'Yoganja' Pairs Pot, Yoga for Greater Spiritual Experience

Hollie Hayes practices yoga in a park in Portland, Ore. She says the combination of yoga and cannabis relaxes the body. Winston Ross for Newsweek

Hollie Hayes wheeled her bicycle into a tree-lined park in northeast Portland at the end of a long, hot spring day. She unrolled a brown paper bag from a backpack, and reached inside for a joint she'd rolled a couple of hours earlier, a strain of marijuana called "Animal Cookies"—the perfect choice for a sundown session of "yoganja."

Hayes has been practicing yoga for the better part of a decade, and she's been smoking cannabis for about that long too. At some point, she realized the two go together nicely, especially as a treatment for the migraines that creep into her skull on a daily basis. Now, she's among a small flock of yogis around the country offering to share their discovery with students—provided they can navigate tricky rules about when and where it's legal to practice yoga and smoke pot at the same time.

"When you're sober, it's easier to stay inside a box, follow the program, be linear," Hayes says.

"Cannabis mutes everything going on around you. Yoga really makes you face yourself. And weed makes you face yourself, too."

The reason the combination works so well, Hayes says, is because yoga "inspires movement. It can put a pause in your reactive attachment to pain." Because some strains blunt the aches and discomfort that might accompany a particular stretch, for example, getting high before a session allows a person to ignore it, and focus more on mindfulness.

Hayes taught her first class earlier this month at the Prism House PDX, the Portland home of Samantha Montanaro. She and her husband had been hosting various themed gatherings at the house since moving there a few years ago from Chicago, where her use of cannabis was "totally illegal." The idea of pairing it with yoga was appealing, but the times she tried going to a class while high made her feel paranoid. In Oregon, that issue evaporated.

"What I like about consuming cannabis to begin with is that it makes me feel more connected to the earth," Montanaro says. "I think yoga has a lot of the same intentions, connecting you to the earth and sky. It makes so much sense together."

Dee Dussault has been teaching "ganja yoga" since 2009, back in Toronto, after talking to students who said they were interesting in attending while high. It's helpful, she soon discovered, to offer students a place and a window of time to consume cannabis before their class started. Now, she's in San Francisco and has gone from classes hosted once a month to twice a week, with 15 to 20 students each time. And she's heard from instructors also doing ganja yoga in Alaska, Seattle, Vancouver, Canada and across the bay in Oakland.

"Most people say it seems to enhance the sensitivity of the body. We can be so mental, going through the motions in yoga classes, but we're not always aware of anatomy and positioning," Dussault told Newsweek. "There's something about cannabis that can make those things really salient."

Because recreational cannabis isn't legal in California, Dussault's students all must have a medical marijuana card to practice. In Oregon, voters approved an initiative in 2014 that allows individuals to possess it and grow it—but not to consume in public. The city of Portland has begun a crackdown on gatherings of people at marijuana-themed events, saying they may run afoul of clean air rules and that those that involve paid admission and free samples might technically constitute an illegal "sale" of marijuana.

Montanaro has been offering classes at Prism House for much of the past year. She hopes because her monthly classes are at such a small scale, though, that the new enforcement won't affect her. Now, she's worried that the city's new rules "make all my events illegal."