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Why I’m Just Saying ‘No’ To Ganja Yoga

There’s yet another place to practice your Padmasana in Toronto, and it offers, what they call, an “added perk” to all of its patrons.

Ganja Yoga, a new-ish strain of the otherwise sacred practice, is a class where yogis are encouraged to move with breath and puff, puff pass. This is not a novel concept by any stretch. There have been hundreds of other studios around the world (specifically in LA and New York) that have promoted their classes by advertising an open-door policy for pot smokers, and have encouraged or allowed drug use on premise, or immediately prior to arriving.

This, naturally, has gotten people talking. Even the Toronto Star had opinions on the weed-washed yoga trend, saying it promises “a new level of relaxation” to practitioners. But, as NOTEABLE points out, “the only downfall is you have to bring your own pot.” As a yoga instructor, I’d argue that dipping into one’s own stash is only small potatoes as far as downfalls go.

In my experience, the use of mood-altering substances on the mat completely negates the entire purpose of the practice. Here’s why:

Yoga is about reconstruction, not deconstruction
The word yoga means “union” or “to yolk”, and refers to the practice of connecting the mind, with the body, and then with the spirit. Have you ever noticed how, when you’re stoned, you’re suddenly struck by the messed-up miracle that is your own anatomy? Like, how your knee connects your thigh to your shin, and without it, your leg would be this, like, long static trunk of a thing? That your hair GROWS!? It’s like grass! It just, like, grows, and grows! From tiny holes on your head that you can’t even see! As incredible as it is to gain a new appreciation for the way the body works, this is the type of discovery one can only have while “outside” of oneself, by observing the body, rather than experiencing the body. The point of the practice is to look inward, to collect and then connect all of you, and to reveal the whole. How can I celebrate my wholeness when I’ve purposely taken steps to detach, to actively snip the wires between my mind, my heart, and my body from the inside out?

Yoga requires an awareness of limit
If there’s anything I can remember about my weed-smoking days, it’s Lucky Charms. And eating it in vast quantities. I’d always be amazed, once the fog began to burn off, at how much cereal I’d eaten. I remember how my stomach would ache from fullness, and my teeth would be coarse with sugar. How had I eaten THAT MUCH cereal? I’ll tell you how. The use of mood-altering substances inherently diminishes one’s ability to recognize their own limits. The body has ways of intuitively sending messages to the brain, and vice versa, telling us that we’ve gone too far, or we should stop all together. But when under the influence, these messages are muffled, or muted, or entirely ass-backwards. A good yoga practice is a gentle practice. It’s ok to challenge yourself, but nowhere in any of the teachings does it say that pain equates gain. As an instructor, I’d be horrified to know that a student had injured themselves because they pushed too hard, folded too far, extended beyond what’s safe and comfortable for their body, and all because their sense of limitation was compromised. If you’re not of sound mind, how can you be sure you’re not surpassing your body’s natural parameters? Having a clear and cognizant sentience is essential to my practice, and being baked robs me of that.

We’ve all got problems; yoga is not here to make them go away
In the Star’s article, the instructor of one ganja class is quoted in saying that, when in practice, students “try to relax, but all they can think of are bills, relationships, their kids or their work. The ganja helps them get to the right spot.” Yes. Yoga is, in large part, about relaxation. But it’s also about learning to accept life, and surrender to it. Just the same way we ask that students ease into difficult asana, rather than force themselves into it and risk hurting themselves, the practice of yoga encourages that very same sense of ease when dealing with stresses off the mat. Quieting the mind, and letting go of that which does not serve you in your practice, or in your life, is a huge part of your practice. However the power to achieve this silent, peaceful, meditative state mind should be cultivated by willingness, not by coercion. It’s a little counter-intuitive to say “reject all outside stimuli by using outside stimuli,” is it not? Practice, like life, is never perfect. We expect students to bring these little imperfections, disappointments, and stresses from their day onto their mats, but the point is to release them through their practice, and not a heady chronic cloud.

If you need a bolster, a block, or a strap to reap the full benefits of practice, I know nary an instructor who’d object. But if you ask me, aside from the standard studio props, all you need to bring to your mat is an open mind, a bit of water, and the willingness to let go. Leave your bong next to your PlayStation, where it belongs.

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