As a yoga teacher, Phoenix House blog editor, and the daughter of hippie parents for whom marijuana was as normal and quotidian as coffee, I had a few different reactions to the recent New York Times article, “A Yoga High With a Little Help.” First, the article (about pairing marijuana and yoga in a California class taught by Liz McDonald) seemed a bit absurd; sure, a lot of yogis are stoners and vice-versa, but are these people really lighting up in class? The answer, of course, is no; as reporter Laurie Winer points out, it’s illegal to smoke on studio property, which means that these particular students are getting a buzz on at home, before class.
So a few folks are smoking pot and then meandering to their local yoga studio—is this anything out of the ordinary? I’m sure there have been some less-than-sober students showing up in my classes over the years. Plus, we know that a yoga practice can be extremely helpful for people undergoing chemotherapy or dealing with chronic pain—and since marijuana is legal for medical use in California, the students in the Times piece may have medical marijuana prescriptions. In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that no one with a chronic condition should be using medical marijuana without also committing to a restorative (passive supine poses) yoga practice—and they would likely discover that the poses benefit them more than the pot.
But the “420 Remedy” yoga class profiled in the Times article is a far cry from a restorative-only class for cancer patients. On the contrary; it touts McDonald’s ability to “twist herself like a pretzel” and shows a photo of her class in a strenuous lunge stretch. An LA Weekly piece about the same class warns students they’ll likely wind up “on their backs with arms reaching straight up to hold their feet behind their heads.” Kids, I wouldn’t advise you to try that one at home—even stone-cold sober. Trying it while actually stoned seems like a definite recipe for disaster.
I’m already constantly concerned with ensuring my students’ well-being and making sure they don’t push themselves too far or seriously injure themselves in class. The last thing I need is for someone to show up high and just-a-little-too-hopeful about popping up into a headstand—what if, with fuzzy judgment and coordination, he lands a crooked headstand that causes severe neck damage? What if, with a drug-induced sense of relaxation, a student joyfully forces herself into lotus pose and ends up with a torn tendon? What if an older student, his heart rate already increased 20-100 percent by smoking weed, does one too many sun salutations and has a heart attack?
I do tend to agree with William Sands, Dean of the College of Maharishi Vedic Science, who says that “marijuana inhibits the ability to experience yoga—the inner self—and is therefore incompatible with the practice.” When I’m moving through the asanas, I don’t want anything getting in the way of my clear breathing and clear thinking; for me, yoga is about learning how to deal with reality, not escaping from it. But my main disagreement with classes like McDonald’s lies in my sense of responsibility as a teacher—a practical responsibility to protect my students from injury. I’ve known yogis who have slipped or strained muscles by practicing after a couple glasses of wine, or a prescription painkiller, or even just Nyquil—and pot is no better.
Of course, I want my students to leave class feeling relaxed and chilled-out, but I want them to feel that as a result of my teaching and their own hard work of breathing and balancing through the poses—not because they hot-boxed their car on the way to the studio.
Phoenix House Blog Editor
Vinyasa Yoga Teacher
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