Ashtanga and marijuana — an authority’s point of view

Yesterday’s post noted the expected media pile-up on a story by the San Francisco Chronicle about people smoking pot before practicing yoga.

A quick digression into a reminder: We post stories that, in our minds, reach a certain critical mass in the mainstream media just to provide those of us more deeply involved in whatever the “yoga community” is a window on how others are seeing it.

OK, back to yoga and pot.

I recalled that Richard Freeman addressed the issue in an “Ask the Experts” a while back:

When relationships, details of everyday life and one’s own yoga practice are dealt with under the influence of marijuana the result is often a lack of completion, an absence of external feedback and an inability to postpone pleasure. Yoga practitioners who smoke during, or after their practice on a regular basis, tend to plateau in their practice and gradually lose their, “edge,” their intellectual capacity and brilliance.

You can click on the link to get his full thoughts.

Anyone have a different take? I’m not suggesting there’s no benefit; I’m just suggesting that way people in the story/stories about it this week talk about it seem to be missing the point of practicing yoga (as I understand it).

Posted by Steve

Yoga on high. Pot yoga. Call it what you will

This story seems to be getting picked up everywhere, for all the obvious reasons:

Controlled breathing has always played an integral role in mindful yoga practice. But a small number of classes on the West Coast are now choosing to inhale controlled substances.

You’ve heard of hot yoga? Well, welcome to pot yoga, where students are encouraged to take a puff before assuming various postures to increase their level of relaxation and flexibility.

“Historically, cannabis has been linked to really early use with yoga in ancient Shiva cults,” said Dee Dussault, 34, a 20-year yogi and instructor of Ganja Yoga in San Francisco, which launched this October. “Back then, they weren’t smoking it, but drinking it in a milk beverage and burning it as an incense. But if you’re burning incense, you’re essentially hotboxing the temple as a result.”

At Ganja Yoga, students are responsible for their own high: Those who possess medical marijuana cards can participate in a 15-minute smoking session before class, at which point everyone will form a circle, state their name and share their inspiration for attending.

“A lot of students are consuming it before yoga anyway,” said Dussault. “So a big benefit that I am hearing is the community aspect. The first thing they want to do after consuming cannabis is lay down and stretch. And, depending upon the dosage and strain, it really encourages people to relax.”

Yeah, how can the media resist?

I’m of course trying to resist reacting to someone talking about “hotboxing” a temple. (Having been inside such a temple, I understand the comparison, I just can’t help thinking Dussault is trolling to the lowest common denominator.)

Here are other pick-ups of this story. It was this SF Chronicle piece is the one that got the bong ball rolling. It has a classic journalism end:

For Cole Short, 24, an advertising art director who was not a yoga enthusiast before attending Dussault’s classes, the marijuana was the big draw.

“This is the only way you’d get me to do yoga,” he said.

Totally.

Posted by Steve

This is your yoga practice on drugs

If you’ve been paying attention to yoga “news,” you’ve probably seen some story about people practicing while smoking pot.

Via the Justice Department, “loose marijuana”

Like stories about naked yoga, the ones I’ve seen have been pretty high on the funny references and puns (something I’d never do, of course), but I’m not sure I’d cite any of them as a serious look at whether pot can aid a yoga practice.

Perhaps the most serious look at it came from Richard Freeman. A while back one of his “ask the experts” focused on it:

What impact does smoking marijuana have on prana and ashtangavinyasa yoga in general? — Matt

Smoking may allow you to focus the prana temporarily within a limited field, but the overall effect is that the mind is less able to focus because the drug short circuits the more holistic approach that a full eight-limbed practice cultivates. Both the pranic and mental backgrounds of any focused state of mind have to be cultivated meditatively throughout the day by dealing with relationships, emotions, and the practical things of every day life.

