420 Yoga – Is it High Time?
If you’re a yogi, then you know all about the post-yoga high; that floaty feeling that all is well, that you are one with the universe. You forget your troubles. (And sometimes your shoes or where you left your car.) It’s one of the reasons we get hooked on the practice. We become aware that we are not our troubles, or our shoes or our cars, and that we are connected to each other and that there is a higher power. These after effects are calming if not downright intoxicating!
Why not get high first and then practice? If yoga practice is designed to alter our awareness, why not enhance the experience with pot? Is it just another tool to shift consciousness? Is it a yoga prop? It’s legal for medicinal purposes in many states. Just like other prescription drugs. There is no question that drugs can dull the pain – physical or otherwise – that can leave us so distracted that we are unable to be in the present moment. There is no question that that shift of awareness can make us feel safe enough to look at and explore the pain.
And before I go any further, let me just say, there is nothing less yogic than saying *I* know what yoga is – and what it is not. Which is almost always followed by an imperious tone decrying: MY yoga is better than your yoga. Or worse: I’m practicing yoga and you are not. So I’m literally squirming in my seat right now, aware of that presumptuous possibility as I state my views.
I know that some of my students use medicinal marijuana. Though not in my class, to my knowledge. I have lots of students with high anxiety, chronic pain, PTSD and other chronic conditions. It goes with the territory in therapeutic and restorative yoga. I understand the benefits of pot for pain, nausea and anxiety. I want my students to feel better. I want them to feel accepted. I want them to experience the deeper dimensions of yoga. I just don’t wanna do it from the cheap seats.
By that I mean, I absolutely do not support getting high and practicing yoga. (Keep reading for one possible exception!)
Here’s the thing. Life IS easier when you take the edge off. Like right now, I’m thinking if I had a margarita RIGHT NOW, I wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable with how this is gonna land with some people that I care about, including aforementioned students. I would be funnier. (Buy me a drink some time and you’ll see!) I totally get it! When life gets uncomfortable, we look for distractions…. Of all kinds!
For the sake of argument, let me explore its opposite. What if it weren’t a distraction? What if that margarita were just an assistive device? A prop that led me to an expanded experience of who I am? I’m all about using props to make the practice better. Advocates say, pot is a spiritual experience. (To which my inner bitch responds, “So is freebasing cocaine. Is that next?” “So is sex. Are we gonna….” You can see that the scenarios are endless.) Seriously, though, I absolutely agree that smoking pot reduces pain and anxiety, et cetera. So what’s the problem? Why not use pot as an assistive device while practicing? Why am I being such a bitch?
There is a lot that is unclear in the research of THC, the mind-altering ingredient in marijuana. So I’ll stick to what IS clear and irrefuted in the scientific literature that supports my, oh so humble opinion.
Almost immediately, THC stimulates the release of dopamine, a feel-good chemical in the pleasure/reward center of the brain. But what goes up (artificially) must come (sometimes crashing) down. And after a couple of hours, dopamine down regulates, which can lead to sadness and even depression. Can you say vicious cycle?
THC alters the parts of the brain “which helps control memory, mood, concentration, time perception, and motor skills.” (See http://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/your-brain-marijuana for full article.) It discombobulates your ability to concentrate and move your body. It distracts you from feeling what is happening in the moment. This is the opposite of the intention of yoga asana practice. No one would recommend getting high and operating heavy machinery. Do you really think less of your most precious vehicle, your body?
Smoking pot has really improved my memory. Said no one. Ever.
THC increases heart rate between 20 to 100 percent! Do you really want to be less aware of what is happening in your body, possibly double your heart rate and then do a physical practice that requires more of your heart in the most literal and basic way?
As a student, your answer might be yes. As a teacher, I have to “Just say no.” And I have. More than once, a student has come to me before class and confided that she took some kind of mind-altering medication to alleviate something or other. My first question: Did you drive? This is where nonjudgment and nonviolence collide at the intersection of accountability. In these situations, I have tried to persuade said student to stay for a super simple restorative practice. (Think SNL skit as you imagine this conversation.) If I can keep you off the road, I’m contributing to the well-being of all beings – at least the ones on your drive home.
I get the temptation of showing up under the influence. I get the pain of isolation. I’ve been in the kind of physical pain where I could not practice moving or sitting. And I shudder to think of the damage I might have done if I had taken something to make me unaware of the pain so I could practice. Because pain of any kind is a warning that something is wrong, that you are in danger. And covering it up doesn’t remove the danger; it simply removes – or at least dulls - your capacity to experience it. And yes, maybe the danger is an illusion, the psychic pain of separation or the mental anguish of PTSD and panic. I know these as well. And I believe that trading in one illusion for another with a mind-altering drug misses an opportunity for the discernment that is yoga.
Granted, I am lucky. I have a strong practice and lots of tools and support to guide me. So that even though I may be thinking, this would go down easier with a margarita, I also know that that is a signal that I need to get curious instead. If I think a margarita will make me funnier, what’s really in my way? (blow back) I know that clarity will come with the tools of my practice and the support of a few “foxhole” friends. (For Brene’ Brown fans, that’s marble-jar friends.)
Which not everyone has. And that’s my exception. I have had private clients who have cancer, PTSD, or chronic something-or-other who have no one and no thing to support them. They have taken anti-anxiety or other meds so they wouldn’t puke or panic in a session. But a big group of people who may have racing hearts and paranoid thoughts, who are unfocussed and disembodied, who have some underlying condition that is so serious that they can’t practice sober? Way out of my league. I don’t even know what league that is.
Instead, what if you could come to yoga class in all of your messiness – sober. We don’t need more places where we feel safe to numb out; we need more spaces where we feel safe to be real; where we feel seen and held and supported so that we can feel the depths of who we are. We need ring-side, drug-free seats for that.
We need yoga to be the gateway drug to awareness.
That’s my unpopular, uncomfortable opinion. It’s not intended to change yours. It’s just a response to people who have asked for mine. AND it’s High Time we realize that our opinions, like our pain, our not The Truth of who we are.