Dru Yoga is a new form of yoga that’s more gentle than other forms. Sarah Dawson took a weekend retreat in Wales where she combined it with walks through the British countryside – bliss!
Over the past year I’ve been hooked on exploring and walking on the South Downs in Sussex, and I’m passionate about yoga, so when I heard about a Dru Yoga and walking retreat in Snowdonia, I was in.
A train journey from Brighton to London then a scenic connection from Chester brought me to Bangor station where I was spirited into the Nant Ffrancon Valley by my taxi driver. Nestled beside a tranquil brook, fields of grazing sheep, and a backdrop of ice-capped mountains were the UK headquarters of Dru Yoga.
I checked in and met my ‘roomie’, Lucy. Our spacious modern twin room was warmly decorated with locally woven bed spreads and Snowdonia-inspired wall art. Over a delicious dinner in the Dru cafe a few hours later I met yogis and walkers from Finland to Australia, there to indulge in therapeutic yoga and get up-close-and-personal with some of the UK’s most beautiful mountains, lakes and forests.
If you’re unfamiliar with Dru Yoga, (follow this link to find a teacher) this gentle, yet powerful form of yoga is highly recommended. ‘Dru’, an Indian (Sanskrit) word short for Dhruva roughly translates to ‘north star’ and represents the stillness of the stars; our own ‘inner still-point’.
Dru Yoga was created by a group of yoga enthusiasts some 30 years ago. A typical session will include traditional yoga poses like the bridge, downward dog, cobra and so on but its piece de resistance is a focus on positive transformation through rebalancing the ‘chakras’ (the body’s subtle energy systems) and the ‘koshas’, which include our thoughts, feelings and our inner self, making it a subtle yet effective workout – and quite unlike any other yoga I’ve practiced.
The Dru factor
At Friday’s introductory session centre manager, Jane Saraswati Clapham, who’s been working and teaching within Dru for 20 years, explained: ‘Yoga is a form of physical and mental self-mastery, and walking is an excellent way to free the mind and create space in our over-busy minds’. I couldn’t wait, my mind is so full of creative ideas I sometimes feel overloaded!
At 9.30 the next morning we met in the yoga hall for Dru Yoga. Many guests were Dru Yoga teachers there to relax, others were Dru Yoga virgins. Our teacher, Petra reassured us that Dru is one of the most accessible styles of yoga due to its flowing nature, and not least because it draws on input from osteopaths, and physiotherapists. In a Dru yoga class you can expect muscle stretches to prepare for the poses thus preventing injury, and awareness of core stability to strengthen postural muscles and a generally therapeutic approach to yoga.
But what were these ‘Koshas’ all about? ‘These are the five different layers of existence in our lives, our ‘subtle’ nature,’ confirmed Petra. ‘Firstly, there’s ‘Annamaya kosha’; the physical body, then ‘Pranamaya kosha’; the breath, our thoughts; ‘Vijnanamaya Kosha’, which motivates us, then the feeling layer; ‘Manomaya’.
‘When practising Dru Yoga we bring awareness to this energy system while flowing through the physical movements to help bring us to our ‘stillpoint’ – the fifth kosha, our bliss layer, known as ‘Anandamaya Kosha’’ Petra said.
‘It’s natural for us to hold onto strong emotions after conflict and stressful experiences but if left unresolved these thoughts, feelings and memories can get stuck in the body, potentially creating future, more serious, health problems.
‘Through conscious breathing, observing thoughts and feelings while flowing through our yoga practice, and introducing positive affirmations and visualisations we can unblock them and restore balance on every level,’ she explained.
Seven Dru Energy Block Release (EBR) sequences – groups of poses done in Dru Yoga classes – were created for this purpose. Petra took us through some warm up movements (known in Dru as ‘activations’), then ‘EBR3’, a flowing sequence involving yoga poses like the Archer, to help heal/rebalance heart energy.
I feel completely ‘blissed-out’ and it was only 10.30 on Day Two!
We took a short yogi tea break and chat then our meditation teacher Jane Saraswati arrived for our session. She confirmed that statistically, people who practice long term meditation are 80 per cent less prone to heart disease and 50 per cent less likely to suffer from cancer. But how to do it well?
