The Heated Debate About Combining Yoga With Marijuana

A woman uses cannabis before a yoga session. Ancient yogis focused on deep breathing because they believed each person had a finite amount of breaths in a lifetime. DARRIN HARRIS FRISBY/DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE

This article, and others on the future of what might be America's largest new cash crop, is found in Newsweek's Special Edition: Weed.

Pot in the Practice

One of the first things one is likely to hear from an advocate of combining cannabis and yoga is that ancient Indian traditions based on the Vedas (Hindu holy texts) treat cannabis as one of five sacred plants. Ancient Indians believed a guardian angel resided in cannabis, and it is still an important part of some Hindu holy festivals today. In short, cannabis is as ancient and respected a part of Indian life as yoga.

In an interview with the New York Daily News, Dr. Jonathann Kuo, executive director of New York City's Hudson Spine & Pain Medicine, said, "From a medical standpoint, marijuana helps relax the airway and can actually help people breathe a little better. Some strains give you a body high and can make you more in touch with your body. Both help with yoga."

Practitioners may also find certain kinds of cannabis help you focus on the meditative and mind-clearing aspects of a yoga practice. Speaking to the Yoga Journal in February, one yogi said: "I find that when I'm high, it's easier for me to let go of a lot of the things that are regularly occupying my monkey mind. For me, it's a matter of helping me get into a deeper, more meditative space where I can tune in to my body and give myself what I actually need."

Purely for the Poses

Unfortunately for those who would close the book on cannabis and yoga on historical grounds and call the debate for the pro faction, the arguments against combining the two are also based on ancient Hindu practice. Ayurvedic medicine, the scientific practice that goes hand in hand with yoga and shares an origin in the Vedas, aims to cultivate a purity of mind and body that some feel leaves very little room for cannabis. When used as a medicine, cannabis can be considered a boon by Ayurvedic practitioners, but if it's taken recreationally or frivolously, the same texts those practitioners refer to describe it as "tamasic," a term used to describe drugs taken to escape from pain or emotions.

"Marijuana was used in some spiritual settings to help still the mind, but never for any length of time because of the tamasic dullness of the mind it can create," Ayurvedic practitioner John Douillard told the Yoga Journal. Some yogis also claim cannabis can affect the Vata Dosha, which Ayurvedic practitioners and yogis claim is responsible for anxiety and indigestion—neither of which is a particular boon to anyone's mindfulness.

This article was excerpted from Newsweek's Special Edition: Weed. For more on the fast-rising culture of cannabis, pick up a copy today.

Weed 9 Cover
Topix Media Lab