In the minutes before our Friday night yoga class starts students arrive, set up their mats, hug and reflect over the week with old and new friends, and unwind over joints, bowls, communal bongs, and other smoking apparatus they’ve brought along. The vibes are high and everyone’s ready to unwind from the week with some ganja, slow yoga, and community. If I spot a few new faces I throw a question out to the room:
Before today, who’s ever smoked cannabis before doing yoga?
The students give each other a cheeky smile before admitting that although they keep it low profile, they smoke before doing yoga almost all of the time. It’s become a running joke in class that ganja yoga is actually America’s secret exercise of choice. In many of Bryan Kest’s power yoga classes he jokes that all of the students have probably been smoking joints in the parking lot before class – and I finally realize he isn’t just talking about me. Whether students smoke cannabis before yoga for increased bodily awareness, to relieve pain, or just because it feels good, everyone in my living room turned candlelit and smoke-filled yoga studio agrees – smoking weed and doing yoga with other people is a wholly different experience from smoking and stretching alone at home or lighting up just before going to a traditional yoga class.
Smoking cannabis in public with other adults just to unwind, heal, and meditate is a strangely liberating experience. Both traditional yoga and cannabis-enhanced yoga can be transformative, but one way they vary is that unlike a regular yoga class where you may never communicate with the people on the mats around you, cannabis-enhanced yoga comes with abundant community as joints are passed around and the space is open for introductions and connecting since students start arriving thirty minutes before the class.
At the end of a particular session, incense is burning as we all chatter over tea and share snacks to sooth a serious case of the munchies, some people reclined on their mats killing off the rest of a joint. One of my now regular students is blissed out and shares with the room that her experience made her feel deeply connected both to herself and everyone in the room – as if we were all moving and breathing as one with each other and with the universe. She’s not the first to express this and the room nods in agreement – one of the major effects of smoking weed is that it makes everything more profound by increasing awareness. Even though the yoga practice is very individualized to encourage honoring their own body, the simple acts of gathering, breathing, smoking, and moving consciously together reminds us of the fact that when stripped to the bare minimum we are all after the same feelings of deeper connection and understanding.
Some students try cannabis-enhanced yoga at home after loving the class, and while they enjoy it, the overall feeling doesn’t match that of smoking ganja specifically chosen to flow well with a sequence created to match their state, and led by an instructor who knows exactly how the practice feels and can safely guide them through it. Smoking openly with other like-minded yogis and making friends is another bonus students miss at home.
I love cannabis-enhanced group yoga compared to regular yoga because I develop a much deeper relationship with my students. We sit and talk for ages about non-yoga related things and get to know each other outside of class. Naturally introverted students are more likely to get involved during class and find a once anxious connection with cannabis to be diminished. There is no serious studio stigma about what a yoga class should be; we laugh during class, use lot of props, get out of poses to smoke more, make funny sounds, we create the space for each other just to move and be without judgement for a few hours every Friday night, carrying the good vibes through the week until we all meet again.