CANNABIS IMPROVES MINDFULNESS, RELAXATION AND FOCUS DURING YOGA
Ganja yoga, stoned yoga, high yoga—call it what you want but have you ever tried it? Like tea ever so slowly infusing into water, cannabis infuses us with characteristics of great power that we can use to channel a higher self. As mindful practices become a focus for self-growth and personal development, many are coming to realize that cannabis and yoga share a poetic compliment to one another.
My name is Nitz and I am a ganja yoga teacher. I have been a long time cannabis consumer and share a traditional trifold practice intersecting plant medicine with meditation (dhyana), postures (asana) and breathwork (pranayama).
Being born and bred in Toronto I’ve seen (as my Swami in India would say) “the bastardization of yoga” unfold right before my eyes for over a decade. The Western world certainly did a number on a traditional indigenous practice, correlating flexibility with how “spiritual” one was for decades. What a joke, right? The more I sought out yoga at home the more frustrated and insecure I felt—it didn’t feel like yoga at all. Having hit a saturation point in my search, I heard a deep calling from within to go back to my roots, learn yoga in my Motherland and bring it back home to share with everyone I know.
Being a stoner for quite some time, I had been practicing high yoga on my own for years but my intention came at a completely different angle and time in life. My father is also an Indian-trained yoga teacher. Like all kids I rarely enjoyed being told to do something and at a young age I didn’t know why we practiced. As I got older the physical value behind yoga became apparent but I was far too hard-headed to care for mindfulness. I always needed to do it my way, which was “If I’m gunna have to do yoga I’m at least gunna be high for it.” It wasn’t until my 20’s, when I began to incorporate meditation and a purpose of achieving stillness, that I was able to dive deep into high yogic bliss.
To be frank, practicing high has been controversial for far too long. People seem to get offended right off the bat at any talk of doing yoga high. Indians today love to hold onto the pot stigma, denying any value in the plant and believing only “lower class” degenerates use “drugs”. This attitude persists despite the fact there are scriptures in the Vedas (a large collection of ancient Hindu texts) that claim otherwise. The Vedas refer to an intoxicant called Soma and suggests this is something all yogis should take to get closer to the higher self. Soma is often the juice of a medicinal plant mixed with other ingredients that are said to render psychoactive healing. Similar to the Vedas, there are other ancient texts built around yogic practices called the Yogasutras. In Yogasutra 4.1, “herbs’’ (ausadhi) are defined as one of five ways to “remove the veil of ignorance” that burdens us all. Cannabis, as a holy plant, is even known as Lord Shiva’s prasad (religious offering) in India. He is often depicted holding a chillum (a conical smoking pipe popularized in the 18th century in India). Ayurveda, an ancient practice focused on holistic and preventative health practices, even suggests there is value for the plant. Cannabis is found in over 80 traditional Ayurvedic formulas, several of which are still available today in India.
It’s clearer than day that the cannabis plant has been severely maligned, even where it’s indigenous. Yogis have been using herbs to supplement their practice for millennia. Ascetics such as sadhus, sages and other holy men are often depicted as criminals today for embracing a plant that aided them in building the foundation of their spirituality. They prefer to live without material goods, resonating with a celestial state of the subtle consciousness, and cannabis has been the main vehicle in this journey for centuries. Needless to say, not just anyone can bravely tread this path. Naturally, they are often misunderstood and yet few critics care to learn and understand why they take on this pursuit. We see this paralleled in cannabis use in North America as well. More often than not those who are not on board with the plant are likely ignorant to the plant’s vast healing properties.
So, who is the higher self and how does cannabis help you meet them? Conscious cannabis consumption is at the forefront of every high yogi’s mind. Before, during and after a practice of meditation, postural flows and breathwork, cannabis acts as a subtle guide. Alongside mindful consumption (most people choose to microdose during a yoga practice), cannabis speaks to a more intuitive flow that really allows you to listen to yourself and your body. In this pursuit of self understanding, pot can really highlight our senses in a manner that keeps you present in the moment. By incorporating high yoga in a daily practice, you are tapping into an elevated state of mind. By quieting down the outside world, we are able to hone our focus and dive deep into the meditative self. The essence and clarity that we seek out and gain from mindful practices is a reflection of the higher self. Hindu scripts can be quite thorough on this topic. I invite you to read up on the Atman in Hindu philosophy if you’re curious to know more.
