Austin Yoga Festival offers more than just stretches

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Yoga instructor Russell Burns takes on the role of director for the first annual Austin Yoga Festival. (Photo courtesy of Russell Burns)

When yoga instructor and UT graduate Russell Burns decided to realize his vision of directing Austin’s first yoga festival, he did not expect his initially small, Saturday afternoon venture to snowball. Now, the full two-day event will feature live music, free health screenings and various vendors seeking to embrace and promote the yoga culture he wanted to share with the city.

Saturday marks the first Austin Yoga Festival at Fiesta Gardens. The event will include roughly 50 yoga classes varying in style, four live music performances and lectures ranging from health and nutrition to philosophy. Though the current schedule boasts a vast range of activities and vendors, Vurns did not originally have plans for such a large scale venture.

“Originally, I thought I would have a few classes out underneath the shade of the trees over at Zilker Park at one of the picnic areas on a Saturday afternoon,” said Vurns, who got a spot at the park approved for his plans.

“I went back to the city, and they said I couldn’t have the space anymore because I had too much going on,” Burns said. “So they told me I had to rent a park.”

In addition to interest from local yoga studios and instructors, Burns was approached by other interested parties, most of whom were also yoga teachers. The face painters, massage therapists, musicians and almost everyone involved all teach some form of yoga.

“Certainly, once we realized this was happening, we tried to stick with it, but it kind of just came together that way,” Burns said.

On Saturday, a bus sponsored and run by AARP and Walgreens will be on site to offer free health screenings, including blood pressure, glucose, bone density and various other tests to festival attendees. Vurns’ intention for the festival is to draw in Austinites who aren’t familiar with yoga but also to discuss the different aspects of yoga besides physical exercise.

“When I started doing yoga at a local gym, it was definitely just for the exercise, and they never discussed any other aspects of it,” Burns said. Burns began practicing yoga after an injury left him unable to continue running.

While Burns says spiritual and emotional components are key to yoga, he says many instructors are uncomfortable, avoiding the subject entirely in their classes.

“It seems that many places are apprehensive about discussing other areas of yoga, about the way you treat yourself or the way you treat other people,” Burns said. “And I think we should be comfortable addressing those things.”

It was important to Burns to ensure all aspects of yoga were represented at the festival so that the community would have an opportunity to learn about all facets of the practice.

Steven Ross, founder of East Side Yoga, is one of the sponsors for the festival and is personally teaching a workshop on slow movement — a style of yoga he plans to advocate.

“Our society is so fast, and you never get a chance to stop,” Ross said. “By actually slowing things down, restoring senses from all the craziness, you can slow your mind and begin to feel a calm softness, but it takes effort — you’re not just lying there doing nothing, you’re moving.”

According to Ross, the festival is much deeper than similar events in other cities around the U.S.

“It’s not just going to a bunch of classes, doing some crazy poses and leaving,” Ross said. “It’s a way to understand the mind, calm the mind and bring peace within, and I think Austin reflects yoga in that respect.”

The festival will also benefit Capital Area Food Bank of Texas, Yoga Care Foundation, Amala Foundation and Community Yoga Austin. With the live music and food vendors, Ross expects the event to be as lively and fun as it is calm and restorative — something he says appeals to the Austin spirit.

“Most cities have a conference, which sounds a bit dull,” Ross said. “We’re having a festival, and I think that speaks volumes.”

Printed on October 6, 2011 as: Austin Yoga Festival offers more than just stretches