I met Yuti McLean during a one month stay at the Gondwana Sanctuary, an intentional Osho community set up in the mid-eighties just north of Byron Bay in Australia. One evening at the community dinner, Yuti showed me a beautiful children’s book she had illustrated that had just been released. I was struck by the gorgeous illustrations and the simplicity and profundity of its message. And I knew immediately I had to tell my Global Yogi readers about it!
I caught up with Yuti, illustrator of the book Deer-Lightful, to find out more about the process of co-creating this beautiful children’s book with its author, Suzanne Thell as well as her own journey in Dru Yoga.
MT: I really liked the very concise and precise writing in the book. How long did the whole process (of creating the book) take?
YM: It was a five year process. When she (author Suzanne Thell) was first inspired by this particular Indian story, she realised that she could re-write it in a way that suits children and goes with the Dru Yoga (children’s) sequence.
And from there she just went with each part of the sequence with children, forming the words in a way that would encourage children to participate in the postures and use all their senses along the way.
MT: So the sequence of postures that are found in the book, that’s a Dru Yoga sequence?
YM: Yes, it’s called an Energy Block Release sequence, and that’s a Dru Yoga sequence. It’s one of the first energy block release sequences that was designed by Dru Yoga, and it’s very powerful. It’s very subtle, but also powerful in cleansing deep blockages in the deeper muscles and organs.
MT: And how long would that sequence take?
YM: Well it depends – you can play with it and take a long time, or you could maybe take ten minutes or five minutes. But it depends, say maybe you get to the eagle pose and maybe you do the posture over and over again.
And you know sometimes the kids have a favourite animal too, and they might want to be an eagle for half an hour. And then there’s the snake, slithering the snake, and imagining all the parts of the forest the snake is going through. It would depend on the age of the class and their capability to focus.
MT: So they do talk about all the postures in terms of animals in Dru Yoga as well?
YM: Well she (author Suzanne) is the only one who has really started the Dru Yoga for children, so all of her teaching of course does include animals. You can be a tree, you can be a dog, you can be a cat.
MT: Yoga in general has that understanding of many of the postures as animal forms doesn’t it?
MT: And how did you first start with Dru Yoga?
YM: I was a very sick person.
I had very strong fibromyalgia through menopause and I had a long term chronic fatigue, post traumatic stress disorder, where I had anxiety attacks and all sorts of things going on all the time. I was basically quite a mess. And I wanted to do something physical, because earlier on in my life I was quite physical.
I cycled around Australia on a bicycle for three years and I had done some yoga, but I’d go to some of those – what I call – ‘average’ yoga classes, and I’d stay there five minutes and I’d just freak out and leave. It felt like too much pressure for me somehow.
MT: As in too full-on the postures?
YM: Too full-on and immediately we’d be doing postures that were inappropriate to me and I just felt stressed. Just for me personally, I have nothing against those classes.
But then a friend of mine, who has a mud brick cottage at the back of her place where she teaches Dru Yoga, said ‘Just come and I will show you Dru Yoga’.
She just showed me a sequence of Dru Yoga and I just had a YES.
I felt a light energy that was indescribable and all of my body said yes and it was totally safe what she did with me. And then I heard that Annabel McKilsky, this beautiful woman who is a local psychologist / counsellor, who had also been doing gentle yoga with people, also trained in Dru Yoga.
So she was running classes, and other lady who ran the Yellow Church Yoga in Mullumbimby, Diana, had also had done Dru Yoga. So there were three classes a week I could actually go to for Dru Yoga at that time, in this region.
MT: So when did you start?
YM: This must have been about ten years ago. I started going to regular classes and I had transformations happen very quickly, and then I was advised by Annabel to do the course, which is based in Canberra. I think it was 2007 when I started the course.
MT: OK, so ten years ago.
YM: That’s right, ten years ago. So when I started doing the course, I was so passionate about practicing something every day and people around me noticed the transformation and they said: can you teach us?
MT: People around here [in the Gondwana community]?
YM: Yes, people around here. So I started teaching at the hall here at our community, and I had about eight people come to the class each week.
They were just loving my enthusiasm and loving the Dru Yoga, and I was doing that as part of my practice while I was actually still training. It is three years training that you do, because they like you to have an extended period where you learn something in a module and then you integrate it in your life daily for a few months, and then you go back for the next module and it goes on like that.
