Getting High Before Yoga Class

yoga 420
Photo by Nicole Ranae's Photography

In a region where marijuana is as common as the ubiquitous palm tree, LA-area yoga instructor Liz McDonald saw a market niche: baked yoga. Noticing that many of her private clients lit up before yoga class several years ago, McDonald decided to devote a class in her new studio to “4:20 Remedy Yoga” (4:20 is a euphemism for smoking marijuana).

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Students are asked to imbibe privately before class, preferably in cars in the parking lot, “as no drugs are consumed or distributed in the studio.” Once in the classroom, a lighthearted vibe ensues; between “trying to work out [the] crunchy peanut butter in our shoulders” and “happy girlfriend” (aka joyful baby) pose, students are often in giggles.

Deeper experiences are also expressed, as one student shares:  “I think marijuana creates an inquisitiveness, a stillness, something that allows you to concentrate on one thing at a time. And tactile sensations feel better, so as you’re stretching everything basically feels good.”

While this may raise few eyebrows on the American yoga scene, where yoga for wine, chocolate, and dog lovers has been embraced, classical yogis may be less forgiving.  In response to this view, “McDonald …  thinks that more traditional yogis who see marijuana as a toxin that inhibits enlightenment rather than enhancing it are being ‘yogier-than-thou.’”

McDonald’s reasoning is not without precedent; purification through the usage of external intoxicants has parallels in the left-handed Kaula tantric school of India.

This path is considered the lowest of the three tantric paths, followed by Mishra and Samaya. All three tantric schools employ purification of body, breath, and mind to transform samskaras , ingrained, habitual orientations said to be the driving force behind karma. The Kaula left-handed path is solely external, focusing on concrete practices and rituals “with the use of meat, fish, intoxicants, mudras, and sexual contact”  intended to control the lower desires and bodily needs, whereas the higher paths are more internal and do not rely on intoxicants.

Swami Rama cautions against Kaula tantra, noting it “is for those who are not very intellectual and have less awareness.” Furthermore, “some of the modern behaviors that have been labeled Tantra are only hedonism given a spiritual name, and are taught by people with little knowledge or experience of authentic Kaula Tantra or the higher schools of Tantra.” Tradition aside, if people are going to smoke up and come to yoga anyway, perhaps giving them permission to do so fosters a yoga practice where it might otherwise fail to take root. And more yogis, even giggling, munchies-afflicted ones, is probably a good thing, although a solid education as to the contextual origins of such practices may be in order, should one eventually wish to set the 4:20 aside for a more present, internal experience.

What are your thoughts about trendy classes which foster or couple intoxicants (wine, marijuana, etc.) with yoga?

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