Russell Burns was driving northwest on US 183 one morning in 1995 when a car hit the front tire of his Toyota truck, rolling the vehicle seven times before coming to a stop.
Burns survived the crash and said the accident made him want to search for meaning in life and to help others. In doing so, he discovered yoga.
“That wreck changed my life,” he said. “It made me realize that, through no doing of your own, driving to work, obeying the laws, doing the same thing I do every day for years, somebody else changing a lane could take your life away, just like that.”
In 2011, Burns founded Austin Namaste LLC, and he has collaborated with others to develop several events, including the Austin Yoga Festival, Free Day of Yoga and Austin Yoga Conference. He also teaches 10 yoga classes a week in various forms of yoga, such as Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, gentle and restorative.
“Yoga is a great place to be right now,” he said. “I’ve never been happier or paid less.”
Burns founded the Austin Yoga Festival in 2011 with a goal of making yoga accessible and affordable to people and to expose them to the benefits of practicing it. The festival raises money and collects food donations for the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas and Community Yoga Austin.
In 2013, Burns said he plans to launch the Austin Yoga Conference Bazaar and Rave at the Palmer Events Center in the spring. It is planned to be a drug- and alcohol-free event that features music, vendors, yoga and dance to promote health and fitness awareness.
“Yoga is my life. I get up, I talk about yoga, I teach yoga, I arrange yoga events or I do yoga. That’s my day, every day,” Burns said. “I think that everybody should have the opportunity to see what it’s about.”
Before becoming a yogi, Burns worked in the boating business for many years, putting boats together from scratch, and as a salesman, service manager, and finance manager. He is also a musician, artist, photographer and entrepreneur.
Burns, 49, did not start practicing yoga until he was 38. He said that if he had been exposed to yoga at a younger age, he probably would have found self-esteem, happiness and self-fulfillment earlier in life. Although the Austin Yoga Festival is the only outlet Burns has to expose young adults and children to yoga, he said he would like to develop regular programs for them through Austin Namaste or a partnership with another organization.
“I want to see kids not only be healthy physically but also mentally,” he said.
Burns said that anyone can do yoga, and creating more programs that are affordable and accessible to people will clear up misconceptions about yoga, such as people thinking they are not flexible or fit enough.
“Through yoga, what many people discover is that they are just being themselves and being comfortable with who they are,” he said. “It’s all they need to be happy.”
Burns’ partner of nine years, Joan Bertino, said she has never met anyone with so many talents and ideas as Burns.
“I think he is a humanitarian,” Bertino said. “I think he sees how important it is to relate to people and to put people first. He puts a lot of heart and soul into everything he’s doing. When he started embracing yoga, it made sense. It’s the thing that makes him feel sane. Russell inspires me to be a better person. I hope I do the same for him.”