Cannabis Liberation and the Spirit of Yoga, Meditation and Journeying
Cannabis is a sacred plant. In ethnobotany, the study of the relationship between plants and people, the plants and fungi we call sacred have psychoactive or psychedelic properties. Through altered states of consciousness, they can lead to personal transformation and healing. Around the world and throughout history, sacred plants have played a significant role in the development of civilization. They are considered invaluable treasures, so revered that many cultures simply refer to them as “the medicine.”
Humans have respected cannabis—also known in different times and places as marijuana, ganja, pot, and many other names—as a medicine and a spiritual ally for millennia. The plant is packed with natural pain relievers like the anti-inflammatory cannabinoid CBD (the non-psychoactive one getting all the attention right now). While its most famous cannabinoid, THC, offers psychoactive (sometimes even psychedelic) properties that can heal the soul.
When paired with yoga, cannabis provides a holistic mind-body-spirit journeying experience. This is not about “stoned yoga,” but about promoting a healthy “high” relationship with cannabis as a sacred plant spirit medicine—which starts with respect. This is a love story about the divine partnership between cannabis and yoga. Humans have coevolved with cannabis for a very long time.
Yoga practitioners are celebrating her liberation with the newly legal recreational status in many states (and all of Canada) by offering classes and workshops designed to take full advantage of cannabis, whether through vaping, consuming edibles, elixirs or drinks, or smoking. These teachers offer a virtual wealth of education about this much-misunderstood and maligned plant to everyone who takes their classes—and they consider that a great privilege.
For over a decade, I’ve been practicing yoga with my husband, who has been devoted to his own practice for forty plus years. These days, there’s almost always cannabis involved. Practicing with the plant helps me to drop into the wisdom and bliss of union with more depth and purpose.
Reconnecting and Learning to Listen with Cannabis
Nigerian-born, LA-based Chioma Nwosu’s vision for her yoga students is big. In her workshops, she works to bring them out of their egos and connect them with their spirit guides. She calls it “the space of inner peace that dwells within,” so they can grab this lifetime’s opportunities and run with them. To get her students to this place, so highly elusive in today’s wired world, Chioma Nwosu uses all the tools in her arsenal, including sacred ritual and plants.
Elevated CannaFlow is a workshop series and her most recent offering at Radha Yoga in the West Adams Historic District. Nwosu integrates cannabis into her energetic, breath-centered flows set to AfroBeat rhythms. “With the therapeutic support of this plant medicine,” she says, “individuals can go deeper within themselves, releasing negativity with ease; connect with the root of suffering; and explore a higher vibrational consciousness through cannabis-enhanced guided meditation.”
“We want people to come, learn, and study yoga. Not just the asana, but all aspects of it, including how cannabis fits into the mix,” says London-born, LA-based Minelli Eustacio-Costa, who owns Radha Yoga. “We talk about yoga philosophy and the origins of yoga and how cannabis yoga isn’t some new trend. We’re just going back to our roots and rediscovering what plants have been used for before people perverted them for their own desires and abuse. We’re interested in what plant medicine can be, what it has been all these years, and how we can combine the good benefits to help us with our mindfulness practice and to explore ourselves.”
Eustacio-Costa’s cannabis-enhanced empowerment classes, Yoga with Minelli, stress wellness, mindfulness, and yoga philosophy. Before she started smoking cannabis, Eustacio-Costa says, her yoga practice was “pure vanity,” a way of tricking herself into working out. The first time she combined yoga and cannabis, however, she immediately felt more connected and aware, and she continued to explore that relationship. “As I started to gain more knowledge about it, I learned there were historical and scientific connections,” Eustacio-Costa says.
Since ancient times, yogis have appreciated and even revered cannabis for its ability to bring them into the present, less judgmental state they practice to achieve. Cannabis’ elevated status has unfortunately been denounced in many circles during the tragic recent blip of global prohibition. But the tides are beginning to turn for this most misunderstood sacred plant. And progressive yogis who have felt the magic connection are leading the way. They’re coming out and speaking up about their own personal use and educating students as well as the public about how it can enhance mindfulness practice.
