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From Taboo to Treasure: The Rise of Ganja Yoga

As legalization softens the stigma around cannabis use, consumers are opening up about the special connection they’ve found between yoga and the famous flower. Find out what ganja yoga teachers witness when body work meets elevated awareness.

Where Did Ganja Yoga Come From?

The first time Johanna Steinfeld used cannabis before a yoga class, she fell in love. “It was so relaxing!” she says. She and her husband had been consuming cannabis for years, but it only occurred to them to combine the deep relaxation of their bud with the effort and ease of yoga when Steinfeld started training to become a yoga teacher.

One day in training, her instructors discussed their views on yogis drinking alcohol. “They told us it didn’t belong in yoga,” she says. Steinfeld asked if the same applied to cannabis. As she described her experience, her classmates gave blank stares and the instructor seemed uncomfortable.

In another yoga class, Steinfeld was open about consuming cannabis before class. one of the instructors pulled Steinfeld aside. “The instructor pulled me aside and said she wouldn’t teach me if I came to class high,” Steinfeld recalls.

Like many who discovered a partnership between their bud and their bodhi (or “awakening”) pre-legalization, Steinfeld felt she couldn’t be open about her love of cannabis. Now, 11 years later and with the law on her side, she’s open with her students about her cannabis practice and offers yoga classes that welcome cannabis and non-cannabis lovers in southwest Calgary. She loves sharing her passion, curiosity and joy with like-minded explorers.

CJ Zane, another Calgary-area teacher of ganja yoga, had a similar experience. “I was using cannabis in my practice before legalization, but I had to keep it hidden. It felt shameful, like something you couldn’t share in the yoga community,“ she says. 

That stigma was ironic, considering that the practice of using cannabis for yoga and meditation dates back to the beginnings of Hindu culture. “The combination is older than religion,” Zane quips, “and it’s like peanut butter and chocolate—a match made in heaven.”

But like the famous flavour fusion, it may not be for everyone. Yoga traditionalists argue about whether cannabis belongs in the practice. In Ayurveda, a system of natural medicine with similar roots to yoga, practitioners consider cannabis to be therapeutic. Using it recreationally, though, is believed to throw the body out of balance. With the pressures of prohibition, mainstream modern yoga ended up leaning toward this view. More lycra and essential oils, less euphoric herb.

Nevertheless, the instinct persists for many yogis to incorporate cannabis into their flow. Zane says, “Most of us who practice ganja yoga are part of a professional studio where it’s frowned upon. We have to keep our ganja practice private.” This isolation can create beautiful moments of self-awareness, but sometimes practitioners long for the special feeling of spiritual collectivity that you get in a class. The meaning of yoga is “unity,” and for both Zane and Steinfeld, the urge to create an experience of elevated interconnection was irresistible.

Is Ganja Yoga Right for You?

Like any aspect of your fitness, health, or mental wellness, the choice about whether or not to incorporate cannabis into yoga is very personal. As long as you follow safe consumption practices (like starting with a low dose, touching base with your doctor and avoiding driving), the decision will mostly be based on the orientation of your yoga practice.

 

Learn More: Consuming Responsibly

 

If you feel more healed by embracing the nitty-gritty of the moment, no matter how uncomfortable it might be, then maybe a clear-headed practice is what you crave. Same goes if being sober makes you feel safer.

Conversely, if you’re drawn to the idea of elevated yoga, maybe it’s okay to explore that. Much like using a block or bolster to soften a pose, the right dose of cannabis might provide just enough support to help you let go of your thoughts and tune into the sensations of your practice. “It’s another way to help you feel that ‘subtle body,’” Zane explains. She says that beginning her classes with cannabis seems to help her students awaken to a deeper awareness of their poses. “Suddenly, they ‘get it’. After our session, people walk away telling me how great they feel. It’s like this generous gift of the present moment that we give to ourselves.”

For Steinfeld, cannabis and yoga represent an intersection of the physical and the spiritual. “To me, they feel deeply connected. They’re both medicine. They’re both natural. And when you do them together, they complement each other. You really feel your heartbeat and your breath. It draws you deeper into your movement.”

 

Cannabis and Yoga

Who Is Embracing Ganja Yoga?

“I’m really grateful to the millennials,” Zane says. “They were the ones who embraced my classes first. They’re just so open-minded.”

Steinfeld echoes the observation, although she says her demographics are changing; “At first, it was younger people. But now, most of my students are in their forties or seventies.” She adds, “About half of them had used cannabis previously or had loved ones who did.” The others have gradually become curious and given it a try. The shift has taken time, though. When she first introduced her 420 class, shortly after legalization (in fall 2018), she only had 3 or 4 students come out. But a year later, she says, “People I’ve been teaching for 8 years are finally admitting they’ve been consuming cannabis all along, and they’re ready to join our 420 group.” The feeling in the group is very intimate. “A lot of our members live near each other and have been friends for decades. They all live outside the city, close to nature and share a ‘woke’ vibe. We trust each other and feel safe together,” Steinfeld says.

After the loneliness of her practice, Zane agrees that the vibe in her ganja classes is full of comfort and gratitude. “It feels so good to bring this community together. We’re really bonding and exploring together, sharing these incredible experiences.”

