Mindful Meditation Tips for Ganja Yogis

IMG_0996A couple of weeks ago, after I’d finished guiding a cannabis-enhanced yoga flow and students were sharing stories over tea and occasional passes of the bong, one of them made the truest statements I’ve heard in a while;

“Being mindful is hard as fuck.”

It’s not easy to have moment to moment awareness with non-judgement, which is what being mindful is. We’re so used to being tense, labeling every situation as “good” or “bad”, and juggling multiple past, present, and future happenings in our heads, that relaxing and fully committing to the here and now is a struggle for most of us. This hyper-stressed version of ourselves is what we’re used to experiencing, but is far from an ideal state of being. Although we usually push personal relaxation to the bottom of a list of priorities in a very busy schedule, relaxation is essential for a balanced and happy life and mindfulness is a way to get there.

As well as a much more relaxed state of being there are many benefits to practicing mindfulness, such as improved concentration, objectivity, mental clarity, greater emotional intelligence, and an increase in ability to relate to yourself and others with kindness, acceptance, and compassion. Mindfulness also increases personal insight, mind-body awareness, and mental and physical health while reducing rumination and stress. Coupled with intentional cannabis consumption which promotes awareness of sensations and diminishes feelings of judgement, a meditation practice can give even greater relief from the automatic mindlessness that most people passively live through.

Although we usually push personal relaxation to the bottom of a list of priorities in a very busy schedule, relaxation is essential for a balanced and happy life, and mindfulness is a way to get there.

Mindful Meditations with Sativas

There are several kinds of mindfulness techniques to choose from, but there are certain meditations that are better complimented with a particular type of strain. Since sativas typically produce stimulating cerebral effects, breath counting and mantra meditation are great ways to experience mindfulness with a sativa. To do a breath counting meditation you simply breathe naturally, count your breath up to five beats on your inhales and exhales (more or less depending on where you find ease and comfort), make sure your breath lasts the same number of beats on both inhale and exhale so the breath flows steady and even.

Mantra meditating has the same principle, but instead of counting you repeat a short phrase every time you inhale or exhale.

(inhale) I am here. (exhale) I am here.

(inhale) I am here. (exhale) I am here.

Before starting your meditation start with the words “I am” and choose whatever word feels right to focus on in the moment. I am grateful. I am love. I am enough. Whatever resonates with you. If you can’t think of anything, just stay with the mantra “I am here”. Since sativas often turn up the volume on mind-chatter, a meditation that occupies the mind by counting or repeated mantra is a great way to tune out extra noise. Naturally, thoughts will still arise through the cracks so whenever that happens just allow them to come in, lean into the thought without judging it, then gently guide your attention back to your meditation.

Commit to sitting for a time that’s realistic for you, even if that’s only 5 minutes.

Mindful Meditations with Indicas

Indicas create a relaxing body high rather than the cerebral energized high of sativas, so a less mentally preoccupying meditation focused on pranayama or body scanning feel perfect with these effects.

Some indica strains like Purple Afgan, Mars OG, and SFV OG Kush make people feel tingly and grounded (or couch-locked), and generally more aware of their body. To do a body scan meditation, sit in a comfortable seated position or reclined bound angle pose with your knees supported by blocks (my personal favorite) and your palms resting face up on the ground, or with one palm on your stomach and the other over your heart (the former is a little more open and receptive, the latter more connective to the subtle moments of breath and body). Let your breath flow naturally as you notice your body from head to toe. Bring awareness to how your body rises and falls with your breath, notice individual parts of your body, any places of held tension, and see where you’re holding on to activity rather than letting your body settle into the passivity and gravity of relaxation.

A basic meditation, one that just focuses on simple, natural breathing, is another great choice for combining with indica strains. If you’re experienced with breathwork you can make the practice more restorative by exhaling for one beat longer than you inhale (the heart rate slows as we exhale, so longer held exhales are calming and activate the parasympathetic nervous system) or more energizing by using breath retention. Breath retention can be practiced by holding the breath for one beat at the end of each inhale and exhale, but only do either of these practices if your breath doesn’t become strained as a result.

Tips for all mindful meditations
  • Use mindful meditation as a daily tool for grounding rather than just when you’re already stressed out. Having certain techniques set in place before you’re feeling overwhelmed makes these techniques a lot more effective and not overshadowed by thoughts of how “well” you’re doing them – a normal thought for beginners.
  • Try and practice mindful meditation at the same time everyday. I try and meditate right after my morning bowl or within half an hour of waking up.
  • Always choose a comfortable position when meditating.
  • If you feel any changes in yourself because of consuming cannabis, notice them without judgement.
  • After you’ve meditated spend about 10% of that time noticing the effects before you get up.
  • Set yourself up for success and commit to sitting for a time that’s realistic for you, even if that’s only 5 minutes. That’s much better than zero, and it’s surprising how much good can be achieved in a short amount of time.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Your mind will wander and it will be frustrating, so rather than criticize yourself and try to drag your attention back to your breath, go with your thoughts for a while, see where they take you, acknowledge those thoughts, then gently guide your mind back to your breath, mantra, body, or whatever your focus was originally on.

How Cannabis Promotes Mindfulness

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If you’ve taken a yoga class you’ve probably heard an instructor talk about mindfulness. They may have set mindfulness as a communal intention for the class, or even read a quote to drive the theme home, but what does mindfulness really mean? To be mindful simply means to be aware; to calmly acknowledge and accept your whole self (thoughts, feelings, your body and it’s sensations) in the present moment.

Practicing mindfulness doesn’t come easily, but we tune in to it often through yoga, pranayama practice (conscious breathing) and seated meditation. Certain strains of cannabis, particularly strong indicas and hybrids, recreate the effects meditation has on the brain as they both promote euphoria, relaxation, pain tolerance, self awareness, empathy, and generally enhance our perception of an experience, while decreasing depression, stress, and anxiety – all of which aid in taking the trip* to a mindful state.

The biggest benefit here is that cannabis increases self awareness – the entire idea behind mindfulness. If you’ve ever been in a yoga class unable to tune in and feel your breath, you know how difficult it can be to find the extraordinary in what seems like a very ordinary action. We breathe literally every second of our lives so a disconnection with this process is natural, but with cannabis we’re able to rediscover the magic of our breath, and the simple act of breathing becomes profound. The fact that cannabis also enhances our perception of that experience means that you’ll stay entranced by the ebb and expansion of your lungs and belly for longer, letting go of the external world until the world is just your body and breath.

Of course, practicing mindfulness when consuming cannabis is essential to reaping all of these benefits and preparing your body and mind for bliss. No two strains are created equal so be sure to talk to your budtender about the effects of particular strains so you can make an informed choice. Whether you are new to consuming cannabis or not, smoke less than you normally would as meditating increases the high considerably – you can always have more later if you want to. Consuming progressively rather than all at once ensures you won’t get to a point where your mind is running wild, and also encourages listening very closely to your body’s needs. And that, my friends, is where a sweet mindfulness practice begins. This is not to say you should get high every time you want to be mindful (which is ideally all of the time), not only is that unrealistic, it’s an unhealthy relationship with a plant that can be wholly therapeutic. Experiment with consuming cannabis while meditating or doing yoga and notice how you’re able to let go of the external. Hold on to this ease. Feel it in your fibers. The next time you return to your mat for a moment of meditation, you’ll notice returning to bliss is much more accessible, with or without the aid of cannabis.

What are some ways cannabis has helped you stay mindful? Have you tried meditating after consuming cannabis? What were the effects? Would you consider trying this? Let me know in the comments!

*Pun intended. Pun always intended.