Transcendent balance: respectfully integrating cannabis and yoga
Yoga has had a hold on the Western world since the first Americans returned from India with tales of gurus and asana to share. Decades later, yoga has reconnected with another ancient art: cannabis consumption. I have been studying and practicing both for some time, beginning my yoga journey in 2007 and starting as a budtender in 2011.
In 2019, after three years as a cannabis writer under my belt, I became certified as a yoga teacher in hopes of combining the two. I wanted to find the right avenue to share accessible cannabis-infused yoga with the world.
Many have had the same idea, that cannabis has a place in a yoga practice, but it didn’t start in America. Though possessing cannabis in India now could incur harsh penalties, the plant has ancient roots there just like yoga.
With the appropriate mindset and reverence for history, cannabis can enhance a yoga session. Those who have gotten on their mats consciously lifted can attest that the practice may lead to an enriched experience, adding a cannabis high to the often reported “yoga high” felt after time on the mat.
Data shows that there may be healing potential in mystical experiences. Many researchers are seeking information on how psychoactive substances and mindfulness practices could bring on such a transcendent state.
The science of cannabis and yoga
Cannabis and mindful movement like a yoga practice might be the key according to recently released research. Dr. Sarah Daniels defended her doctoral dissertation at the University of British Columbia after conducting a study that hoped to reveal how consuming cannabis may impact the experience of doing yoga asana (the postures you do in a yoga class).
A cohort of almost 50 adults self-administered cannabis in two different instances, once as a control and another time before a yoga class. People were recruited online or opted in after completing prior cannabis research; they ranged in age from 19 to 50 and included beginner and advanced yoga practitioners.
After the first sesh, participants were asked to go about their day after consuming. Most opted to eat, with many watching movies, cleaning, or meal prepping. On the second meeting, they consumed how they preferred in the comfort of their homes before doing a 45-minute gentle online class taught by a Ganja Yoga instructor.
The majority (89 percent) of participants enjoyed the practice. 72 percent say that they would practice high again, and 86 percent told researchers they would recommend cannabis-infused yoga to a friend.
Many practitioners reported feelings of mysticism after yoga under the influence, with a feeling that they had an experience that couldn’t be described in words. This was true despite any mental health issues or their level of experience, indicating that combining pot and mindful movement could invoke mysticality.
This is something that I’ve felt while practicing asana as well as some other limbs of yoga like pranayama (breathing technique), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), and dharana (focused concentration).
The study mentioned some limitations, specifically that the research would be more well-rounded if participants also completed a sober yoga class. Researchers were able to pin down that cannabis consumption doesn’t always lead to transcendence, given most people reported eating and relaxing after the control consumption session. However, they did not solidify whether yoga can elicit the same response without the pot.
Dr. Daniels hopes this research will inspire more inquiry into how consuming cannabis could exalt a yoga class. However, with these findings alone, more teachers may be interested in adding weed yoga to the schedule. Before they do, it’s wise to check a few boxes.
Honoring ancient practices rather than appropriating
An often overlooked aspect of yoga in the U.S. is the appropriation. This could be solved with more focus on diversity and inclusion, as well as an understanding and reverence for history. Remember how I mentioned the limbs of yoga? There are eight of them, but many Americans are under the guise that yoga consists of asana (poses) alone.
Throwing cannabis into the American yoga industry without understanding the history of cannabis in India and yoga would only further complicate the situation. However, studies like the one mentioned above make a case for the practice.
So what is the right move going forward? Yoga speaker and teacher Susanna Barkataki speaks often on the topic of decolonizing American yoga and recorded a TikTok on exactly this topic in 2022. Turns out the answer is to respect and learn before considering monetization. I’m looking at you well-meaning flexible, thin white ladies.
Ok @WSJ but where do you think weed and yoga comes from?! 👀Shiva – the first yogi- Adi yogi was smoking on Mt. Kailash in deep samadhi … Before white folks even “discovered” -ahem columbused- yoga.I mean listen, so bhang and ganja are part of some yoga/temple culture. As is also abstinence from plant medicines. Ok look, close to my ancestral land in Assam there’s tons of weed fields. And I’ve been on yoga retreat and silent pilgrimage in in the Khush mountains where I was rolling in weed bc it grows… everywhere, like a weed. I’ve got lots of thoughts. My teacher Shankarji often quoted the prototypical yogi who’s life we know a good bit about – the Buddha. He is thought to have said – in reference to substances – “our minds are confused enough, we don’t need anymore help.”And oof that hits – it just rings true to me. I’m not here to shame or moralize – but at very least respect the origins and traditions here. And X the appropriation. Have Indigenous South Asian BIPOC from within the tradition – who understand the context – facilitating and teaching it. If y’all are going to do this. I want to lift up some folks who commented on this thread on the original post and in an @abcdyogi chat thread @alchemystic_studio @findyourbreath @indie.wellness @hope.glastris.creative and others Lots here. So much context and nuance. Did you know this history? 🤷🏽♀️What do you all think? 👇🏽#culturalappropriation #embraceyogasroots #honordontappropriateyoga #pilgrimage #sacredjourney #yogaspirituality #embodyyogasroots #ahimsapractice#nature #mindfulness #meditation #yogateacher #meditationcoach #yogaissocialjustice#energy #healing #body #selfhealing #self care #selflove #consciousness #spirituality #spiritual #awakening #journey #nature #desiyogateacher
Dr. Daniels educates readers on the 3,000-year-old tradition of cannabis in India, and the connection Lord Shiva has to the plant in an almost 20-page introduction to the study. As someone who practiced performative stretching while thinking it was yoga for some time, I hope a reverence for yogic history permeates as this study stirs up excitement for cannabis at the yoga studio.
After reading this study that shows two of my hyperfixations may be a good pairing, I have a few hopes. I hope that researchers continue looking into the mysticism of cannabis and yoga and how what they learn applies elsewhere despite not seeing monetary value. I also hope more people are inspired to get on a yoga mat and explore how cannabis impacts their experience. Lastly, I hope that those Americans who choose to teach weed yoga (and any yoga) do so with reverence for where it all started.