Ever tried stoga? As marijuana legalization continues to spread across the U.S., many people are coming up with innovative physical experiments starring the leaf. First it was stoned sex; next, we had high weightlifters and recreational athletes praising strain-driven workout gains; and now, cannabis has become a very hot topic among yogis. And just like with the issue of protein powders and supplements, the yoga-loving crowd is pretty divided when it comes to asanas on a trip: some yogis claim that Marry Jane can positively impact movement fluidity, breathing, and mind-body awareness, while others are strongly against the use of mind-altering substances, however natural and non-addictive, because it is contrary to yogic principles which praise enlightenment through exercise, conscious breathing, and meditation without the need for a consumable leg-up.
The root of the leaf: Cannabis and spiritual rituals
“Many wandering monks smoke Indian hemp” – Swami Saradananda, ‘Sri Ramakrishna: The Great Master’
According to certain yoga historians, many ancient yogis partook in either hashish or bhang (a drink made from the flowers of female cannabis plants) before their meditation and asana rituals. Dee Dussault of San Francisco Ganja Yoga claims that “cannabis has been linked to really early use with yoga in ancient Shiva cults,” but the yogis of the time drank it or used cannabis as incense rather than puff on it. From Indian sadhus, pot practice spread to the West back in the 1960s and 1970s, when artists, writers, liberal thinkers, and other free spirited yoga lovers such as Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, the Beatles, and Ram Dass tried ‘greenifying’ their meditation and yoga routines and went public about their experiences.
Zen in a pot jar: Effects of marijuana on yoga practice
“Some people will die not knowing how to take a full breath. It’s hard for them to grasp the idea of breathing into your low back or lengthening from the crown of your head. Pot can help you work through that.” – Liz McDonald of LA-based Atwater Yoga
Though strictly speaking marijuana will not instantly make you a star yogi busting asanas like a pro, cannabis is said to have the potential to promote certain aspects of yoga practice. Yogis use marijuana in different forms – smoke it as a joint, vape it, or consume it as edibles, so you should first educate yourself about the difference between indica and sativa strains, before you open the door to MJ yoga experiences.
• Marijuana can reduce anxiety, calm the mind and enhance relaxation, essential for yogic enlightenment.
• Medical cannabis has shown outstanding results in cases of people afflicted by chronic pains, so it can help eliminate neuropathic aches and even migraines before a yoga class.
• The leaf is also known to alleviate muscle spasms and arthritis discomforts, allowing the yogi to focus on the asanas and extend their range of motion despite a pressing health issue.
• If used with care, marijuana can enhance awareness and clarity of perception, thus boosting performance of certain yoga postures (if consumed too much, however, it can compromise balance and coordination).
The cannabis caveat: All that smokes is not gold
“Marijuana inhibits the ability to experience yoga – the inner self – and is therefore incompatible with the practice of transcendental meditation.” – Dr. William Sands, dean of the College of Maharishi Vedic Science
Some yoga instructors are fervent opponents of combining cannabis with yoga routines because the principal goal of yoga is to attain mind-body equilibrium and restore emotional balance without altering the mind through opiates. A yogi strives to achieve inner peace and spiritual freedom in the real world rather than escape reality on a pot puff, so indulging in your favorite shade of green may in fact be counterproductive for long-term yoga success. In addition to that, the intake of cannabis before yoga class can result in blurry (rather than sharpened) focus and reduced responsiveness to the teacher’s instructions, which is one more reason why it may be a good idea to skip the strains before the hour of yogic strain.
So, what is a yogi to do when it comes to cannabis? You can try merging the two, for as long as you are wary of the trip downsides and are consistently following yoga principles and not just trying to go against the yogic book. The best way to find your trail towards the higher spiritual plane is to simply go with the flow and see where it takes you. Namaste!