Now, the New York Times has picked up this tantalizing topic (continuing the paper’s fascination with yoga and adding a twist). I’d give it a little credit for suggesting some more substantive reasons for combining yoga and pot than other pieces. Among the people quoted is Leslie Kaminoff, who has commented here a few times:

Human beings have been cultivating the herb for thousands of years. “At least some of the ancient sages were probably stoned out of their minds,” said Leslie Kaminoff, a Manhattan yoga teacher and author of “Yoga Anatomy.” Though he said he does not use or teach with any kind of enhancement, Mr. Kaminoff noted that “drugs can be a tool, and every tool has a positive and a negative aspect to it.”

Yet, with the exception of fringe groups composed of people like Ms. McDonald, most yoga teachers will tell you that drugs have no place in the practice. “One of the things yoga teaches, even in something as simple as holding an uncomfortable pose, is how to tolerate reality,” said Nancy Romano, a private instructor in Los Angeles. “So any substance that fiddles with our ability to be with what’s really happening would not be helpful in a yoga practice.”

As a child, Ms. McDonald, 34, had what was considered severe scoliosis; now, thanks to her yoga practice, she is able to twist herself like a pretzel and stand on one leg — the “bird of paradise” pose.

She is well aware that many in the official yoga industry would disapprove of her 420 class and doesn’t care. “I find it to be a valuable tool in teaching,” she said. “Disbelief is my biggest obstacle. People don’t believe that they can feel their heart beat or that they can send breath into their lower appendages. A little pot relaxes them into comprehending. And if you want to just lie down in my class, that’s O.K., too.”

William Sands, dean of the College of Maharishi Vedic Science at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, represents the stringent opposition. He has just finished writing a book on Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who mentored the Beatles and introduced the West to transcendental meditation. Dr. Sands said that “marijuana inhibits the ability to experience yoga — the inner self — and is therefore incompatible with the practice of transcendental meditation.” To Dr. Sands, yoga is the full package: a physical and mental discipline.

Others make a distinction between the kind of discipline required for yoga and for meditation.

Ms. McDonald said she understands why certain yogis disapprove of pairing the practice with pot. “Some devotees have literally dedicated their lives to yoga,” she said, “and as a result they tend to see it as an ideal, beyond human flaws, capable of our salvation. I think that perfection is found by authentically being in the present moment, rather than as an outcome of enlightenment. So I’m not afraid to admit I’m not perfect and come out of the closet on these issues.”

Here’s the part that I find the most interesting, which may just mean the part that I’m most skeptical about — of course, I’d say I’m pretty solidly skeptical about all our attempts to understand the “roots” of yoga. To me, it always sounds like people put onto yoga what they want to find there. For instance:

Dee Dussault of San Francisco is another rare instructor who advertises what she teaches, in her case Ganja Yoga. Ms. Dussault traces the division between what she calls tantric yoga and straight yoga to the Buddha, who advocated purity.

“Tantric yoga says you use whatever tools are available to get to a place of transcendence,” she said, adding the caveat that marijuana must be used “mindfully.”

Yoga and herb intake have been linked since ancient times. The yoga sutras, written in Sanskrit before the time of Christ, are considered the practice’s foundational text. The sutras list herbs as one of five methods to lift the veil of ignorance, or the barrier between the conscious and the unconscious. Dr. Sands, though, expressed skepticism, saying that the “herbs” in question could be as uncontroversial as cardamom. “People who interpret the sutras’ use of ‘herbs’ as marijuana,” he said, “are looking for a rationale.”

But Mark Haskell Smith, the novelist and author of the nonfiction “Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers, and the Race for the Cannabis Cup ,” is pretty sure that the sutras do not refer to cardamom. A yoga practitioner for 20 years, Mr. Smith said he occasionally uses pot when he practices. When he does, he said, he finds that “I go more deeply into the asanas,” or poses.

“Part of the point of yoga is to relax the body,” he said. “And marijuana helps a lot of people to do that.”

The Times story is pegged to yoga in Colorado and Washington, where voters just approved looser marijuana laws. It suggests we could be seeing more “ganga yoga” classes in those states as a result.

Posted by Steve