‘Get as comfortable as possible,’ she said, and ran through some tips. ‘Do some movement before sitting to ensure the spine is relaxed, yet awakened, make sure hips and shoulders are comfortable, as these tie in with the body’s relaxation response (the parasympathetic response).’
I closed my eyes and allowed Jane’s soothing voice to help me accept my achy shoulders. ‘Dru Meditation goes further than simply being mindful and accepting of our physical or emotional discomfort,’ she explained. Meditators are encouraged to go deeper and to transform unhelpful thoughts and feelings into positive ones to feel happier, more confident and contented. In other words, the meditative state helps us become ‘master’ of our thoughts, rather than victims, by suggesting positive statements. These included:
‘I have all the resources I need to achieve my dreams’ – to boost self confidence and trust in our unique abilities.
‘I am calm and capable’ – when overwhelmed by stress.
‘I am loving, lovable and loved’ – for self esteem / improving all relationships.
Walking the Welsh valleys
I was ravenous after all that transformational navel gazing and a hearty healthy vegetarian lunch fueled me up for our first walk. Top to toe in waterproofs we followed Nigel Murphy, our Dru Yoga teacher, and our local guide, Tom, into the valley.
We walked through lush forests, passing powerful waterfalls, juxtaposed by still lakes, stone bridges, and majestic mountains. The fresh clear pure air cleansed my lungs and I found the rain quite purifying.
Alongside a lake the walk became more challenging as we headed uphill on muddy ground. I almost lost my footing, but we all felt a great sense of achievement and back at base a sweet potato curry and tofu and vegetable stir fry followed by apple crumble with custard in the ambient cafe more than restored a sense of equilibrium.
Practical lifestyle tips
On Sunday in our pre-breakfast yoga session, Dru teacher, Nanna, warmed us up with some lively Dru ‘activations’ before a dynamic Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara), which showed that Dru Yoga could be dynamic and powerful, as well as gentle and restorative.
After our breakfast had settled Nanna introduced us to the Dru Power sequence which involves Warrior 1 and 2 poses, and other strong poses to shift stale energy and empower us. It felt rejuvenating, and a deep 20 minute relaxation helped the benefits soak into my psyche.
I opted for the ‘gentle’ afternoon stroll into the Ogwen valley led by teachers Jane and Joshna. We viewed the spectacular and powerful gushing Ogwen Falls, then took a tranquil walk leading to the coastline of Anglessey. There was plenty of inspiring chatter, the sun shone brilliantly and I was feeling very, very good indeed.
Yoga in nature
Before I knew it, it was Monday and after our final yoga and meditation session we walked into the valley. The rain was lashing down, but we were undeterred. A guest teacher from Australia asked us to form a circle at an oak tree grove and led us through Prithvi Namaskara – salutation to the earth. It was magical performing this sequence in the glory of nature – yes even the rain.
On our walk back to base we stopped beside a waterfall to tune into all our senses; tasting the rainwater, hearing the sounds around us, feeling the air/rain on our face, touching the stone bridge, observing the smells and taking in the scene with our eyes.
I visualised all aspects of the view before closing my eyes, each time adding more to my memory. I anchored the stone bridge, the trees to the left, the pathway, the ancient monument on the hill to the right, the water, the stones in the water and a patch of mossy grass below me. This image stayed with me, months later.
The winning formula
Since yoga was created and inspired by nature itself, it’s not surprising that yoga and walking in nature are so conducive for wellbeing. The Dru style is a great antidote to stress- for beginners, and more advanced yogi’s who want to work with the subtle energy and transformation elements.
After that weekend retreat I felt light, relaxed and clear-headed, my body supple from the yoga and the nutritious food. Plus, all that fresh Welsh air, left me filled with a calm, centred enthusiasm to launch some new projects. There’s a result.
2015 Dru Yoga and Walking retreats take place on 1-14 May & 14-17 August. Cost: £540 twin room, £650 single, excluding travel, including accommodation, tuition, food and walks. Optional therapies available at additional cost. Find out more about the retreats on offer here. To book call 01248 602900 or email [email protected].
Sarah Dawson is a Brighton-based journalist, author & yoga teacher, and founder of Karmiyoga.com, a therapeutic yoga business. Sarah is currently writing a book on ‘Staycationing’ in the UK, involving walks, festivals and activities that don’t involve passports and airport stress!