And I also did the Dru Meditation teacher training which is another three years.
MT: Wow! Another three years! That’s serious.
YM: Yes, so I was travelling to all of these modules in Canberra (from Byron Bay) and it was helping me so much that I wanted to get every bit of it.
So then I was running a few classes a week. I was very passionate about it, and then I was also helping on some of the teacher training in Canberra and Sydney.
MT: And would you say it’s something that is really appropriate to all ages of people? Because obviously some yogas are not so appropriate to older people.
YM: No there’s no danger at all in it. It is for everyone, because in every class it is made clear that you only do what is right for you. You are not expected to do any more that you can do. We also have modifications as part of it.
But just to give you an example, I was so sick when i turned up to each class; a lot of the classes I was just lying down for most of the class, I was just such a mess. But I knew I was getting something from just being there.
And I would participate as much as I could, but I never felt judged about not being able to do anything, and I think that was one of the core parts of my healing, was to have people accepting me totally as I was. And Dru is very, very strong with that, and Dru has none of the essence of people showing off what amazing stretches they can do, because that’s ridiculous.
You are there for yourself only and you only do what is right for you. And no one is every judged for not being able to do something so-called ‘properly’.
When I was training, there was a woman in her seventies who was training with us, to help her neighbour who had a bad hunchback. She was wanting to help her neighbour, and she was learning all of these wonderful ways to do that. And he eventually stood one inch higher, and then one inch higher, and he eventually started walking.
YM: So, all sorts of people felt that they could get some little thing that they needed, which was not necessarily being this amazing yogic freak that goes of into the wild for ten days of silence or whatever!
And yet, what happens, is that even if people have a particular physical reason for coming, they always benefit spiritually and emotionally as well.
Because there’s a lot of that emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of Dru Yoga that help people overcome the mental or emotional reasons for their illness.
MT: And for you, was there some catalyst for your anxiety attacks and post traumatic stress?
YM: Yes, I came from a childhood of traumas. I had an alcoholic father and there were a lot of dynamics in the family that were not so great. I was the sensitive one in the family; a bit of a scapegoat I guess you could say. I don’t feel like I am like that in the world now. I also looked after my sister who was dying when I was a teenager. I was looking after her alone in the house quite a bit.
And in those days, you didn’t express your emotions, so I had a sort of trapped grief in my chest for twenty years after that. And it wasn’t until I came up and did a lot of healing in this area that I could transform that.
And Dru Yoga was the most profound [modality] that showed me that all my life I had actually been in fear in my body, and wanting to be away from people when I was around people.
MT: Sort of like out of the body in a way?
YM: Out of the body, and wanting to be away from the presence around a person.
I felt threatened by people without even being aware of that. When I came to let go of those blockages in the body, through those energy release sequences that came gently, I realised how present I was, and I no longer wanted to run away from the moment.
And I was conscious that I had been doing that. That was the hugest thing. I am just happy about being here, being fine about being here, and even if someone’s a foot away from me, that’s fine too.
MT: That’s really powerful. Because there are quite a few of us who come into the world and sometimes it can feel like you just don’t actually want to be here. That your spirit is just like: Get me out of here, I don’t want to be here’ which is sort of the same as what you are saying.
YM: Well you know it’s not a conscious thing necessarily, it’s just very deep, that you want to love and trust your family, that’s a very normal thing to you. But you get treated in ways that don’t make sense. It’s not love, it’s not trust, it’s not very kind and it can be very hurtful and very shame creating. So that is like you are wondering why you are here I guess, if it is like that. It’s a mixed message.
MT: And did you find the process of learning Dru Yoga helped the healing with your family? Did your relationships change?
YM: Definitely. They say sometimes people might enter it wanting to change all the other people, but when you realise that once you change yourself, things change.
And even loving myself enough to say that look I don’t deserve this, I don’t need this, so I don’t expose myself to it.
And I did have different ways of being too quickly triggered by the other members of the family as well.
MT: And so now you continue your practice?
YM: Yes, daily. And because when we do three years, we learn such an extensive range of sequences, also meditations, mudras, pranayamas, and there are just so many themes we learn, and I have those in my back pocket so to speak, so if I realise there is something happening in my body or my psyche, I will just pull one out.