“Humans have coevolved with cannabis for a very long time,” says ethnobotanist and yogi Chris Kilham, author of The Five Tibetans (and the husband I practice with). “We’re very, very connected with this plant, and what we’re seeing now in the States and countries where cannabis is legal is a gathering of people who have been practicing with cannabis for years. We’re also seeing a rapidly expanding global movement embracing intentional work with plant spirit medicines. The intentional practice and being with others—these two things lead to enjoyment, as in joy.”
“Cannabis is for enjoyment and enlightenment,” agrees The Dank Duchess, an Oakland, Calif.-based master hashmaker who meditates daily. “It’s a guiding tool, and when used as such, it facilitates a deeper learning and expanded awareness of ourselves and the world around us.”
While certainly not a requirement for any of these practitioners, cannabis is being rediscovered for its unique ability to complement and enhance every aspect of a yoga practice, from stilling the mind for better focus to softening the corners of self-judgment.
More and more yogis are joining Taiwan-born, LA-based Jessy Chang of Local High Society, who says, “I don’t always practice yoga with cannabis. But when I do, it helps me deepen my breaths, move deeper into the pose, connect with myself, and just overall feel more.”
Cannabis educator, (non-practicing) yoga teacher and digital nomad Robyn Griggs Lawrence, who wrote Pot in Pans: A History of Eating Cannabis, says bringing the plant into her personal practice helped her let go of her natural Type A tendencies and feel the enjoyment Kilham speaks about. “Cannabis helps me with feeling yoga as opposed to thinking it,” Lawrence says. “There’s more of a fluid intuitiveness as opposed to regimented, you-must-be-in-Warrior-II-for-30-seconds kind of thing. It brings a nice balance.”
Montreal-based yoga teacher and musician Brian James of Medicine Path Yoga began to practice yoga more intentionally after leaving the advertising industry. There he experienced extreme stress, panic attacks, and sleeplessness. For James, incorporating a high-CBD cannabis oil into his practice brought a deeper intimacy and healing. “One of the first stepping stones to long-term healing is reconnection with the body and learning to listen to the intelligence of the body and to be guided by that in our decision making,” James says. “I think cannabis can really help with that.”
Good Intentions, Great Vibrations: Ceremonial Work
LA-based yoga teacher Dee Dussault, creator of Ganja Yoga, considers cannabis an ally. She believes the plant intends to help humans heal both physically and mentally; that it was sent to remind us that “there’s more to life than the constant producing and constant consumption we do.”
“I focus on feeling grounded, on slow flow, on breath, which is the whole point of yoga—to turn inward,” agrees Eustacio-Costa, who pairs her classes with specific cannabis strains, almost always chosen for their introspective qualities, so cannabis becomes intimately intertwined with asana. “Very much the way the sadhus did 2,000 years ago. We start off with the mindfulness of smoking and, okay, how does it feel?” she says. “How is my high showing up?”
Though cannabis has been legal for adult recreational use in California for less than two years, Eustacio-Costa has already noticed a deepening and maturing in her students who are incorporating cannabis into their practice. It is a far cry from the canna-curious who populated her “more underground” classes a few years ago. These days, she’s doing a lot less educating and a lot more community building—a natural part of the cannabis-yoga synergy.
“I love cannabis yogis,” says Hannah Mason of Lit Yoga in Venice, where guest teachers are invited in for events such as a recent workshop about toning the endocannabinoid system through nutrition, sleep, and exercise. “There are so many different people who are drawn to this, and I think that’s the beauty of it—that we have this eclectic array of different voices, and it’s not all just the same perspective.”
“Now that it’s legal, people are so hungry for knowledge,” Nwosu says. “There’s so much to cover about cannabis. I want people to walk away with more understanding of cannabis as a plant spirit medicine, more understanding of how to incorporate it into their yoga practice, and more understanding of the different rituals, as they show up and share with community, to keep the resonance of the medicine elevated.”
Consuming cannabis piques our awareness that we are connected to the universe, to something greater than ourselves, which naturally fosters a sense of acceptance, says Freeport, Maine-based Selma Holden, a board-certified family physician who recently finished Harvard Medical School’s Integrative Medicine post-doctoral research fellowship, where she focused on prenatal yoga classes.
“The idea is for the person to have a moment of stillness and reflection, and then from that point be able to say, ‘Okay, based on where I am here now, and where I’m coming from, where do I want to move forward to?’ And that is when we invite in the cannabis in,” Holden explains.
