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Hitting the pipe before you hit the mat: why some yogis prefer an altered state

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Some yogis prefer an altered state in practice, but it's not for everyone. - DIONNE PASSACANTANDO
  • Dionne Passacantando
  • Some yogis prefer an altered state in practice, but it's not for everyone.

At its core, yoga is an ancient tradition of philosophy and practice with roots in the Hindu and Buddhist cultures of India. Today's Westernized versions focus mainly on the physical side, but achieving a higher level of consciousness is the fundamental principle that all branches of yoga share. Meditation and breath control also remain an imperative component to the Americanized yoga practice you can find around Colorado Springs today.

In recent years, specialized yoga studios in Colorado have seen the opportunity to marry the pursuit of enlightenment with marijuana use. And the practice of getting high prior to a yoga session isn't just some New Age novelty — it may actually enhance the traditional aims of bringing body and mind in closer alignment. Locally, One Love Club, a nonprofit organization and Rastafarian wellness center, offers yoga classes multiple times a week with the option for people to bring their sacred, sacramental herb into the experience.

"It's all about conscious living for Rastas," says One Love founder and director, Heather Hart. "It's about taking care of your body and being healthy. A lot of Rastas practice yoga and meditation, it's just a really natural fit to what we do. This is a community center, a wellness center, so people come here to enhance their lives, their wellness, their consciousness — mind, body, spirit. So yoga is really great for that, with or without the ganja."

An argument can be made that weed would alter your state of consciousness, limiting your ability to cultivate self-awareness. But practitioners offer an alternative explanation for why bud can actually stimulate a more enlightening practice.

"Some days I feel like I need a little extra level of relaxation so I can focus and meditate better and other days I feel pretty on-target," says Hart. "But it absolutely helps. People have issues and injuries, so some days I'm a little stiffer than others and the ganja really helps loosen things up and helps you relax so you can get deeper into your practice. For me it really enhances it because you get deeper stretches, can be more focused on your breath, and get into deeper meditation. It's just so beneficial and an amazing way to start your day, that's for sure."

We live in an age of prescription cure-alls, however many overlook the holistic, pain management properties of both THC and CBD in cannabis. Hart, who suffers from a previous lower back injury and broken pelvis, says weed absolutely contributes to her rehabilitation.

Yoga teacher Jessica Fesler leads the group flow classes at One Love. She agrees that cannabis can be a strong catalyst for people who are unable to attain a sense of stillness on their own. But she does stipulate that when she is at the front of a class she chooses to abstain.

"I won't partake while I teach because in the role of teacher our job is to hold space for people to move through wherever it is that they're at, at that particular time, and every day for the student is different," says Fesler.

The word "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit word "yuj" which means "to yoke" which lends itself to harnessing some sense of control. If you consider the contoured crossbar that enables two animals to pull a load by joining two living things together, you might imagine using a plant to attain a greater level of consciousness than just the yoga practice alone. So, if weed can bring a more substantial transcendent ability then why would you hesitate?

"I very much encourage, if students do like to partake, then get it. If not, there's no pressure," says Fesler. "Some people will on some days and won't on others. I think these are all just different tools to help us quiet. We live in a society that really venerates multi-tasking and doing six things at once and there is a place for that. But we don't work on the other set of skills which is singlemindedness — being mindful and allowing things to be quiet. ... Some people find that cannabis really helps with that, and some people not so much. A lot of people find that yoga really helps with that. So for them, whatever it is that lets them for 60 minutes just focus on the breath, put it into their body and start to integrate into that, I think is glorious."

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