How Can Curious Yogis Get Started with Ganja Practice? 

If you’ve got the urge to explore the place where puffs and poses converge, make sure to set yourself up for a good experience with a few tips from the experts.

“I always recommend that people talk to an experienced budtender,” says Zane. She explains that it’s important to start with a product that will be conducive to a comfortable and sensual session. “Tell them that you’re planning to consume for yoga. There are a lot of great retailers in the legal space who can give you helpful advice. Plus, you’re supporting a local business.” Zane provides the cannabis for her ganja sessions, and always shouts out to the stores where she bought it.

As far as cannabis research goes, the science seems to show that a low dose of THC (i.e., vaping dry flower with less than 12% THC or eating an edible or oil with 5 mg THC or less), is the best place to start. Higher doses are associated with unpleasant effects that can throw a wrench in your practice, like making you feel groggy, anxious or paranoid1 2.

Non-intoxicating CBD oil is also a great option for yoga. The exact amount of oil you should take will depend on the CBD concentration, but for most people, doses with 15 mg CBD or less tend to be calming and energizing, while doses between 25–160 mg CBD generally make people feel deeply relaxed3. To pinpoint the best dose for you, start low and gradually work your way up. With CBD, finding your lowest effective dose is mostly a matter of saving money and not wasting your oil, as higher doses won’t cause any harm (unless the carrier oil bothers your stomach).

CBD is also known for its anti-inflammatory action4, which works best when you take it regularly. You can swallow the oil straight, hold it under your tongue for slightly faster absorption or mix it into an edible.

 

Learn More: The Benefits of CBD Edibles

 

Zane often recommends that her students combine CBD and THC. “You can use a 1:1 flower,” she says, which provides equal amounts of both cannabinoids. Many people find the balanced combo gives them the best of both worlds: relaxation and sensory enhancement without an overwhelming high. She also encourages people to explore strains that are high in therapeutic terpenes, which are the aromatic compounds in cannabis and other plants. Several terpenes, such as limonene (which smells citrusy), linalool (which smells sweet) and caryophyllene (which smells spicy) have been found to reduce anxiety and improve mood5.

 

Learn More: How Terpenes Work with CBD to Ease Anxiety

 

Once you’ve chosen your product, the next step is to choose your practice. If you’re drawn to a group class, Zane recommends finding an instructor certified by the Yoga Alliance in California, which runs a program founded by Dee Dussault, the author of Ganja Yoga. Unfortunately, this certification is rare. “I believe I’m the only certified ganja yoga teacher in Canada,” Zane says.

Alternatively, you can ask friends or search through social media to find an experienced instructor whose vibe feels right to you. Zane gets most of her students through Instagram, while Steinfeld gathers many from word-of-mouth.

If you can’t find a class in your area, go ahead and explore an elevated practice on your own. For many, this feels safer than feeling exposed or judged for being high in public. You can dial up a yoga video on YouTube to guide you. Zane says you can even find specialty ganja yoga vids. Or, you can just follow your body. “Get on your mat and do whatever feels good,” suggests Steinfeld. “Tune into every sensation, get playful and curious. Just see where it goes.”

What Happens in a Ganja Yoga Class?

“I love to start by making the consumption into a ritual,” Steinfeld says. She guides her students through a mindful exercise of slowly discovering the herb every time they practice. “First we smell the bud, then grind it, then smell it again.” Each step is slow and done with care, maximizing awareness of senses and movements, just like in a flow.

In Zane’s classes, she talks through the poses as well as the sensations of the bud. “It’s very sensual, very in-the-body,” she says. For special sessions, she brings in colleagues with complimentary expertise. A local CBD massage therapist may come around and provide adjustments with a topical CBD oil throughout the practice. Other times, after the class finishes the closing savasana, they welcome a medi-paint instructor to take them through some therapeutic art-making. Zane’s classes typically end with tea and snacks. After practicing together in such an intimate way, even strangers feel like friends. Students linger to chat and take some CBD to feel more grounded before they go home.

When all is said and done, your ganja yoga should feel like it gave you what you needed. Zane says, “It’s really important to make it all about relaxation. Take that time to give this gift to yourself.” Steinfeld agrees. “Make it special. This is time for you.”

As long as you’re tuning into your body and doing what feels good, you’re doing it right.

 

 

References

[1] Zuardi AW, Shirakawa I, Finkelfarb E, Karniol IG. Action of cannabidiol on the anxiety and other effects produced by Δ9-THC in normal subjects. Psychopharmacology (Berlin, Germany). 1982;76(3):245-250.

[2] Turna J, Patterson B, Van Ameringen M. Is cannabis treatment for anxiety, mood, and related disorders ready for prime time? Depression and anxiety. 2017;34(11):1006-1017.

[3] Shannon S, Lewis N, Lee HS, Hughes S. Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series. The Permanente journal. 2019;23:18-041.

[4] Nagarkatti, P, et al. Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs. Future Med Chem. 2009;1(7);1333-1349.

[5] Russo EB. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol. 2011;163(7):1344-1364.