Heightened and Enlightened: Ganja Yoga offers ‘meditating while medicated’

“Ganja Yoga? That’s the most San Francisco thing I’ve ever heard,” a friend tells me when I mention I’m on my way to try out a new yoga class centered around cannabis use.

Ganja Yoga is taught Monday and Wednesday night in San Francisco by Dee Dussault, the local alt-yoga instructor who came up with Clothing-Free Yoga, Tantra & Sexual Awakening Yoga.

It was she who came up with a yoga class where marijuana smoking before or during is allowed — nay, encouraged. But as it turns out, combining marijuana with yoga is not a San Francisco thing. At least not originally.

The biography of 19th century Indian mystic yogi Ramakrishna contains many references to smoking hemp. Both Hindus and Sufi Muslims in India have used a cannabis milk drink called “bhang” meditatively for centuries.

This suggests the combination of yoga and weed is an ancient innovation. But a modern-day yoga class for stoners is a new take on the old practice, with poses designed to maximize the effects of cannabis use.

In contrast to the physically demanding yoga offerings available in town, Ganja Yoga is a more meditative and ambient class.

Devoted yogis may be disappointed. This is not a class where you’re banging out sun salutations or reaching your toes to the back of your head.

This suits its clientele perfectly.

“The meditation component really accentuates the cannabis and healing and the pain relief,” says Trent, a class attendee who has long suffered from joint pain following a car accident two years ago.

Trent says he started combining weed with yoga well before Ganja Yoga. “I would just do it before class and no one knew. And then I found Dee’s class and now I keep coming back.”

Ganja Yoga is a “treat for your body” that’s beginner-friendly and attracts many attendees who are not at all yoga types, Dussault says.

“I’ve seen all kinds of unexpected people,” she tells me. “I have corporate-type women, high-achieving driven-type women and they love yoga and they secretly like getting high.

“Once I had four dudes, bros with their baseball caps on diagonal, walk in. They’ve got their big bong, and they’re doing yoga. They got into it.”

Just as she says this, a woman in her 80s walks in, accompanied by a woman in her 60s. They’re both holding yoga mats — and they’re both holding.

Like my new silver-haired friends, I am determined to try this Ganja Yoga.

Candles, ambient lighting, and on this occasion a laser-light sculpture hanging from the center of the room project all manner of Pink Floyd concert visual effects around the studio.

To ensure I properly perform, I get baked to the bejesus belt right before class.

The effects are truly transcendental. Dussault does the meditation guidance as well as anyone I’ve ever heard, and her positions really put me in another frame of mind.

But there are definitely moments I’m struggling with coordination. (“Umm, did she say ‘Left toe raised to the knee’? Which one is left?”)

Luckily, this is not about coordination but meditation. Beginners can master most of the poses. It’s not a muscle-building or balance exercise form of yoga. It’s more about meditating, figuring out which muscle joints to crack, and positioning them so they do crack.

It’s a body-awareness class that uses the effect of cannabis to help you meditate on your body and serve its needs.

People are smoking in class while doing yoga — with vaporizing Dussault’s preferred “wellness option” — but only with a valid California medical cannabis recommendation.

Out-of-towners and those still without their legal card can still attend, though they’re left to consume their cannabis before class.

Not all instructors would approve of getting stoned before a yoga class, let alone during. “It is a practice, and there’s discipline involved there. But everyone finds their own balance,” Dussault says. “It’s what yoga’s all about — deepening your self-awareness, not just stretching and getting stronger.”

Whether it’s the self-awareness or the weed, Ganja Yoga has grown popular enough to expand to two nights weekly. Some students have asked for classes hosted at their homes. So now there’s Ganja Yoga on Sausalito patios and Potrero Hill roof decks.

Cannabis is at an interesting crossroads in California. The industry is expanding exponentially. This means new users. But once-underground marijuana is also mainstreaming. This mix is reflected in the class.

“I want to reach into both of those pockets,” Dussault says. “I want to get yoga people considering cannabis and cannabis people considering yoga.”

Considering Ganja Yoga? It’s every Monday and Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. at Merchants of Reality (285 Ninth St.). A California medical marijuana recommendation is required to use cannabis on the premises.

Photo by Gabrielle Lurie

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