How Much Better Is Yoga If You're High?
Heightened senses, enhanced self-awareness, a feeling of lightness... wait, are we talking about a post-yoga savasana or getting stoned? On the surface, pot and yoga seem like a pretty natural fit (and it's not like this is the first time people have mixed weed and working out). But do yoga teachers actually recommend toking up while you downward dog?
Of course, some yogis think it's a bad idea.
Concern numero uno is safety: Mary Jane alters the receptors in your brain and body that regulate pain, emotions, and memory (... and appetite). So yes, hurling yourself into a handstand while your motor skills aren't on their A-game is probably a bad idea. Similarly, if you battle panic attacks and anxiety, marijuana can magnify those feelings—so sitting cross-legged and alone with your thoughts could end up doing more harm than good.
Kino MacGregor, an Ashtanga yoga teacher, says she fully supports marijuana legalization for medical and recreational uses, but she also acknowledges potential downsides. "So many people come to yoga to heal addictive behaviors that I find it challenging to recommend yoga that combines drug use with practice," she says. "Anyone can use the substance as an escape from facing difficult emotions and thoughts." MacGregor believes it's counterproductive to the spiritual endeavor of yoga, which asks us to look deeply at ourselves to gain freedom from old patterns. "Sometimes drugs mask reality and give you just enough good vibes to coast through life without facing your stuff."
Ayurvedic health counselor Emily Ruth agrees. "In general, the use of cannabis recreationally is counterproductive to a sattvic—or harmonious—state of balance within the body, mind, and spirit," she says. Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India, is super connected to yoga (it's often called yoga's sister science), and Ayurvedic thought promotes sattva, which is characterized by balance, harmony, and serenity. Any substance, practice, or habit that upsets that balance is pretty much considered undesirable.
This recommendation against getting high extends to alcohol and other drugs too. (Cue an uproar over beer or wine yoga.) Many yogis choose not to partake in any of these and recommend that their students abstain as well.
But there are other practices that welcome the conscious use of cannabis.
For what it's worth, the feelings of serenity and balance that are promoted with Ayurvedic medicine are arguably some of the same reasons people love smoking weed. And marijuana isn't exactly absent from the history of yoga—Lord Shiva, one of the great deities of Hindusim, is considered the Great Yogi, and is also associated with bhang—he's often depicted seated in a yoga posture smoking a chillum pipe. As such, some Shiva devotees use marijuana to deepen their meditations and prayers.
Dee Dussault, founder of San Francisco-based Ganja Yoga, describes an "enhanced" yoga experience for herself and her students while enjoying pot. In her book, also called Ganja Yoga, she writes that the goal is not to get so high you lose focus, and, as we mentioned earlier, that it's a good idea to avoid attempting those intense arm balances and inversions. Instead, the idea is to slow down, open a doorway into a deeper part of yourself, and dive into satisfying meditations.
As a long-time yoga teacher myself, a resident in a legal marijuana state, and a new(ish) occasional user, I've been somewhat skeptical—but curious—about combining the two. My yoga training has always been in the pursuit of clarity and peacefulness. But what if pot could, at least sometimes, help and not hinder those goals?
So I tried a weed yoga class.
It wasn't a well-known, branded class—it was a class offered by a local yoga teacher, a friend of a friend, on a Sunday evening in a living room in San Diego. And you know what? It was awesome.
The teacher, who normally leads an intense flow style of yoga, instead guided a gentle practice with minimal instruction. I brought along my vape pen and took two puffs: once at the beginning of practice and once in the middle. They were enough to shift my perspective but not enough to make me feel weird or paranoid. I felt the postures much more deeply and luxuriously in my body. I blissed out in savasana. And afterward, I gave hugs all around, then floated home to a sweet night's sleep.
Feeling inspired, I asked around my yoga teacher circles and found that more people than I realized were open to pairing yoga with a jay. While few of the teachers I spoke to were involved in public pot yoga classes, many of them had simply tried it in their home practices with good results.
Shelby Lafrinere, a yoga teacher and yoga therapist, is a fan. She says she's also used marijuana medicinally to heal from spinal injury and traumatic brain injury. "The plant allowed me to avoid prolonged use of pharmaceutical drugs and all of their consequences while still being functional enough to build a successful yoga teaching career and a full life," she says.
While Lafrinere prefers to practice yoga postures sober, cannabis serves as a wonderful, occasional aid to meditation. "I can sit for longer periods of time and often have more inspirational insights," she says.
Jackie Stenzel, another yoga teacher, agrees that a sober state of mind serves her best for practice, but once in a while, she'll use weed to help her feel more grounded in physical sensations. "It opens the doors to yoga for me, whether I am consciously planning to practice or not," she says. In the past, she says, she'd get stoned too frequently during her yoga practice and found it was distracting—noting that all sensations, including pain, can be magnified when you're high. "But there have been many occasions where cannabis seems to create this inner sense of alignment with myself and the universe," she says.
And perhaps the best response was from yoga teacher Julie (that's not her real name, but she lives in New York where pot isn't yet legalized, and we all know how snitches end up): "Push your coffee table out of the way, light up, and practice yoga in the middle of your living room. If getting high and moving your body makes you feel good, more power to you—life's too short to not at least try something that could end up being so great."
Is mixing yoga and weed for you?
It very much depends on who you are. Whether weed helps or hinders a yoga practice is going to depend on your mix of intention, habits, and frequency. Relying on a substance to get you where you want to go—in yoga or in life—is never a good idea. But if you're so inclined, using it to occasionally shift your perspective and enhance the practice may have real benefits.
As a yoga instructor, I don't recommend pairing the two with every session—there is a true benefit to sober self-awareness, after all. But I do believe that yoga was borne of open-mindedness, and it's not meant to become dogmatic, rigid, or intolerant. The way I see it, there's plenty of room for exploration.
Danielle Simone Brand writes about parenting, yoga, cannabis, and pop culture. She has been a yoga teacher for over a decade and currently teaches people of all ages across San Diego.