Ok, so we can consciously use cannabis as plant medicine to deepen our self awareness. Sweet! How can I do this at home, you ask? Well, whether you’re a beginner or long-time yogi, certain rules are always applicable when combining cannabis with yoga. Here are the rules I share with all my clients:
- Consume less cannabis than you usually do (microdoses are a great way to start – start low and go slow)
- Move with intention and don’t lose balance – this is how injuries happen
- If you feel lightheaded or unwell, come to child’s pose at any given time
- Breathe deep – don’t forget the power of your breath
- Focus – remember why you’re practicing
Here are some cautions to also make note of:
- distraction can occur – try to reel it back in if you daze off
- being still is difficult when high but try to focus on your breath and go inward
- paranoia happens, especially in group settings – a nice tip is to keep a few peppercorns on hand as its predominant terpene, alpha-pinene, works synergistically with THC to create a calmer high
With all this said, I would love to share a few of my favourite pranayama/breathwork practices that you can try at home after infusing yourself with our favourite plant. Please listen to your body and take breaks where you feel are necessary.
BREATHWORK EXERCISE 1
- After consuming cannabis, find a comfortable seated position
- Using your right hand, tuck your “peace fingers” down. You will be using your thumb and ring finger only
- Place your thumb on your right nostril and breathe in through your left nostril
- Once you’ve inhaled as much as you can on the left side, place your ring finger over the left nostril and exhale out the right side fully
- Inhale from the right nostril then plug it with the thumb and exhale fully out the left side
- This is one rotation – do this 10 times with a slow, consistent breath. Try this with your eyes closed and aim to mentally commit to the your seated posture for the duration of this practice.
N.B. This practice slows down the breath and is known to help control anxiety. You can practice it at any point in the day.
BREATHWORK EXERCISE 2
- Find a comfortable seated posture
- Take a deep belly (diaphragmatic) breath full of air in through the nose while inhaling for 4 counts
- Exhale fully and slowly out the mouth for 6 counts
- Do this 10x and consume some cannabis
- Jump back into another cycle of 10 after you’re high and repeat as necessary
BREATHWORK EXERCISE 3
- Find a comfortable seated posture
- Take a deep diaphragmatic breath in through the nose for 3 counts
- Hold the breath for 6 counts
- Exhale fully and slowly out of the mouth for 9 counts
- Repeat this 5x and use caution if feeling lightheaded. Consume a smaller amount of cannabis than usual when practicing this breathwork as it can become intense quickly.
N.B. Breathwork 2 and 3 require you to extend the exhalation of breath – this practice supports the parasympathetic nervous system. The vagus nerve (responsible for your body’s relaxation) releases a neurotransmitter which directly counteracts fight-or-flight stress by telling the heart to slow down. This guides you into a deeper state of relaxation.
Some of the benefits of these practices, as well as other forms of yoga with cannabis, are physical relief, mental clarity and deep relaxation all of which allow one to melt into yogic postures. With the focus on breathing throughout, cannabis and yoga work synergistically, especially when tuning out pain points.
Cannabis can also support sharpening concentration when used with intention. Seasoned stoner yogis find balancing postures more enriching with weed as it helps one focus on a point to balance through. While weed has gotten a lot of flak for being distracting, when used with purpose ganja yoga has the potential to keep your focus razor-sharp. By bringing all your attention to the yogic practice you are able to convert your energy and attention inwards. This results in reassigning our attention by listening and trusting ourselves while soaking in all the physical benefits along the way.
The next time you get high or do yoga try doing both! Be sure to enter the practice with intention while keeping a keen ear to your inner guide. You’ll see the interior process of mindfulness combined with yoga and cannabis is magically transformative.