In her Cannabis-Enhanced Yoga for Mindful Embodiment classes, Holden promotes mental, emotional, and physical flexibility. “We can view ourselves from a different vantage point, a new perspective,” she says, “which may lead to people finding creative solutions.”
That is without a doubt the spirit behind Marin, California-based Bliss Nectar Experience, which features yoga, tantra, and plant spirit meditation with heirloom cacao and cannabis medicines in ceremonial journeys. At Bliss Nectar Experience, co-creator Elizabeth Bast, who wrote Heart Medicine: A True Love Story, about a healing experience with the African sacred plant medicine iboga, is honoring traditional ceremonial wisdom by cultivating new cannabis traditions at home.
“Our intention for holding the sacred space is to bring people into a very high vibrational circle,” explains Bliss Nectar Experience co-creator Scarlet Ravin, founder of White Fox Medicine. “I make high tinctures and medicine offerings, so I bring the medicine to the yoga party or the meditation workshop, and Elizabeth holds the sacred space and creates the workshop structure. People get to see and feel the medicine as a sacrament. Once that imprint is in their soul, it’s in their soul.”
Bast is adamant about respecting cannabis as medicine. “When people just consume cannabis without pausing to honor or listen to the plant spirit, that is disrespectful,” she says. “It’s like she is being looked at like a sex object, like a piece of flesh, like they’re just using her body rather than tuning into the soul of a being, of a lover. If someone is just using you for your body, how much of yourself are you going to give to them? How much of your wisdom and your pearls?”
Ganjasana founder Rachael Carlevale, who has been leading cannabis yoga ceremonies in Colorado and around the world since 2015, believes cannabis is always the star of the show, the teacher and the guru. “When I lead ceremonies, I am just a guide,” she says. “The plants have the wisdom, and I’m just setting up a safe and sacred space for people to feel comfortable exploring in their own creative ways.”
Celina Archambault, founder of Plant Tigress in Vancouver, BC, says practicing yoga poses grounds participants when she leads intimate ceremonial circles with cannabis. “Yoga and meditation are the same thing as love, and I think the more we all start to step into this wave of love, the better our collective consciousness will be,” she says. “We have been disconnected to that for so long.”
Cannabis is useful in spiritual practice because it temporarily amplifies energy, says Stephen Gray, creative director at Spirit Plant Medicine in Vancouver, BC, and author of Cannabis and Spirituality: An Explorer’s Guide to an Ancient Plant Spirit. “Any practice that in itself can engender spiritual healing and awakening can be enhanced by the skillful inclusion of cannabis,” he says.
Miami-based Kenyatta Bell, founder of Root of Recovery, leads CBD and Sound Experiences, a workshop that encourages people to investigate the root of their addiction for a deeper recovery with a combination of yoga, meditation, and sound therapy. Because he has an “exaggerated” personal history with cannabis, and because his clients have histories of addiction, Bell works primarily with the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD. “The idea is to pair yogic breath work and sound with CBD,” Bell says, “which has been great for clients suffering with pain and inflammation and depression and anxiety.”
Bell says people walk out feeling euphoric after experiencing a journey that helps them physically and emotionally. “Many of my clients have no exposure or frame of reference for yoga or meditation, and it’s very intimidating for them. Any tool that can help them cope with life, reduce anxiety and stress, and walk in a world of sobriety has immeasurably value. Dosing with CBD helps them to relax, and helps stop the monkey mind.”
Coming Out for the Medicine
World-renowned yoga teacher Nicki Doane, co-founder of Maya Yoga in Maui, Hawaii, has resisted talking openly about her personal cannabis use for decades. Finally, she says, “public opinion is really so positive. I feel it’s time.” Though understandably nervous about “coming out” about her occasional use of cannabis in her private yoga practice—preferably when she’s out in nature—Doane believes “it’s time to shift the conversation, and it’s my truth. I use it.”
Doane has no interest in bringing cannabis into her classes and workshops because she doesn’t see it as a helpful part of the teacher-student dynamic, but she does take opportunities to educate yogis about the deep history of cannabis and yoga in India when she can. “Shiva threw one of his dreadlocks to the ground, and the herb plant sprang up, and that’s why all the Shaiva sadhus smoke cannabis as their sacrament. It’s definitely part of their meditation,” she says. “I love that story.”
