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I’m not a weed smoker, never have been really.
Also, the idea of practicing yoga while taking cannabis is pretty alien to me. But through fate, chance, the universe or some divine intervention, I find myself writing on a regular basis about cannabis based CBD oil and its health benefits.
So obviously I have to test it out, right?
I’d already noticed that taking CBD oil helps me to focus while working in front of the computer, and the few times I’d mixed CBD oil and meditation, it expanded my awareness to the whole of my body, which pulsated with energised aliveness.
But what about yoga? Could CBD Oil enhance my yoga practice as well?
Yoga is a personal experience. Depending on who you speak to, you’ll get a different response as to why they do it and the benefits they receive. Many like me have come to yoga by trying it out at the gym as just another way to keep fit, with the added benefit of stretching your muscles and calming the mind.
But for most committed yogis, it’s much more than that; it really is that union between body and mind, bringing about a sense of oneness and inner peace. However, bring up the subject of mixing cannabis with yoga and it soon becomes apparent that in the West, the two are not easy bedfellows.
Yoga, Shiva and Cannabis
Go back a few thousand years through to Yoga’s mythological origins and things were somewhat different.
According to the old Hindu poems, so taken was the god Shiva with the calming effects of cannabis, that he brought it down from the Himalayas and gave it to mankind.
In the 19th Century a report for the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission frequently mentions the spiritual significance of Bhang:
“The Hindu poet of Shiva, the Great Spirit that living in bhang passes into the drinker, sings of bhang as the clearer of ignorance, the giver of knowledge. No gem or jewel can touch in value bhang taken truly and reverently. He who drinks bhang drinks Shiva. The soul in whom the spirit of bhang finds a home glides into the ocean of Being freed from the weary round of matter-blinded self.”
Sounds pretty close to the list of health benefits listed by the medical cannabis lobby, right?
Cannabis & Yoga—just for Stoners?
These days Bhang Lassis-–cannabis flowers mixed with milk or yoghurt—are drunk by almost everybody during the Indian festivals of Holi and Shivratri and loin-clothed clad sadhus still smoke cannabis to aid spiritual enlightenment.
Yet the modern occidental yogi tends to tar cannabis with the stoner brush, viewing it as distracting from, rather than an aid to samadhi or union with the divine.
Sure, there are a cluster of studios offering Ganja Yoga in the U.S. and Canada, where cannabis is smoked before and during the class. But to the outside world, this seems like just another headline grabbing yoga fad, like naked yoga, hip hop yoga and doggie yoga.
But, actually, it’s much more than that. Ganja Yoga students find that not only does taking cannabis in class bring about stillness of mind and greater body awareness, but it also allows them to go deeper into their poses. After all, in certain sports cannabis is considered a performance enhancing drug, as it can increase stamina and reduce pain caused through inflammation. So why not in yoga?
Endocannabinoid System—Here’s the Science Bit.
As most people in modern society associate cannabis use with getting stoned, the therapeutic aspect of the plant seems to many like a rather pleasant, accidental side effect. But our bodies are hardwired to feel physically better after imbibing cannabis in some way. This is due to the much unreported Endocannabinoid System, a vast network of chemical compounds (endocannabinoids) and receptors regulating everything from the stress response, immune function, pain management and inflammation, constantly working to bring the body into homeostasis.
Even the scientists who discovered the first endocannabinoid couldn’t fail to see the similarity between the body’s own compound—which brings about a feeling of relaxation and calm—and ancient eastern mysticism. Little wonder they called it Anandamide after the Sanskrit (sacred language of Hinduism) word for divine joy, Ananda. So that feeling of being blissed out while lying on your mat in Savasana is down to your body’s own endocannabinoid system doing its stuff.
Some even go as far as to assert that the endocannabinoid system and high levels of anandamide are the physiological “missing link” that explain the mystical states or rapture experienced by saints and visionaries over the years.
So what does Cannabis do in the Body, Exactly?
Cannabis contains over 80 cannabinoids—including THC, the psychoactive compound mostly affecting the central nervous system and like Anandamide attaching to the CB1 receptor and CBD—completely non-psychoactive with a whole variety of therapeutic benefits such as reducing inflammation, easing anxiety and depression, and aiding focus and concentration.
Unlike THC, CBD does not bind as such to the endocannabinoid receptors, but indirectly stimulates endogenous cannabinoid signalling, enhancing the body’s own protective endocannabinoid response.
CBD can be found in hemp, which is essentially the Cannabis plant, but with very low THC and therefore no psychoactivity. Grown across the world, it is a safe, legal source of CBD for those not lucky enough to live in a state or country where cannabis can be lawfully consumed. Just be sure to source it from an organic, GMP certified company.
My CBD Yoga Experiment
So back to me and my CBD experiment. Like yoga, CBD reacts differently from person to person, so my experience is just that—no double blind placebos, just me, some CBD Oil and my yoga mat.
I have a tendency toward monkey mind at the best of times, but when doing yoga in the middle of my working day, my thoughts more than ever jump around like an unruly primate. I won’t pretend that after taking the CBD, I was like “Bam, I’m totally in the here and now,” but it was quicker to get more into my body and less in my mind.
Practice wise, I felt much more in the flow, moving easily between postures and during sun salutation. I felt more grounded and strong. Case in point being the balance standing leg postures from the Ashtanga Series 1 that usually have been wobbling like a jelly before tumbling to the ground after a couple of breaths. Today I felt steady and strong, wobble kept at a minimum, lasting five breaths in every posture.
Pranayama also felt effortless. I could retain my breath for longer in Kapalabhati (pranayama exercise) and focus more on the inhales and exhales. The result being a very pleasant activation of the third eye and general feeling of spaciousness. But that’s just my experience, yours could be totally different.
So whether it’s rolling up a fat one while rolling out your yoga mat, taking a few drops of CBD oil to enhance focus or just enjoying the natural cannabis high produced by the body while doing yoga, it’s easy to see how intertwined and symbiotic this age old spiritual practice is with the equally ancient and sacred cannabis plant.
Author: Mary Biles
Image: Author’s Own & stankx / Pixabay
Editors: Sara Kärpänen; Emily Bartran