Full disclosure: I can’t stand yoga. All that bending and stretching and exhaling, who’s got the time? I like to get in the gym, sweat hard and get out. Yoga is all about patience, a trait dangerously lacking in my personality. This afternoon I’m going to my first yoga class in ten years, and my main concern is to make sure I’m stoned af.
To ensure this, I smoke my first joint around midday and eat a brownie at lunch. By 5pm my mind is on a direct path to Jupiter, and my eyes, oh well, time to whip out the eye drops and white those balls. Some mascara wouldn’t go astray either. In the past I did countless yoga classes and fidgeted my way through every one of them, especially the ones with chanting. Please don’t let this be a slow class, I pray, before leaving the house, then roll a jay, and horse a few drags on the way out the door just to be safe.
A Roomful of Pleasant Surprise
On my way to class, a ten-minute walk away, all I can think about is the strong scent of mould my yoga matt exudes while hoping the room isn’t so small that other people notice its ripe stench. Actually, the room is the first of many pleasant surprises, large and airy, with lots of natural light, white walls, wood floor, and an old school tune playing on the stereo that I like and haven’t heard in ages. Thanks to my heightened senses and the room’s good acoustics, I instantly feel welcomed, and bop along to the familiar beat, as I place my matt on the floor and sit down.
The second surprise is the teacher; I’ve known him for years, not well, but did a class with him many moons ago. He’s famous for his smile, a broad beam, all teeth and lips. Wearing a sleeveless tee and shorts that show off his muscled legs, he sits at the top of the room on a matt, cross-legged, smiling like a man who knows something no one else does.
As I look around at my fellow classmates, an unassuming group of six, four women (including me), two men, between the ages of 35 and 50, all different body shapes and levels of fitness, I can’t help wonder if the class will be too easy. Because I skipped the gym today, my ego’s on the prowl, pushing me to feel the burn though the whole point of yoga is to give my body a rest. I sway to the music to still my restless thoughts while my classmates sit perfectly still in yoga positions. The song ends. Smiley takes charge.
Why Do Yoga?
“Why do yoga?” he asks, as if reading my mind, then scans the group, blinding each one of us with a flash of teeth, inviting us to speak. We are quiet. “To stretch my muscles,” I think but before I can speak up, a lady to my left says the same thing. Smiley smiles, and takes the reins, talking about “focus,” and how hard it is to achieve, how it’s actually the hardest thing about yoga, or life. He’s definitely reading my mind. He goes on to talk about the breath, how we can use it to warm up the body, or calm the body down, if we’re willing to connect with it in an intentional way.
He says he doesn’t plan classes because he has no way of knowing what the needs of the room will be in advance, but that we’d do some breathing exercises, chanting, salutations and relaxation. Oh no, not chanting! He turns on the music, more old school tunes that make feel young, and the class starts in earnest, working with breath, warming up the neck and shoulders, and vocal chords with some oms. As soon as I hear my voice join the chant, my vibration shifts, and I’m fully in the room. Smiley has my attention. I’m focused.
Why Do Stoned Yoga?
What follows is nothing short of a miracle because I stay in flow for the remainder of class, focused on Smiley’s voice, and following the movements as he instructs. The class isn’t physically challenging, just some basic moves and stretching, but it’s exactly what my taut muscles need. I’m surprised by my agility, and as we work through the movements, I’m feeling my muscles stretch and tension release from the all the right places. I can’t tell if Smiley instinctively knew what I needed, or if I simply needed any yoga class, but by the end of class, my body feels aligned and my mind is at peace.
This state of calm or bliss is the sensation that both yoga and cannabis are famous for, and there’s a good reason the two are connected. The connection is anandamide a neurotransmitter produced by the brain that binds to THC receptors. Discovered in 1992, some call it the “bliss molecule” and it’s named after the Sanskrit word for joy, “ananda.” It’s basically the body’s own anti-depressant, and studies link levels of anandamide to feelings of happiness or depression.
There are few things you can do to boost levels of anandamide including running, dancing, smoking weed or yoga. The link between cannabis or bhang as it’s known in India goes all the way back to Shiva, who loved it so much, he was known as “Lord Bhang.” According to some yogis, use of cannabis or herb is written into yoga lore, known as the Yoga Sutras, which were complied around 400CE. Stoned yoga is currently enjoying a revival with classes and retreats popping up all over legal markets. One woman, Dee Dussault, has become a western guru of stoned yoga, or ganja yoga.
Yoga is Better Stoned
There are a few ways being stoned improved my yoga practice. In no particular order, they include:
- I felt connected to the practice in a new way.
- The music carried me through the movements.
- I connected with my voice and body in a way I could never have done if not high.
- I was able to relax into the class, release tension and find my flow.
- Miraculously, I was able to focus.
At the end of the class, Smiley hands out blankets and we take a moment to reflect and give thanks. This is where he loses me again as my thoughts drift to my weekly timetable. However, he pulls me back again when we do a final set of oms and afterwards, he flashes us one of those smiles, this time full of gratitude. Turns out, it’s his first class at this gym too. He’s standing in for the regular teacher, will be giving the class for the next few weeks, and hopes to see us again.
“How many of you lost focus during class?” Smiley asks, raising his hand first, and all of us quickly follow suit. He smiles knowingly. I had a plan to take a photo before leaving the class but I’m so blissed out, I completely forget. A few hours later, my shoulders ache telling me it was a good workout after all. Don’t think I can handle more than one class a week, but yes, Smiley, I’ll be back.
UPDATE: 18 months later … I never went back.