trying cannabis and yoga

I stopped using cannabis recreationally around the same time I became a yoga teacher, which was in late 2005. I’d only ever been an occasional user, and yoga’s classical recommendation for purity and clarity of mind influenced me in the direction of abstinence.

But that changed with recreational legalization in California at the beginning of this year. Now that I’m a parent, legal status absolutely matters to me. And I particularly appreciated the increasing availability of precise doses, and the proliferation of science-based explanations for the effects cannabis has on body and mind. As I began replacing a weekly glass or two of wine with a hit or two from a vape pen, I found myself relaxed while under the influence, but functional. I wouldn’t drive or go to work in that state, but I would cook dinner or watch a movie with my family. It felt like an easy—and healthy—addition.

But along with the increasing visibility of cannabis in our culture, classes and retreats like those offered by Dee Dussault of Ganja Yoga and Yogi D of 420 Yoga Retreats, are proliferating. What would happen, I wondered, if I brought yoga and cannabis together?

There is in fact another stream in the yoga tradition: the use of mind-altering substances, including cannabis and hashish, to open a window into spirit. Lord Shiva is sometimes depicted smoking a chillum. Some early yogic sects used cannabis as a sacrament, and there are sadhus (or wandering, ascetic spiritual seekers) in India today, who still do.

I consider myself an open-minded person. What is yoga, if not continual discovery? Yogis are experimenters, inventors, people who probe the depths of consciousness. So, in the comfort of my own living room, on a day with few responsibilities and at a time when my kids weren’t home, I gave it a try.

Here’s what happened:

I laid out my mat, powered off the laptop, silenced my phone. With some peaceful Indian instrumental music playing in the background, I took a hit from my vape pen.

A few minutes of sitting meditation segued into a flow of spinal undulations. I languorously moved my spine in the six directions: left and right side bends, forward bends, backbends, and twists. A particularly satisfying sensation arose when alternating between organic movements and longer holds. Vocalizations and sighs escaped my lips. Normally, my good old American inhibitions prevent this kind of release. But I was alone, and it felt good.

In the absence of excessive thought and analysis, I followed my body’s impulse to recline on my mat, soon finding myself engrossed in a fascia-releasing sequence for legs and hips. Again, through a series of movements and longer holds, I stretched my hamstrings, glutes, piriformis, adductors, groins, quadriceps, and psoas. My lower body felt alive and glowing.

I didn’t want to get up for a long while.

But the urge to stand did eventually come, so I practiced sun salutations, lunges, warrior poses, and plenty of squatting variations, like malasana. I found the same satisfying alternation between organically moving in and out of postures and holding them. Holds anywhere between thirty seconds and two minutes challenged my stamina and elevated my heart rate.

Even as my legs began to shake in horse pose, I didn’t feel the need to stop; instead, I enjoyed what felt like a powerful movement of energy. In Kripalu Yoga, teachers are known to say, “your issues are in your tissues,” and at that moment the connection between my body, heart and mind felt clear and palpable.

For a little while, I felt like a goddess having a deeply embodied yoga experience.

Things got a bit funny as I attempted headstand, sirsana, because the moment I went upside down, my dog bounded over to cover my face in sloppy kisses. I giggled and lost the posture. But instead of stressing about it, I let it go.

I then practiced some pranayama, or breath work, and melted into a blissful savasana. To the extent that I remember thinking, my thoughts flowed somewhere along the lines of: I should seriously do this more often.

The timer that I had set at the beginning sounded and I emerged from the practice, feeling deeply relaxed but a little less altered. The whole experience lasted about 90 minutes, the duration of a long yoga class. I ate lunch (which tasted delicious), returned some emails, and went about my day feeling pretty great.

Benefits:

I found sensations heightened, pleasure magnified. I also felt less goal-oriented in my practice than usual, and more willing to meet my body as it was. While experiencing less inhibition and self-consciousness, I felt increased self-awareness. From the spread of each toe, to the workings of individual muscles as I lengthened and contracted according to what the postures required, I truly inhabited my body.

While I can’t report any deep insights during the practice, I can say that I felt more of the sense of connection so many of us who practice yoga hope to receive. For me, it was both a spiritual moment and a physical one.

At a certain point, I found myself becoming preoccupied with planning the postures to come next, as well as with the list of to-dos that awaited the end of practice. But I felt easily able to recognize these thoughts and consciously set them aside. I kept a yellow pad next to me during practice, and during it jotted the notes: NOW. THIS. THAT’S ALL. And it felt true.

In addition, I felt no soreness or stiffness the next day, which substantiates my experience of paying close attention to my body.

Drawbacks:

For me, strength-building postures felt much more challenging than sensuous stretches. Peaceful, languorous energy can slip quickly into tiredness. While my physical and spiritual senses were heightened, I felt diminished mental acuity.

Conclusion:

I had a deeply-embodied, deeply-enjoyable experience combining cannabis and yoga. For those people who tend to get stuck in their heads, or to become pushy with themselves in an overly goal-oriented practice, my intuition says cannabis can help. However, those who are already well-grounded in the body might find it too sedating.

I plan to try it again, and possibly to incorporate it in my home practice once in a while. Though I won’t partake and practice often, I am now much more open to discussing cannabis and yoga, and to attending a class guided by a skilled teacher.

Om, shantih, shantih, shantih. Peace out.