"You took Lu's class? I've been coming here for a year, and I'm still afraid to take a Lu class!" the woman beside me said as she rolled out her yoga mat in preparation for the late-night class that was starting next.
I had just finished my first ganja yoga class, which was also my first yoga class, which was also my first period of sustained exercise since I was allowed to drop gym in high school. The "Lu" she was referring to was Lucelene Pancini, the instructor and founder of House of Yoga, and yes, her class kicked my ass.
Located in the back of a head shop in downtown Toronto, the studio is a cozy, welcoming room that I would imagine is just like many other yoga studios. What makes this one unique is the addition of a volcano vaporizer on the alter at the front of the room beside the iPod dock. The vaporizer is a very important piece of equipment for the studio's specialized ganja yoga classes.
I never really had much of an interest in participating in yoga, due to the fact that I'm generally lazy by nature, and it seemed way out of my comfort zone. But the prospect of taking part in physical activity that included cannabis consumption, however, was comforting enough to pique my interest.
The combination of cannabis and yoga is not a modern advancement. Proponents point to the long history in cannabis in India and suggest the "herb" mentioned in ancient yoga sutras is actually cannabis. To me, a physical activity that requires relaxation and promotes mindfulness at the same time could only benefit from a little marijuana use.
Ganja yoga's modern incarnation traces its root back to instructor and sex educator Dee Dussault's classes in the mid 2000s in Toronto. With Dussault now relocated and operating a successful San Francisco–based practice, House of Yoga has stepped in to provide Toronto practitioners cannabis-based classes, and it's becoming very popular. Some classes run into the night or into the early hours of the next morning. The class I sat in on was mainly instructors, some of the more experienced students and myself.
After setting up our mats and getting into a meditative pose, I was encouraged not to overdo it in my first class. The sativa vapor bags were passed around, and then we began to pose—and it was some of the hardest shit I have ever done in my life. But I was able to do far more than I would have ever imagined thanks, presumably, to the power of weed. I was relaxed enough to try things that I would have otherwise dismissed, like the crow pose. Yes, I did fall flat on my face almost immediately after getting into said position, but I was comfortable enough to get back up and continue with the class. The hour-long class was one of the most physically draining yet strangely rejuvenating experiences I have ever had—kind of like a mini mushroom trip.
After it was over, we all sat on our mats and meditated as more vapor bags (this time with a "downer" indica strain) were passed around. As I inhaled the cannabis, it felt very different than how I usually feel when I smoke. Maybe it was just a combination of the endorphins and the cannabinoids, but it actually felt like a restorative sensation.
After the class, I talked to some of the other students and was struck by how many had similar stories—they were practicing yoga at another studio, tried ganja yoga once, and never looked back. I can definitely see why.
Follow Damian on Twitter.