meditation is a term that makes sense for me because it describes the heart of how anyone can practice, just by stepping in the room, and regardless of any flexibility or ability.  For a beginners’ class, it is an incredibly effective way to start.

Plus, concentration on and precision in the physical realm includes so many things!

What the breathing is doing, what the eyes are doing, what the muscles are doing, how the skin feels, where the weight is distributed, which muscles are relaxed, which muscles are contracted, the pace of the heartbeat….you get the point.

These things can best be noticed when the body is being held completely still.  Completely still in any given posture, and completely still immediately following each posture.

Stillness to the extent of, “Don’t wipe the sweat.  Focus on one spot in the mirror.”

Why so “rigid”?  That’s not yoga!

Many outsiders or beginners to the practice see the discipline of Bikram Yoga as stifling, or authority-driven, or even “military”-like.  It has been looked down upon by some for decades, and the internet makes these complaints even easier to find.

(While at first I was frustrated with the lack of understanding and the spreading of ignorance, I have come to accept it as something which will probably never go away.  I now just try to educate and model instead of reacting with frustration.)

Empowerment through physical stillness

We practice not wiping the sweat off, not messing with our clothing, not looking around.  Why?

We are doing this in order to practice the discipline of not reacting dramatically to our surroundings.  And this is only the “grossest” level of non-reactivity.

As we adjust to allowing a drop of sweat to roll down a cheek, or into an eye, we learn to tolerate 3 seconds of discomfort.  Not harm, not abuse, not pain.  Just discomfort.  Something that initially we do not “like”.

Do I have the patience to sit still and let the sweat drip?  To watch water drip?  To watch a lake melt?  I highly recommend trying.

Lake Michigan Melting - February 2017 - Empire, MI
Lake Michigan Melting – February 2017 – Empire, MI – photo by Ann C.

What can I possibly learn?

What is a common, unconscious reaction to sweat dripping into your eye?

“Get rid of it!   I don’t like that!  It is annoying.  And sometimes it even stings a lot.”

What is a common, unconscious reaction to someone asking us to leave the sweat there?

“Oh my gosh, don’t tell me what to do!  This is my body and my eye, and I am going to do what I want with it.”

But is this the only way?  Can there be an opportunity here instead of a reaction?

What if?

When you notice a reaction or a habit, one of the best questions you can ask yourself is, “What if?

“What will happen if I do?”

“What will happen if I don’t?”

“What will happen if I change my pattern of reacting?”

“What will happen if I don’t compulsively enact the habit that I am convinced is necessary for my comfort and survival?”

Discomfort as information

Over the years I have learned to use the sweat in my eyes as a way to understand my biochemistry.   Granted, I am not analyzing the sweat in a laboratory, but I can feel the difference in it when I have accumulated stress, or caffeine, or a food chemical that I am not used to.

Last week the sweat in my eye created a stinging sensation that I had never experienced before.  I have experienced the sting of caffeine, the sting of extra salts in my body, the sting of stress in my body.  But this was different.

I later thought about what I had consumed the previous day.  The only two not-usual things I had eaten were some Grapefruit Seed Extract (in an experimental recipe made by Lisa Marie) and a frozen pizza that had some very questionable ingredients.

If I really wanted to test this, I could isolate the variables and see what happened in subsequent classes.

Experiment or fitness routine?

Many of us start yoga to get fit or improve our physical health.  And there is nothing wrong with this in the slightest.

But if yoga remains a fitness routine, stagnation, boredom, or frustration eventually set in.  Physical habits and compulsions are usually not addressed, let alone the mental and emotional ones.

On the other hand, if yoga practice is approached as an experiment and a path to realization, it will always lead to deeper understandings and experiences.

The discipline of physical stillness is one of the first stages in a beginning hatha yoga practice, and it is a great place to start.