Ganja Yoga: Roll One Up Before You Roll Out Your Mat
People have been practicing yoga for centuries, and for many it’s more than just a workout, it’s a lifestyle. An Indian yogi named Patanjali put together a collection of texts around 400 CE which provide a framework on how to achieve spiritual and physical health, called the Yoga Sutras.
The most widely known aspect of yoga is hatha yoga, or “the yoga of postures” which is used for exercise, meditation, and relaxation. Many believe that since the beginning of yoga in India, cannabis has been a welcome part of the lifestyle. Within the Yoga Sutras there is a passage stating that more enlightened states can be reached through birth, or with the aid of “herbs, mantras, austerities or concentration,” and this is widely believed to encompass the use of cannabis. The recipe for an ancient drink called bhang includes marijuana flower and leaves, milk, ghee, and several spices.
Part of the Indian tradition for centuries, bhang is still used to aid meditation, help with several minor ailments, and as an intoxicant. Smoking hashish is also mentioned by some yoga philosophers as an aid to meditation and reaching an altered state. Lately “cannabis enhanced” classes have been popping up in areas of the world where marijuana is more widely accepted. If you want to give ganja yoga a try, Dee Dussault will be teaching a class May 24th at Ascend Dispensary. Dussault is the first to teach this style publicly outside of India, and this is a rare opportunity that I know I’m going to take advantage of!
Most of the yoga I do is ganja yoga, unless it’s an early morning class. Cannabis and yoga help me with some of the same issues: dealing with chronic pain and inflammation, calming my brain, and helping with stress. Vaping a couple hits before an afternoon or evening class helps me clear all the other things I have going on that day from my mind. When life is hectic, it’s easy to find yourself going through the motions of the yoga flow while thinking about a million different things. You’re probably still getting a lot of the physical benefits when this is happening, but yoga is about more than just flexibility and getting a workout if you want it to be. I love the emphasis on strengthening the connection between your mind and body, this is a hard thing for a lot of us to do. Weed can help me focus and clear my mind, but it’s not the same for everyone. Similarly, not everyone is looking for the same things from their yoga practice. Some people are looking for the physical benefits, and others are more focused on the mediation. For some yogis the use of any substance, and even eating certain foods is against their practice; for others, using herbs like cannabis can be beneficial. To each their own, and “may the light within me honor the light within you” (Yep, that’s totally one of the cheesy lines you’ll hear in a yoga class). The point is, the goal in practicing hatha yoga is connecting your mind to your body, and achieving your goals. Perhaps that goal is to stand on one leg without falling over, or maybe you’re working on perfecting your headstands. Either way, great job!
Past sports injuries and knee issues have left me with chronic joint and muscle pain. Muscular pain is often caused by a combination of weak muscles which are not doing their share of the work, and tight muscles that are doing too much. The most effective way to relieve the painful symptoms caused by these imbalances is strengthening the weak muscles by working them out, and to lengthen the tight muscles by stretching them. There are various levels of strengthening and stretching involved in the different styles of yoga, and you can do some research to find the one that best suits your needs. Vinyasa flow classes are faster paced, and you probably don’t want to get too high before some of those because there can be a lot of core work, balancing, and transitioning involved. Yin yoga is fantastic for improving flexibility, among other things, and I find that these are my favorite classes to puff before. In this style, you will often hold a stretch for several minutes at a time, which can either be super boring… or it can be a meditative, mindful experience where you feel the very fibers in your body let go, and seemingly exhale the tension. When you hold a stretch for a longer period of time the meaty part of the muscle called the “muscle belly” is able to fully relax. This takes the stretch farther, into the sinewy connective tissue at the ends of the muscle which attaches it to your bones. And let me tell you, a couple puffs from a joint before class helps me relax and breathe into a 3 minute forward fold. Each breath leaving the body can feel like such a release when you connect with a yoga posture, and each inhalation can be a burst of energy.
Breath work and training yourself to move with each inhalation and exhalation is a crucial part of doing any style of yoga. If you struggle with anxiety, high stress levels, or some forms of asthma, the breathing and centering routines you learn in yoga can be extremely valuable. Practicing belly breathing (deep breaths, puffing out the belly instead of the chest), and slowing the speed of your exhales can bring down the heart rate, calm anxiety, and it stretches the internal muscles that are used to pull air in and push it out of the lungs. Many yoga poses are designed to stretch the chest muscles, which are usually shortened as we’re leaning forward at our desks, keyboards, steering wheels, and bongs. Spending time in these hunched positions contributes to muscle and joint pain, headaches, and digestive issues, all of which lead to stress and anxiety. Yoga is a fantastic way to counter the detrimental effects of daily life on the body, and the mind. If you’re having a high anxiety day, try some deep breathing exercises, or a few yoga poses to see if it gets you out of that rut. There are many simple postures which have been shown to help calm anxiety, such as Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend) or Uttanasana (standing forward bend). The poses usually have descriptive English names, but it’s fun trying to remember the long, often hard to pronounce Sanskrit names. For fun, try to say some of the names…. on weed!
I’ve been practicing yoga for a little over 5 years now, and I’m still learning new poses, and improving every time I go. There are hundreds of yoga studios in Portland, so if you want to start practicing you may not even need to leave your neighborhood. Most gyms offer yoga classes these days, but if a studio is more your style you can be on the lookout for cheap trial offers through Groupon, or just wander into a studio in your neighborhood and start asking questions. Many places even have mats on loan, so it’s super easy to get started and as you learn more about yoga you can practice the styles you enjoy, and focus on your own priorities. And don’t forget, your opportunity is coming May 24th to try Ganja Yoga (FB Event Page To RSVP)!
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