MT: So it’s not a ‘same every day’ kind of practice?
YM: For a while I might do the same every day, because sometimes it’s good to do the same thing every day, but you might just pull something out on top of that.
Basically with Dru Yoga, you start with activations, you do an energy block releasing, and then you choose to do things after that, followed by deep relaxation.
There is always a sequence. So I will always do an EBR1 (Energy Block Releasing 1) but what I choose to do after that – there are ten different types of EBRs as well – so yes I just choose what’s appropriate.
MT: Nice! So did the author have you in mind when she came up with the idea?
MT: So she knew you were an artist?
YM: She loved my work. Because I am what you call a ‘heart artist’ – my art expresses the heart, she knew my work from some cards I had done which were being circulated in Dru Yoga. And she knew me and my spirit, you know we are both quite sensitive souls. So she just immediately chose me.
And it took five years because of life (getting in the way)?
YM: Life, yes.
And it’s kind of nice it took that time, because it’s has been done to a really high quality, and if we had rushed it, people would perhaps be feeling that rushed-ness. And it’s an ancient story that’s been around for thousands of years, so what’s five years? The story is about slowing down and going within.
MT: So that’s the process that you used to create it?
YM: Yes, so we weren’t judging ourselves or criticising or pressuring each other. We were just playing in that very safe space of ‘we don’t want to hassle each other, we want it to evolve in an appropriate manner’. So yes, it’s evolved.
MT: So the paintings are oil paints?
YM: Yes, they are oil paints on board.
MT: Did you have to go through a few different variations of them?
YM: A huge amount. I would send photos of each painting. She was in Canberra so I would have to create things and then photograph them, then send them to her and get the response.
Sometimes when you sketch out something that’s not as obvious as when you are painting, but the composition you can get. But also sometimes because I am a heart person, the picture has to come out in a certain way that isn’t like a sketch composition.
It just evolves, and then, ‘Oh, that’s it.’ So we did have to have that risk of taking a bit longer because maybe it’s come out perfect for my heart but it’s not a perfect idea for the book.
MT: So then she would come back?
YM: So yes she would say, Oh that’s lovely but I had this or that in mind. She had her ideas, which were just ideas as she’s not an artist.
MT: So did you ever get frustrated, because she was telling you you had to do it again?
YM: Yes, totally! All my friends heard about it at the time.
It was one of the most frustrating experiences I ever had, because I’d never done it before and I didn’t know how to deal with it and how to be OK with myself taking so bloody long.
But then I spoke to a few other illustrators and they said that that’s just how it is. And they also thought it was extraordinary that I was doing it in touch with the author, because professional publishers usually will choose the illustrator and don’t let them meet so that they can avoid this too and fro process of having to keep repeating things.
Because the two of us were quite devoted to Dru Yoga and we were unified in the cause so even if we had to do something again, it wasn’t like something that was being treated inappropriately because we were in it together.
MT: So is it being distributed across the Dru Yoga studios?
YM: So the Dru Yoga has a headquarters in Wales, and there is a centre in Canberra. Someone is taking it over to India, and someone’s taking it over to France. Dru Yoga has spread very far in the world and there are so many people training in Dru Yoga.
MT: So it’s a perfect network!
YM: Yes, it’s Dru Yoga that’s supporting this printing and that’s why it’s printed so beautifully with the publisher that Dru Yoga regularly use.
MT: So is this the start of a new career?
YM: [Laughs!] I am very careful not to give all my time away to something that doesn’t pay by the hour. But I am currently working on the theme of these cards of the local bird life. I’ve got a logo called ‘Patchewollock Girl’ and I have this love for this Australian land. I’ve always loved it. I travelled around three years on a bicycle through Australia.
So something about the energy of Australia and the Australian animals I’ll be doing next.
*All images are copyrighted, and have been used with the author’s permission for the purpose of this book review.
‘Deer-lightful offers the reader the whole package, a book with something for the young and the young at heart’ – Dru Yoga
You can order Deer lightful directly from the Dru Yoga website here at http://dru.com.au/yogashop/books/98-deer-lightful.html
To find out more about Yuti Mclean’s work, visit her website.
For more information on the intentional community, Gondwana Sanctuary, visit their website.