It’s been a hard day at work. My mind is buzzing with thoughts, my computer-bound body is stiff and sore, and my attention is scattered. So when Melbourne-based Dru Yoga teacher Ada Giaquinto begins guiding my class through an “earth sequence”, which are a series of movements that open up the chest and heart centre, followed by grounding squats and forward bends, the first thing my mind latches on to is a negative: how tight my body feels. It’s been a while since I’ve done any squats, and these subtle movements are tapping into the stiff areas of my spine and legs.
Giaquinto, however, encourages us to visualise connecting to the earth and to focus on the breath. I imagine planting roots into the earth and feel a downward flow of energy and connectedness. Paying attention to the breath helps my body to let go and the movement starts to flow. For the first time today, I get out of my head and into my body.
“Each movement in Dru Yoga has a specific breath sequence which helps to balance the nervous system,” Giaquinto explains later. “It’s good if you have a build-up of too much energy, a busy mind or insomnia.”
And that’s what’s so interesting about Dru. Founded in the ancient yogic tradition, Dru’s holistic and heart-centred approach uses not only postures and pranayama, but also visualisations, affirmations and meditation to create stillness in mind and body.
Introduced to the West in the 1970s, Dru Yoga never had a hierarchical lineage but was secretly passed on from teacher to student. The main proponent of Dru Yoga in the West was Mansukh Patel, who learnt the principles of Dru Yoga from his parents. Patel’s parents were followers of Ghandi and were deeply inspired by his teachings on non-violence and self-sufficiency. A key component in their teachings to Patel was the Bhagavad Gita, which Dru Yoga uses as a source book for meditation, yoga philosophy and social action, just as Gandhi had done.
Patel and a group of friends at Bangor University in Wales started teaching Dru Yoga in the late 1970s, and the first UK-based teacher-training course graduated in 1988. Within 10 years the style had been introduced to Australia. One of the main proponents of Dru down under was Andrew Wells, director of Dru Australia. He discovered the new yoga style while travelling in Wales and helped create the first local teacher training programs, first run in 1999.
“Dru Yoga tends to attract those who are interested in learning techniques that enable them to master their emotional life, the nature of their thought processes as well as the physical benefits,” says Wells.
In sanskrit Dhruva means the “Pole Star”, a point by which you can set your compass to navigate through life. “It’s about stillness characterised by a feeling of fullness and coming home,” says Wells, adding that many people refer anecdotally to Dru Yoga as “yoga of the heart”.
With an emphasis on gentle, flowing movements and keeping the joints soft and relaxed, Dru appeals to beginners and more advanced students alike. Thanks to the Gandhian influence, Dru also has a strong humanitarian focus. Wells, for instance, has used Dru Yoga in conflict resolution and mediation work and has also pioneered the use of Dru techniques to help traumatised people in war zones.
While not as popular in Australia as it is in the UK, Dru Yoga is becoming more widespread with 100 teachers and 220 trainee teachers around the country. (Visit www.dru.com.au to find local classes and workshops.)
What to Expect in a Class
The key components of a Dru Yoga class are activations, energy-block-release sequences and deep relaxation. The class may also include other specific postures, sequences, breathing and meditation practices, depending on the intention of the teacher and the needs of the class.
Every movement in Dru Yoga has a specific breath sequence which helps to balance the nervous system.
The warm-up activations include a series of stretches, twists and rotations designed to warm up the spinal column, shoulder and pelvic girdle. In our class we also shake out tension from our wrists, elbows and shoulders—a fabulous way to re-energise stiff computer arms. The energy-block-release sequences use movement, breath, hand gestures and visualisations to release blockages at the physical, emotional and mental levels. “We start by releasing blockages first from the joints, then the muscles and then we detoxify the organs,” explains Giaquinto.
The focus is very much on mobilising the spine in all six directions and maintaining core stability. “You can do it in a stronger way if you want a stronger practice, but most yoga teachers prefer to do it in a way that is more meditative,” says Wells.
The postures in the sequences are also taught with the intention of giving transformative benefits to each of the five koshas, or layers of awareness—the physical, subtle, emotional, mental or intellectual—and the connectedness of the body. “On a physical level, for example, the triangle posture strengthens the lower back, but also works on the second chakra and the part of our mind involved in relating to others, ourselves and our world,” explains Wells.
Classes always finish with deep relaxation to settle the stimulated energy and create internal harmony. During the guided relaxation I can feel my body sigh with relief as I breathe in and out, alternately tensing and relaxing every muscle from head to toe. We finish by bringing revitalising energy back through the crown. I leave feeling connected, nourished and softer. That night I enjoy the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a while.
Charlotte Francis is a Melbourne-based freelance writer who has practised yoga in various forms for more than 20 years.