Over the last couple of decades or so, various and sometimes seemingly bizarre, niche yoga classes have become available, including yoga for dogs (Doga), nude yoga, stand-up paddleboard yoga (SUP), and wine-tasting yoga retreats.
In countries where the recreational use of cannabis has been legalized, one of the consequences has been the flowering of various activities that would not been permitted previously, such as cannabis painting classes and cannabis bed and breakfast hotels (Crampton 2019). Another such development in several states in the USA and in Canada and South Africa, is the availability of yoga classes that combine yoga exercises and meditation with cannabis (either vaped, smoked or eaten).
It is well known to afficionados that cannabis can heighten awareness of the body and sensory experience. It can lead to a greater sense of relaxation and also facilitate more focussed concentration on one’s breathing. These effects are, of course, very much suited to yoga practices.
Cannabis and yoga organizations
The first organization that widely promoted yoga and meditation classes with cannabis was Ganja Yoga, founded by Dee Dussault in 2009, who has featured on national television in the USA. Among a number of other organizations and teachers that have followed suit are Cannayoga (by Roxy Louw and Sam Narton in South Africa), 420 Yoga (by Darrin ‘Yogi D’ Zeer), Canna Bliss (by Lau Alessia), Cannabis 101 Ecannaflow (by Chioma Nwosu), and Marijuasana (by Stacey Mulvey). Some of these organizations run studios and classes in several locations in the USA and Canada. Besides regular yoga and meditation classes, some offer retreats and teacher-training courses where cannabis/yoga practice can be more fully explored. Most of them also market CBD oil, yoga clothes, books, videos and other merchandise. Both Dee Dussault (2017) and Darrin Zeer (2019) have published books on ‘ganja/cannabis yoga’.
Cannabis yoga classes are generally ‘light’ and meditative in style, being similar to Yin Yoga or Restorative Yoga, rather than aerobic and demanding, as in Ashtanga Yoga (Brand 2021). Participants in cannabis classes sometimes report a greater ability to focus on their practice, breathing and surroundings (Kellner 2020).
Classes are generally promoted with the notions that both yoga practices and cannabis are ancient India therapeutic tools or medicines that may be very effectively combined. Some of these organizations and teachers specify particular kinds and doses of cannabis for either energizing or relaxing effects, or for pain relief.
Cannabis and yoga in traditional India
Cannabis (or gāñjā) is usually considered by these yoga-practising advocates to be an ancient and traditionally revered ‘spiritual’ plant medicine (see, for example, Helene 2019); similarly, the ancient, therapeutic aspects of yoga are emphasised. Although both notions are true to some extent, these historical claims are not entirely accurate.
Although it is true that some Indian yogis who are regular cannabis smokers do yoga practices, this is done only by a very small number of them. Some cannabis/yoga enthusiasts, such as Dussault (2017:118), maintain that cannabis is mentioned by Patañjali in his Yoga Sūtras, which is nowadays the best-known text on yoga. This is a reference to a verse (4.1) where Patañjali says that occult powers can be obtained through either birth, mantra-recitation, ascetic practices, a trance state (samādhi), or (probably psychoactive) herbs (oṣadhi). However, this is not a reference to cannabis, as Patañjali composed his sūtras around 400 CE, and it was not until the 11th or 12th century that cannabis culture began in India, when the first definite references to psychoactive cannabis appear in South Asian Āyurvedic medical texts (see my blog ‘Cannabis in Āyurveda’). This was more than 2,000 years after the composition of the Vedas (the oldest religious texts of South Asia).
In the global diffusion of yoga practices, which really began in the 1920s, the traditional and more radical goals of yoga, namely the acquisition of occult powers and the attaining of liberation or enlightenment, were eclipsed by a trend for yoga practices to be considered more as aids to relaxation, spiritual development, health and well-being.
On modern yoga retreats, notions of health and well-being are often blended with Āyurvedic understanding and treatments of various kinds. These days, it is common to combine Āyurvedic concepts with those of yoga (see, for example, Heaberg 2021). Although there is some evidence from the 7th century CE that yoga was practised in South Asia by some yogis as a therapeutic aid (Barois 2020), the two traditions of knowledge in yoga and Āyurveda generally developed quite separately, until in the early 1970s it became common to incorporate Āyurvedic ideas into yoga teaching. The inclusion of cannabis into yoga practices and Āyurvedic treatment is yet another interesting, modern innovation.
In the USA particularly, ‘420’ (four-twenty) is associated with cannabis culture. The ‘420’ concept began in 1971 when five high-school students in San Raphael, California used to meet at 4:20 pm to plan a search for an abandoned cannabis crop. ‘420’ then became a code-word for cannabis smoking. The term spread further, originally through followers of the Grateful Dead (Wikipedia 2021), and 20th April (4/20) became an annual day of protest internationally against cannabis being illegal; and eventually a day of celebration, after decriminalization or legalization.
Interestingly, in India ‘420’ (cār sau bīs in Hindi) is also a very well-known term. ‘420’ refers to a clause in the Indian penal code, which defines cheating. In India, a ‘420 person’ is a cheat and a liar; a curious twist of terminology.
420 Yoga Retreats (2021). http://www.420yogaretreats.com
Barois, Christèle (2020). ‘The Dharmaputrikā Saṃhitā: Preliminary Notes on an Early Text on Yoga’. Journal of Yoga Studies, vol. 3, pp. 5–76.
Brand, Danielle Simone (2021). ‘How I Use Cannabis to Boost My Yoga Practice’. Civilised.
Canna Bliss Yoga and Meditation (2021).
Cannayoga (2021). https://www.cannayoga.co.za/our-story
Crampton, Nicole (2019). ‘Examples of Cannabis-related Business Ideas’. In Entrepreneur South Africa (24th July). https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/334695
Dussault, Dee (2017). ‘For the Love of the Leaf: Ganja-Enhanced Yoga for the Modern Practitioner’. In Stephen Gray (ed.), Cannabis and Spirituality: An Explorer’s Guide to an Ancient Plant Spirit Ally, pp. 117–128. Rochester, Vermont/Toronto: Park Street Press.
Dussault, Dee, and Georgia Bardi (2017). Ganja Yoga: A Practical Guide to Conscious Relaxation, Soothing Pain Relief, and Enlightened Self-Discovery. New York: HarperOne.
Feuerstein, Georg (1989) . The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali: A New Translation and Commentary. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International.
Ganja Yoga (2009): https://www.ganjayoga.com
Heagberg, Kat (2021). ‘Do Pot-Friendly Yoga Classes Go Too Far?’. Yoga International
Helene, Zoe (2019). ‘High Relationship: Connecting Cannabis and Yoga’. LA Yoga, 3rd April. https://layoga.com/practice/yoga/high-relationship-connecting-cannabis-and- yoga/
Kellner, Lindsay (2020). ‘I Tried Ganja Yoga & Here’s What Happened’. mgbmindulness, 13th March. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-29894/i-tried-ganja-yoga-heres-what-happened.html
Marijuasana (2019) ‘Infused Yoga’. https://www.marijuasana.com
Wikipedia (2021). ‘420 (cannabis culture)’.
Zeer, Darrin (2019). High Yoga: Enhance Yoga with Cannabis and CBD Treatments for Relaxation, Health and Bliss. San Francisco: Chronical Books.