Javiera Köstner is a San Francisco-based yoga instructor and a leader of the San Francisco Ganja Yoga community. She recently talked with bud.com about yoga, spirituality, and weed—and how they all fit together.
How did you get started practicing yoga, and combining yoga with cannabis?
I started the practice of yoga in Chile, where I lived before moving to San Francisco. My teachers were very, ‘Cannabis and yoga—that’s not the way it goes.’ I went to one class high and I felt horribly anxious. Oh my god, they’re going to discover me. But one day I was in my house and I smoked and I was like, I want to do some movement. I practiced, and it was just this spiritual thing like, ‘Oh my god, wow.’ The way that you get embodied. The way I could feel the movement and the connection to everything around me. I couldn’t do it in Chile, but when I came to San Francisco there was this person, Dee Dussault, that was doing it as a practice. She had been teaching Ganja Yoga for seven years. I went to her class. It was amazing. A beautiful class, full of about 20 people smoking together and doing this mindful movement.
Can you zoom in on what it felt like that first time when you combined yoga and cannabis at home, and what you have come to appreciate about combining yoga and cannabis as you have continued on this path?
My approach to yoga has always been from the somatic world, which includes trauma, illness, pain management, and the ability to be in your own body despite discomfort. It’s really powerful to stay with sensation, stay with feelings, and treat them like the weather. When you go inside with yoga and cannabis you can really go deep, and you can really travel to different spaces. And you can open up. After I did my first yoga teacher training, I knew the poses and what you had to do—you flip your hand and you inhale forward and then you go down. But with cannabis it’s a slower practice, so when you reach out your arm you can really feel and notice every detail all the way out to your nails. Where are my nails pointing? And how does that affect the movement? For example, when I inhale and lift my arm, I’m not just lifting my arm. I’m lifting all my body as the muscles are connected with each other, they tangle along with various muscles and tissues, so it’s kind of all a movement and adjustment of the complete body to just reach out the arm. Cannabis gives you that kind of openness to the feelings and to the little details in the movement.
Do you think cannabis facilitates slower, more mindful movement?
Yes. It’s also about finding your own rhythm. In a class setting, maybe the class rhythm is not your rhythm. So how do we invite that to class? In some kind of power Vinyasa classes, it can be like: ‘You do this; you do this. You breathe like this. That. That.’ And you have to follow it. And maybe my breath is not your breath. And I have to go slower, or faster, or whatever. So, in Ganja Yoga, we move but we also find our own way of moving. Then you open your eyes and see the class and everybody’s moving and its sort of like a forest.
That sounds beautiful. Everyone moving together like a forest. Can you talk more about the community aspect of the classes?
Every Ganja Yoga teacher has their own way of leading their class. In my class, there’s an altar, which is where we put all our offerings. People tend to naturally gather around to socialize versus spreading out into smaller or separate groups. It’s something that makes people unite in one place.
Ganja Yoga classes have this space before class for socializing. Sometimes people will say, ‘This is the first time I’ve smoked in a group. I usually just smoke in my house, because I don’t feel comfortable.’ So, we have a time, a half hour, forty minutes. This communicates, ‘You’re ok here! What you’re doing, this is ok.’ And then we have that again at the closing part of the class. I encourage people, ‘If you see anybody that you haven’t met, go and say hello.’ If you can take a moment for self-care before you leave the class so you don’t leave feeling like, ‘Oh my god, I’m high.’ Ask yourself, what are you needing before you step out into the world?
The social part at the beginning and end of class is a very important piece. Sometimes when you smoke you get a lot of downloads, and you need a little bit of time before you actually do the movement or step into other spaces.
To unpack a bit the ‘not feeling comfortable’ aspect some people feel, in what ways have you had to deal with judgments or perceptions from others about combining cannabis and yoga?
This makes me think about [the Hindu god] Shiva. Shiva is the lord of yoga, but Shiva is also the lord of ganja. I find myself having this conversation with other yoga teachers that are kind of—’Ganja no, but Shiva yes, our lord.’ Yeah but, you know, that’s interesting because he’s also the lord of ganja. You can see him with the drink—bhang. That’s a cannabis-infused drink. So that’s curious. You take what you want, you know?
When my other yoga teachers talk about cannabis they say things that are also very true. If there is no container, and if there is no intention, you can get really stuck in the kind of, ‘I want to disconnect,’ piece. And if you’re depressed, it might actually not help you in getting better. It can actually make you tired, and have no more motivation. They call it ‘sticky aura.’ it’s very hard to push through. Cannabis is not [chemically] addictive, but it’s more a psychological dependence, how you feel with it.
Do you feel like the mindfulness that is often paired with yoga can come into play with cannabis consumption?
Definitely. That intentional piece, for creating more consciousness and more awareness, is tied to both yoga and cannabis. We talk about more yogic ways of consuming. Try to smoke less. Try to use THC tinctures. Try to use cannabis topicals. Or, try to use it when you really need to use it instead of, ‘I’m going to be high all day.’ you know? Choose the moments to do it. In Chile cannabis is illegal so when I first got to San Francisco, I would seek out the strains with highest THC. But now with more information I look for effects and terpenes: anti-inflammatory, pain management, sleeping, reduce anxiety, creativity. I can make a choice for when it’s needed, when it’s not. Now, I am not like, ‘let’s be high all day and kind of flow throughout the day’. You can really get more from that, from the intentional piece.
It being a practice is also super helpful. Thinking about it as, ‘This is my monthly practice to feel better. I do therapy, I do yoga, I mind my way of eating, and I add this as part of the process that I do.’ I think the having practices thing really helps with discovering yourself and going deeper. Even if, let’s say, you smoke every day to relax. Really use it to relax. Not just to turn the TV on, but to take a moment and, ‘I’m going to breathe, I’m going to take 15 minutes just to relax and then I’m going turn the TV on or whatever.’ It really adds the intention.
How has cannabis affected your personal spirituality?
This has shifted a lot of times in my life. What is god, and how do I feel it, and where? Now I just believe that god is love and the ability to connect to love. And it is really not easy to stay in the path of love. With everything that’s going on, it’s just hard. But when you smoke you get that little crack open. It’s not love to all the world, but how can I love myself? Then, from loving myself how can I love others? There’s compassion and self-care and self-love. And when you’ve got the seed in you, you can start to spread it out. And it’s really beautiful to see.
Georgia Perry is a freelance writer currently based in Denver, Colorado. She has been published in The Atlantic, CityLab, and Vice. Follow her on Twitter @georguhperry.