For many of us, stepping onto our yoga mat is a sacred daily ritual that brings us into the present moment by yoking the mind, body, and breath. For others, cannabis represents a way of becoming more grounded.
So, what happens when you combine the two?
Enter ganja yoga, or “stoga.” Fascinatingly, consuming cannabis while practicing yoga isn’t just a trendy new spin on an ancient practice.
In India, both yoga and cannabis (ganja) can be understood as gifts from the Hindu god Shiva, sacred tools that foster healing and the expansion of consciousness. 1
Hindu holy men, or sadhus, practice yoga while high as a means of attaining inner peace and inspiration. Nowadays, yogis stretching in group classes, or at home alone, are also discovering that weed can transform their experience.2
How can ganja yoga help your practice?
Yogis are often on the hunt for methods to enhance their practice, experimenting with tools such as heat, props, or mindful music. Cannabis represents a unique way to gain a fresh perspective on the three central elements of yoga:
asana (physical poses)pranayama (breath control)dhyana (meditation)
Cannabis users perceive a range of benefits from consuming, many of which may improve a yoga session, including reduced pain, heightened perception, and a feeling that time is slowing down. 3
These effects can all lend themselves to an enhanced yoga practice. What’s more, cannabis may also have advantages for after a yoga class. For example, CBD (a non-intoxicating cannabinoid) has been shown to carry unique benefits for athletes by boosting performance and optimizing recovery.
Cannabis users also report that the plant can also encourage withdrawal. Ironically, one of the eight limbs of yoga is pratyahara, the withdrawal of the mind inwards.
For yogi Gretchen Giles, Zoom classes during the COVID-19 pandemic led her to first start experimenting with cannabis during her practice.
“In the 22 months since I began practicing at home via Zoom and using cannabis beforehand, my strength and endurance have improved far more than they did during most of the nine years I had visited the studio in person without it,” says Giles. “I’m less inhibited and more adventurous–cannabis encourages me to go that one step further, one movement lower, one stretch deeper than I would typically try without it. The results have been astounding.”
Giles also notes that cannabis enhances her internal perceptions: “I have the sense that I feel my body more completely than I do when I do not use cannabis for practice.”
Yogis may also notice myriad other benefits from mindfully consuming cannabis before (or during!) practice, which can include:
increased relaxationstronger breath/body connectionuplifted moodenhanced concentrationlonger time spent in “flow state”improved sleepmore profound sense of connection to self and the wider world
How can yoga and marijuana impact the endocannabinoid system?
Both cannabis and yoga can work wonders for the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). Collectively, the ECS is responsible for helping maintain homeostasis or equilibrium in the body. Exercise directly impacts the ECS, contributing to reduced levels of inflammation, enhanced perceptions of well-being, and healthy aging. 4
“The effect of exercise on ECS tone is best seen and understood from the ‘runner’s high’, which was initially attributed to endorphins but is actually based on the ECS,” explains Dr. Jordan Tishler MD, President of the Association of Cannabinoid Specialists and CEO at inhaleMD.
For Liz FitzGerald, yoga instructor and founder of Daygold, yoga can specifically benefit many bodily systems influenced by the endocannabinoid system.
“The ECS helps to create balance throughout many systems in the body, including mood, digestion, and sleep,” says FitzGerald. “These same systems can be directly impacted by yoga as well. There are specific yoga poses that can help with digestion, bring a sense of calm, and help promote sleep. We can tap into our ECS in many ways, including through yoga and cannabis.”
A 2020 observational study also found that a four-day yoga and meditation retreat increased endocannabinoids in the blood, enhancing mood and feelings of blissfulness. 5
Endocannabinoids are found in the brain and peripheral body tissue, and perform numerous important physiologic functions. Cannabis exerts its pharmacological effects by mimicking endocannabinoids and acting on the receptors of the endocannabinoid system.
The activation of these receptors can lead to the anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic effects for which cannabis is known. 6
It’s not hard to imagine, then, that flowing through sun salutations after smoking a joint can unleash profound feelings of wellbeing, thanks to the harmonized effects of yoga and cannabis on the ECS.
“There is a circular effect of yoga enhancing ECS tone, as well as the more obvious effect of cannabis enhancing the yoga experience,” reflects Tishler.
Can cannabis harm your yoga practice?
Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing–and the same can be true of cannabis. Cannabis is biphasic, which means that its effects can vary dramatically depending on the dose.
A small edible or brief toke prior to practice may transport the yogi into a focused state of bliss. On the other hand, an entire joint could contribute to paranoia and impaired coordination. In other words, it may not be advisable to practice eka pada galavasana if you’re seriously high. 7
Fitzgerald, who is a trained yoga instructor, recommends discernment when it comes to choosing a suitable strain pre-class.
“I would suggest something that has a lot of CBD and CBG but that is light on THC,” advises FitzGerald. “I wouldn’t suggest ‘getting stoned’ and practicing yoga as you could lose your balance; you may have impaired judgment around what poses you can do safely, and you may choose some that may not be accessible to you.”
In particular, FitzGerald warns against doing headstands under the influence of cannabis.
“My spine and head are of the utmost importance and I always want to be incredibly aware of what I’m doing when I practice those poses and other inversions,” says FitzGerald.
Other potential challenges to be aware of are related to THC side effects and include:
losing focuslosing motivationfeeling anxious or paranoid in a class settingpracticing arm balances, balance poses, or inversions without proper set-up or support
The relationship between mindfulness, weed, and yoga
Cannabis is known and beloved by many for its ability to bring the user into a state of zen. It makes sense, then, that weed may help deepen a mindfulness or meditation practice. Meditation symbolizes a cornerstone of a well-rounded yoga practice.
“The story is that yoga was created to prepare the body for intensive, hours-long meditation sessions following the practice and indeed, the breathing component of yoga combined with its movements results in a moving meditation,” says Giles.“Cannabis allows me to enter and remain sustained by that meditation in a way I hadn’t before experienced.”
Tishler agrees. “Cannabis can definitely enhance any mindfulness-based practice, including yoga and meditation,” he says. “In fact, I run regular online cannabis-assisted guided meditation classes. Cannabis can help users relax and put aside intrusive thoughts or anxiety that impede their ability to be mindful.”
In the end, cannabis is not necessary for an intense and rewarding yoga session. However, if you want to spice up your morning routine, go a little deeper, and improve recovery it may be time to consider cannabis. If you do experiment with integrating cannabis into your yoga routine, remember to keep THC doses on the low end and to consume mindfully.
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