The roots and reinvention of cannabis-enhanced yoga

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      Health-conscious Vancouverites can downward-dog to just about anything these days.

      Yoga fanatics are dangling from curtains, sipping craft beer, jamming to old-school hip-hop, and laughing their way through the practice. There’s even naked yoga for those daring enough to bare it all.

      As the concept of legal weed settles into Canadian culture, pot is filtering into the West Coast health scene, and, of course, there’s a yoga class for that, too. But practitioners of the discipline say cannabis-enhanced yoga is more than a fad—rather, it’s a reimagined concept dating back thousands of years.

      “Incorporating cannabis is one of the oldest methods of the practice found in ancient texts. Sadhus and spiritual guides used to use ganja as a part of the practice of yoga to form union,” says Celina Archambault, a Vancouver certified yoga practitioner.

      After three years of co-organizing the Spirit Plant Medicine Conference, held at UBC, Archambault dedicated some of the proceeds toward becoming a certified instructor.

      In January, she graduated from the School Yoga Institute in Bali, where she took mystical yoga teacher training and learned how to incorporate traditional plant medicines, like cannabis and cacao, into healing ceremonies.

      Archambault began by hosting private weekly cannabis meditations out of her residence for close friends. Recently, she launched a series of public yoga classes out of the Avicenna Holistic Centre on Robson Street.

      “I think many people don’t understand how to give their bodies the space they need to move and heal, which can be enhanced by the plant medicines,” Archambault told a Georgia Straight reporter attending one of her classes.

      The session she calls “intuitive flow” hosts about 10 or 15 yogis at varying levels of experience. At the beginning of the two-hour class, students consume a low dose of cannabis oil, either a 1:1 ratio of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) or a CBD-only tincture, which has fewer psychoactive effects.

      Archambault guides her students through a series of low-impact movements and deep stretches to release stored tension.

      “Traditional teachers would consume before [their practice] so they could deeply meditate afterwards. Once you’ve done the movements and you’ve cleared all that energy out, you’ve emptied your vessel, so you are much more open to receiving information.”

      The class has many of the trappings of an ancient ceremony, elements she has adopted over years of studying plant-enhanced rituals. She incorporates burning sage and sweetgrass, traditional music, and singing bowls, and closes with a long shavasana, or deep meditation.

      Archambault also asks her students to leave in silence—an intentional gesture meant to preserve the information gained during the ceremony as they return to their daily routine.

      San Francisco–based instructor Dee Dussault has taught ganja yoga for nine years and was one of the first instructors to offer consumption-friendly classes in North America. She says “enhanced” classes—although drastically different than what was practised 3,000 years ago in places like India—are a tool to access an elevated state of consciousness.

      “With the busyness of our culture, the distractions and cellphone addictions, when you get to your yoga mat, there is still a lot of shedding to do before you can actually start to have mindfulness,” she told the Straight by phone.

      “It helps you let go of surface tensions so that you’re starting your yoga immediately from a higher base line of relaxation.”

      In her book Ganja Yoga: A Practical Guide to Conscious Relaxation, Soothing Pain Relief, and Enlightened Self-Discovery, she details the historic practice, from the worship of the Indian deity Shiva to the evolution of psychoactive plants in rituals.

      “Using cannabis is a sign of human adaptability,” she said. “Over thousands of years, we have used it as tool to help guide our spiritual practice. And we’re still growing with it today.”

      Dussault also offers ganja classes online for yogis in regions where marijuana is not legal.

      For those who are uncomfortable with experimentation, Flower and Freedom, a Vancouver-based cannabis lifestyle brand, offers consumption-free consumer education through yoga and fitness.

      Cannabis-curious attendees participate in classes and outdoor excursions, like hiking and snowshoeing, led by health ambassadors who discuss their personal experience with pot. Although they don’t facilitate or provide cannabis, attendees are welcome to explore personal use.

      “I realized if we could explore and explain and show how cannabis could be a part of an active lifestyle, without pressure to consume, we could change the negative narrative around the plant,” Bethany Rae, Flower and Freedom founder, said in a phone interview.

      For those looking for practices that facilitate consumption, Archambault posts monthly events on her Facebook group and is launching weekly classes beginning in September.