The Basics –
History: Cannabis has been used to enhance yoga and meditation for thousands of years
Benefits: Calm, presence, deeper focus, patience, breath
Side effects: Dries the tissues, causes an imbalance in standing poses, can cause sleepiness or heaviness
Sanskrit name: Vijaya
Ayurvedic qualities of cannabis: Dry, hot, penetrating, holding
The holy Hindu sadhus, ascetics who renounced material life, considered cannabis a sacred medicinal plant that benefits mind, body, and spirit. In Ayurvedic texts, there is evidence it was used to deepen meditation and yoga practice, and as medicine, as much as 5000 years ago.
This plant can be used to tune in to yourself or to tune out the rest of the world. It requires mindful use during yoga practice. There are Vedic stories about the gods bestowing the plant on humans as a gift to bring us pleasure. These stories come with warnings about over-use and misuse. The sadhus used cannabis in fasting and meditating. When removed from this ascetic environment and placed in ours, the impact is changed.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, cannabis creates a “tamasic” state which can feel calm and still, sleepy and dull. It offers an opportunity to be completely present and aware, tuned in to the things happening at the moment – or drifting and lost, sluggish. Choose before you get high what you want to feel. What you choose may depend on whether you are self practicing or practicing with people and a teacher.
How do I use cannabis in my practice:
For busy people with active minds, cannabis can help them stay present to the breath long enough to notice how it feels. Practicing while high offers an opportunity to be completely present and aware, tuned in to the things happening at the moment – and it can also leave you feeling drifting and lost, sluggish. I have had the experience that it is often a choice, which of these we experience.
Choose before you get high what you want to feel, and choose your cannabis variety based on that. What you choose may depend on whether you are self-practicing or practicing with people and a teacher. There are differences in strains and a good bud-tender can help you pick a THC/CBD/Terpene balance that will give you a good experience.
Something to keep in mind. Habitual use during practice can dull the spiritual growth of your yoga practice. It can leave you feeling that you need to be high to find stillness. It can steal your memories of growth-oriented thinking during your practice.
It can keep you from growing your balancing practice, as the balance is how we express stillness in asana. It can take away your inner fire. It is important to come to your mat clear-headed most of the time. There are exceptions, chronic pain sufferers tend to get less dull from the consumption of cannabis. The pain eats the dulling effect.
I use cannabis in my private practice when I am anxious and my head is too full of thoughts. I use it when my hips and back are sore because it slows me down and helps me feel what is happening in my body. I practice yoga with cannabis once a month or so at home.
I love the way it helps me forget all the details of daily life and sink into my body and breathe. I forget about emails I am supposed to be answering. I forget about the mistake I made yesterday and the laundry. I forget about everything but what I am doing. Everything but my breath.
When I come to my mat next, without using cannabis, I find the stillness and the focus I seek a bit more easily. Sometimes it is easier to go to a place I have been very recently. I can drop into presence more readily because I remember what it feels like.
How can I prepare?
Hydrate well. Prepare your mind, have fun, slow down, notice each movement, and each breath. Make it an opportunity to step out of your normal routine and notice what poses your body wants to take. Do you usually squirm in hip openers? Maybe today you can just breathe.
Stop and take water breaks whenever you like. The use of cannabis in your practice should be pleasurable. There is pleasure in yoga, even in a hard, hot, sweaty practice, and cannabis helps us stop to feel it in moments we might otherwise be too distracted.
If you tend to get paranoid when you consume, it is best to practice alone the first time, with a friend, or at a cannabis class where everyone has the same experience. If you’re interested in having a group experience such as this, come to the yogaRIOT highVIBE: Cannabis Flow class.
I don’t suggest getting high on your own and going to a regular, public class if it is your first time using cannabis with yoga. You may find yourself feeling anxious, confused and unfocused. The question, “does everyone know I’m high?!” can be become a distraction.
There is also a danger, if you are not a regular user, in taking a class with a teacher who doesn’t know you’re high. They won’t understand why you aren’t able to balance or why you can’t seem to pay attention. You may feel pressured to go harder or faster than is safe in your altered state.
What does science say about yoga and cannabis?
In her article in Yoga Journal, Andrea Rice compares the use of Cannabis in yoga practice to drinking alcohol. It does not compare. Alcohol causes lapses in judgment, such as over-estimating physical capabilities. Cannabis does not.
It impacts different parts of the brain and clears the body sooner, with a much shorter half-life. Alcohol damages tissues and organs and is an addictive substance that kills many thousands of people annually. Cannabis is not. With care and mindfulness, this medicine can be used to help deepen your practice.
There is little science on the long term health effects of regular cannabis use, though even chronic users are not seen to have increased incidences of lung cancer or other negative long term effects. Cannabis causes short term memory loss but there is evidence it actually slows the progression of dementia.
Cannabis has many health benefits and some negative side effects. There are concerns for the lung tissues, even without lung cancer. Whenever you are drawing burning smoke and ash into your lungs there is tissue damage. Bongs filter the smoke and ash through water, edibles by-pass the lungs altogether, dabs and vaping are less ashy ways to deliver the product to your lungs.
With the current concerns about vaping cartridges, we suggest only natural flower vaping, not cartridges with unknown liquid agents in them. If you are using cartridges make sure you are purchasing from a local organic manufacturer whose product and ingredients are known to you.
Edibles have their own concerns. Without experience with the product, it can be hard to determine how much to take before you begin. So if you’re going with edibles, get good product from a known source and take the advice of the maker on how much to start with. Take them on an empty stomach and wait at least an hour to decide you need more. Edibles last longer than smoke and have a deeper high.
You may find cannabis is a great tool to be taken out once in a while to enhance your focus and concentration. And, it is important to never let any tool get between you and your direct relationship to your yoga practice. Your practice is for your life, so treat it like you treat your life, with care and mindfulness. Whether it is cannabis, or a spot in the room, or a teacher, or a playlist, remember nothing is necessary to your yoga practice but your breath.
Where can I experience a yoga and cannabis class?
highVibe is a yogaRIOT event that happens on the 4th Saturday of every month. It is a 2-hour experiential yoga journey that includes cannabis usage to access deeper spaces of your practice. Students can expect to gather for a smoking session 20 minutes before class begins.
The doors are locked promptly at 7:10. Yoga takes place for 75 minutes in our spacious, gently heated space with ambient music.
Students are offered a heart-opening, calm, vinyasa practice that inspires and invites release. A luxurious 15-minute savasana with mayo-fascial release and a cool lavender face towel. Students are invited to gather after class for kombucha.
If you have any questions about this event, email us at [email protected]