What I Learned from Teaching High Yoga
Trying to keep stoned people on task is like trying to make overcooked spaghetti raw again. Totally futile.
Photo: Aral Tasher
Time is different when you're high.
If you're doing it right, that is. If you are, then while a small part of you remains aware of the ticking of the clock, most of you becomes so fascinated by what you're doing that you don't care how long it takes.
Time is important in yoga. It's a practice based on the rhythms of breath and movement. Yoga is a place where the breath count is more important than "real" time. Synchronicity between breath and the movement takes precedence over everything. That's the ideal, anyway. For most of us, though, time doesn't change during our regular yoga class. Time maintains its vigil as the stalwart reminder that we have things to do when we get off the mat and how fucking long are we going to be in this pose anyway?
Which is why I have hope that stoned yoga has something to add to the already overfull buffet of "yoga for _______" options. Stoned yoga is yoga for people who can't stop obsessing about what happens next.
But ganja yoga has a bad rap in most mainstream yoga circles. The fetishism of Patanjali's 1st Century (ish) yoga sutras is one reason. His sutras say that we should stay clean, saucha. Clean means sobriety, raw food, fancy leggings, and not leaving crumbs on your mat. Right?
Um. No. In context, staying "clean" actually means something more like washing your loincloth once a month and not being so stank that you attract insects.
Y'all, the yoga sutras were composed by and for (potentially) cave dwelling yogis in a pre-industrial, pre-technological age. Not for us. The gloriously unbathed person with Cheeto-crusted fingers marinating in her pajamas on a Netflix binge day is cleaner than the 1st century yogi. And maybe more sober.
Where do you think the word ganja comes from, anyway? Yeah, same place as yoga. In India, bhang (cannabis milk) is used as part of rituals, and some yogis take in only ganja for days and stay in intense meditation.
So if ganja and bhang are acceptable to Indian yogis, what's the big deal with 420 yoga? Why not get people in the door who might otherwise never unroll a mat in their spliff-littered apartments? Part of me had always been disgusted by the idea of ganja yoga. Because I believe that yoga can alter your perception and lead you to new insight without drugs. That is my real life experience. Adding drugs into the mix makes the whole enterprise murky. And seems gimmicky.
But I like drugs. And I like yoga. So, I also think that we can use them together in a way that illuminates how people get trapped in their bodies and minds and can't get out. If people can see their stuck-ness, then they might be able to see their way out of it.
Like I said, I have hope. So I offered to teach some long-time students a 420 yoga class. No newbies, no strangers, and no "I only do yoga when I'm high" types. I chose serious students who have been practicing with me for years.
Four-twenty yoga was me and seven students in a room small enough to hotbox. I turned on twinkly lights and ethereal gong music and passed an elephant-shaped pipe. Though they were dedicated yogis, some of my students were so new to weed that I had to teach them how to hit the pipe.
These demonstrations meant I was easily the most stoned person in the room. By the time we got to the opening om, the class had already dissolved into uncontrollable laughter twice. Trying to keep stoned people on task is like trying to make overcooked spaghetti raw again. Totally fucking futile. I don't know what I thought was going to happen, but teaching yoga high was really hard. I kept getting absorbed by the inner workings of my own body.
When I was leading breathwork, I got distracted by the genius of respiration for so long that eventually a student cleared her throat and said, "Wait, wait. Does everyone else have their eyes closed, too?" Another student nominated someone to take over in case I couldn't teach high.
It didn't occur to me until after class was over that maybe all those ganja yoga teachers in California and Colorado aren't actually high themselves. Maybe it's just the students. Call me a method actor, but that seems like an antisocial copout to me.
Once I turned my stoned focus outwards toward the group, I was able to tune in to the students in the room. I knew when they felt shaky, when they were engaged, and when they were about to burst into helpless fits of laughter. When they got anxious, I led strongly. When they went off on tangents, I followed them, relaxing the flow.
The audience participation was the best part. As we arched our backs dramatically moving from down dog to plank, a student remarked, "I can really feel my ovaries." Conversations between mats erupted spontaneously. One student did stay quiet, but later she said it was because she was thinking about sex.
Our final om was pure aural magic. With our consciousness all intertwined and tangled, it felt like the harmony held us together. Time faltered. I knew that this sense of interconnectivity might not last long, but I also know that a single second of connection in this alienated world makes a difference in how we are able to relate to each other.
And it did. Unlike most classes, which disperse as quickly as they are formed, this one lingered. We hung out for hours and forgot about what we needed to get done. Two students traded massages after class and disappeared together.
Basically, ganja yoga might not get you to enlightenment, but it could get you laid. If not, it will at least tease you towards a new kind of interconnectivity with the students around you and a sense of time that isn't limited by what's coming next.