The practice of smoking weed before launching into a yoga session gives new meaning to the instruction 'Inhale – Exhale' in the ashram. But is it beneficial for your practice?
We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have ecriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.
Yoga has its roots in traditional Indian medicine, or Ayurveda teachings. Within yoga practice, there is a focus on shifting one's gaze to the internal – to feel each breath and movement in minute detail. Other mindful practices such as meditation and deep breathing exercises are often paired with yoga to enhance the ideal outcome of 'oneness'.
Yoga varies greatly and can be slow and relaxing or vibrant and energizing. Increased mindfulness, increased flexibility and decreased stress are some of the key benefits from regular yoga practice.
How is cannabis involved?
Dee Dussalt, author of Ganja Yoga (2017) argues that there is no 'recreational use' of cannabis – in all its forms, and in each and every use, it is medicinal. Dussalt acknowledges the many wonders of CBD in aiding chronic pain, lessening the prevalence of seizures and minimising inflammation. Although these are wonderous outcomes, when paired with THC in whole cannabis and due to the entourage effect, many people find themselves with lowered inhibitions, a deeper connection to self and a mindful mental state.
It is these qualities that could be beneficial to yoga practice and reaching the ideal 'oneness' state – although there is a lively debate in the Ayurveda world as to whether or not weed and yoga should be paired.
Why shouldn't weed be used?
In Ayurvedic texts, marijuana is classified in two very different ways. When used as a medicine, the texts consider it to be highly beneficial, but it is seen as a detrimental substance when used recreationally.
Dr John Douillard leads an online course in Ayurveda teachings, and describes the two states in which marijuana falls – rajasic and tamasic. "THC is considered tamasic in Ayurveda. Tamasic drugs hide things like pain and emotions," he says. Although recreational marijuana use often begins in a positive, or rajasic, state, Douillard notes that the mind can become dependent on the substance, leading to a "tamasic dullness of the mind." For this reason, ganja yoga practitioners are classically frowned upon within the Ayurvedic world due to the mind's impure state.
Julie Philips-Turner is the founder of Chesapeake Yoga and Wellness and argues that an altered mind state is detrimental to the ultimate goal of enlightenment. "It comes from hard work and persistent practice," she says. "A good practice includes complete faith, continued uninterrupted, for a long time – this is the way to achieve the state of yoga."
Why should weed be used?
A key element of yoga is understanding every part of your body through movement and self reflection. Often, and particularly early in learning, this self reflection is practiced through metaphors and descriptive language. Learning to breathe into your lower back, or lengthening through the crown of the head can be difficult to understand if you're an overly sensible person.
Liz McDonald has been teaching a high yoga class at 4:20pm in Los Angeles since 2004. "Some people will die not knowing how to take a full breath. Pot can help you work through that," she says. Darrin Zeer created 420 Retreats in Colorado, and believes that marijuana is a key to open the mind to the body. "Cannabis, for me, is a medicine for the physical, emotional, and spiritual body." In Vedic times, around 1500 – 500 BC, it was not unusual for substances to be used in Ayurveda rituals to assist in expanding consciousness.
Zeer argues that tradition should be upheld today to help people gain insight into their own minds. "For some people, cannabis can help open the spiritual door and give them a peek," he says.
For me, it's a matter of helping me get into a deeper, more meditative space where I can tune into my body and give myself what I actually need.Rachel Ginsberg, yoga practitioner in Brooklyn
Recreational benefits of weed usage include a feeling of 'chilling out' and not being bothered by everyday annoyances. Rachel Ginsberg is a yoga practitioner in Brooklyn who believes ganja yoga helps her put the everyday out of her mind."I find that when I'm high, it's easier for me to let go of a lot of the things that are regularly occupying my monkey-mind," she says. "For me, it's a matter of helping me get into a deeper, more meditative space where I can tune into my body and give myself what I actually need."
Where can I partake?
Across many states in the U.S, ganja yoga classes and retreats have been popping up with the legalization of recreational weed. Darrin Zeer's 420 Retreats takes yogis up in the Rockies in Colorado, and Dee Dussalt herself runs sporadic classes in Portland, Oregon.
There are a number of classes within Colorado's capital city Denver, and a few others across the state. For an intense experience, Twisted Sister Yoga offer female-only four day retreats on a ranch far away from the everyday.
Stacey Mulvey is the founder of Marijuasana. Although based in Colorado, she is often flitting across the country hosting high events. Marijuasana are also a number of online resources, including meditation exercises.
If you're interested in having a try in the comfort of your own home, Ganja Yoga has a series of virtual classes to get you started.
What type of weed should I use?
This will depend on the person and their experience with different strains. Generally speaking, to help get into the right headspace to feel connected with yourself and the world around you, an indica-leaning hybrid is the way to go. Pairing body relaxation qualities from indica strains with mental clarity from sativa strains is ideal.
Forbidden Fruit or Cherry Pie will relax your mind and give you the opportunity to tune into your mind and body. For a very gentle practice, Wedding Cake could offer a tuned-in, yet relaxed session.
If you're a Californian with a little more experience in weed use, you could try the elusive Runtz strain, but make sure you have some snacks on hand for after your practice – this one is known to hit you with the munchies.
Though all-in-all, the best way to figure out if ganja yoga is right for you is to give it a try. When used as a tool to help achieve mindfulness, cannabis can help navigate the complexities of the mind and create a relaxing yoga practice.
If you're looking for a way to deepen your yoga practice, maybe try rolling up a joint as you roll out your mat. Let's face it, sometimes yoga just doesn't cut it.
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