The ancient synergy between cannabis and yoga is certainly not lost on Shivani Amin, an LA-based physician and cannabis expert who practices yoga and meditation. Amin was born in India, but that doesn’t mean her family was thrilled when she began working with cannabis as part of her practice. They were, in fact, concerned she could lose her medical license.
After Amin described some of cannabis’s medical benefits, her grandmother asked Amin to bring her some. “I said to myself, this is God’s way of saying, ‘Yes, child. This is what you’re supposed to do.’” Shivani sees cannabis as an expression of her heritage. “I am named after Lord Shiva,” she says, “and Lord Shiva uses ganja.”
“I think it’s really important for Indians to reclaim this medicine,” agrees LA-based Sheetal Narsai (aka Dr. Seeta), an Indian-American Ayurvedic doctor who practices yoga and meditates every day. “It’s been used for so many thousands of years, and we need to reclaim the sacred wisdom.”
For baby boomers like Susan Sheldon, a Massachusetts-based landscape architect and plantswoman who grows her own cannabis, the freedom to be out in the open with her cultivation and use has been nothing short of liberating. She loves teaching people how to cultivate their own medicine without worrying about getting arrested and ruining her family’s life, and she hopes more people will learn how to grow.
“I like to be under the influence of cannabis whenever I move,” Sheldon says. “Whether it’s yoga, authentic movement, technique class, or my improv dance class. I’m an open person, so it wasn’t fun leading a double life.”
Cultivating Cannabis Energy
Cultivating plants to incorporate into a yoga practice naturally creates a more reverent, attentive approach, says Kilham, who also grows his own in western Massachusetts. Kilham spends hours nurturing the plants in his garden, talking to them and feeling their energy flow. He says he’s convinced his cannabis is superior to anything he could find on the marketplace, and he also realizes that may be because of this relationship. “The deeper and more intimate the relationship you have with anything—whether it’s your yoga, your plants, or a turkey sandwich,” Kilham says, “the more valuable the moment is.”
Who grew the cannabis and what kind of energy they put into the process is also extremely important. Narsai considers growers’ intentions and the conditions plants are grown in to be crucial, which is why she encourages patients to work with cannabis they grow themselves or have grown for them. Though not everyone wants to, has time to, or has legal access to grow cannabis, it pays to be selective and support only growers committed to growing righteously. Voting with your dollar is especially important at this stage of cannabis liberation.
“The amount of respect you bring your plant, the better the quality of the plant,” says Holden, who is also a practicing herbalist. “Any farmer knows that.” Carlevale grows a specific genetic cultivar using regenerative methods in no-till living soil for her ceremonies because she wants everyone to work with the same plant medicine. “We’re all tuned to the same wavelength,” she says. “That really drives the medicine.”
My husband Chris Kilham and musician John Sheldon (Susan’s husband) have teamed up to host cannabis-empowered yogic mediations and ceremonies, and some of Susan’s homegrown will certainly be part of the offerings.
“When you work intentionally with a sacred plant—cannabis is a sacred plant—something happens,” Kilham says. “These agents in some way or another crack open our consciousness. They expand our minds. They give us greater mental, emotional, spiritual options. And they enhance our sensory acuity and tend us toward inspiration. And that inspiration may be something that we identify as ‘divine’.”
“Cannabis is interactive,” John Sheldon says. “The spirit of this plant gives you what you ask for. Your intention is reflected back. The way I see it, we are interacting.”
Chioma Nwosu is offering a Cannabis 101 Ecannaflow class on 4/20 at 4:20pm at Radha Yoga, 2525 W Washington Blvd, LA: radhayogala.com Photos of Chioma Nwosu (chiomanwosu.com) by Jeff Skeirik/Rawtographer (rawtographer.com) at Radha Yoga LA (radhayogala.com). Clothing by TK. Hair and makeup by Monica Alvarez (monicaalvarezmakeup.com)
ZOE HELENE is a cultural activist who is unyielding in her fight for the rights of women, wilderness, wildlife, and sacred plants. She is the founder of Cosmic Sister, an eco-feminist educational advocacy group championing women’s healing, self-liberation, and empowerment through legal work with nature’s most profound medicines, including cannabis, ayahuasca, peyote, and psilocybin. (@CosmicSister)