I tried "420 Yoga" in Los Angeles, where we listened to Tupac, pretended to be trees, and enjoyed being baked together.
All photos by CJ Gallopo
Since I moved to Los Angeles, I've made every effort to embrace the free-spirited California lifestyle: I now say the word "stoked." I own a bunch of crop-tops. I've started buying cold-pressed juices that cost more than I make in an hour. But there are few things that feel more "west coast" than weed and yoga, and last weekend, I made the ultimate Californian gesture and tried the two together.
This was "420 Yoga," or yoga for stoners. The class is the brainchild of a Liz McDonald, who teaches it every Saturday at 4:20 PM. I am neither a yogi nor a stoner, but McDonald invited me to visit the class anyway, alluding to the "come-as-you-are vibe" and insisting that I would love it.
I recruited my boyfriend to come with me, who was "totally stoked" to try it. As I dug out my yoga mat before class, he emerged wearing a tie-dye shirt.
"You can't wear that," I told him. "That's, like, too on the nose."
"No way. How much do you want to bet that someone else will be wearing tie-dye?"
I split a pot brownie in half and popped a piece into my mouth. "Fine. It's a bet."
We shook on it and got into the car. He wore the tie-dye.
Liz McDonald teaches "420 Yoga" every Saturday.
The 420 Yoga studio is housed in a maze-like complex, down a long hallway that's flanked by art studios and workspaces. The studio might have been difficult to find if it weren't for the overwhelming smell of incense, which led us down the hall to where a handful of yogis were already unrolling their yoga mats.
"Make a nest, people!" McDonald was cooing at the group as we walked in. She turned to see me.
"Oh, hi! Look, I'm wearing a shirt with palm trees, but don't they kind of look like marijuana leaves?"
McDonald, who sometimes goes by the moniker "Yogangsta," is not your average yogi. When she started 420 Yoga back in 2010, she wanted to help her students bridge the gap between body and mind, to heighten their awareness of sensation. She knows that there are doubters to her method, but she believes that if it works for you, then that's all that matters. She's the kind of woman who yells, "Fuck the yoga police!" without a hint of irony.
Perched beside McDonald was a small creature with a hairstyle not unlike Donald Trump.
"This is Prince," McDonald told me. The dog trotted over to sniff my bare feet.
Liz McDonald shares a yoga mat with her dog, Prince.
With Prince on my heels, I entered the studio, which had a dozen paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling. McDonald invited me to find a comfortable position, adding that the class always starts at 4:25, for those who may be on stoner time. I looked around. Behind me, a man without a shirt was clumsily attempting a handstand. Two classmates were chatting about being stand-up comedians. There was, to my dismay, a man wearing a tie-dyed shirt.
I unfurled my yoga mat and eased myself onto a bolster, with my back arched and my eyes closed. I could safely say, from the half-dead posture of my classmates, that most people were pretty baked. As I lie prone on my yoga mat, looking dreamily at the paper lanterns above me, I realized that I was pretty baked, too. At the risk of sounding like Maureen Dowd, weed brownies are powerful stuff.
Incense floats into the room while we relax into our mats.
An unknown amount of time passed in that position, with the gushing of breaths around me. I became aware of everything around me: the man behind me was just barely touching my ponytail with his feet; I could smell McDonald waving a stick of incense around the room, which she eventually secured to a clipboard.
"Let's take a magical mystery tour of our bodies," McDonald purred, as our cue to begin the class. "No sudden movements."
We slowly moved forward into child's pose, stretching our fingers out in front of us while the sound of wind chimes filled the room. In a normal yoga class, I find child's pose fairly boring, but in McDonald's class, it gave my head a rush. This wasn't high-intensity yoga, but man, was I high.
After some gentle stretching, McDonald moved us into cat-cow positions, which she said would trigger a release of serotonin every time our spine elongated. "Put that in your pipe and smoke it!" she said with a chuckle. We made our backs concave and then convex, moving slowly and fluidly.
McDonald gently adjusts my positioning.
It's said that the dreadlocked sadhus of India smoked weed while meditating, in order to see God and be at peace. I saw the top of my yoga mat and collapsed into laughter.
McDonald came over and adjusted my pose, whispering in my ear to remind me to breathe. She gently pushed down on my back, and I felt my spine turn to jelly beneath her hands. "Niiiice and smooth, like spreading peanut butter on toast," McDonald said. Toast. Oh my god, I wanted toast.
My mind was just beginning to wander away from me, fantasizing about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, when "California Love" came on and McDonald moved us into half-sun salutations. I don't think Tupac was a yogi, but doing sun salutations to his voice was strangely befitting. McDonald started singing along.
The only outfit you need for "420 Yoga."
We were instructed to continue our sun salutations until the end of the song, but "California Love" has a ridiculously long outro, and it felt like it would never end. I was moving slowly, with every ligament in my body hanging heavy—and yet, I felt like I was riding a rollercoaster, with arms skyward, torso bent, and then shaping my body into a V before slithering onto the floor.
I was channeling the flow of Tupac.
As "California Love" trailed off, McDonald told us to assume our favorite pose from the sun salutation sequence. I doubled over and hung limp, feeling a tremendous rush of blood to my head, which felt full and heavy on my neck.
We lifted our bodies upright and we moved into tree pose, which someone in the class remarked was "so totally 420." I normally have an excellent sense of balance, but I found myself remarkably unstable, and I could hardly stand for a few seconds without gradually tipping over.
"Breath down into ya roots, man!" McDonald said, in a Jamaican accent. "Breathe down into ya branches!"
My pathetic attempt at tree pose. Note the man in the tie-dye shirt.
So there I was, breathing and laughing and pretending to be a tree. The shirtless man behind me was taking tree pose very seriously, which I found hilarious.
And then, after a few more instructions from McDonald ("Feel the reggae in your bones! Be a tree!"), we slunk back onto our mats and settled into shavasana, which can only be described as a dead man's pose.
"You're like a perfectly rolled little joint," McDonald remarked.
At some point, I felt McDonald's hands on my face, as she spread a dab of essential oil underneath my nose and placed a beanbag over my eyes. We lay there for what felt like hours, our bodies melting into our yoga mats.
McDonald and Prince ease me into deep relaxation.
McDonald told us to imagine that we were on our own "magic carpet ride." In my previous yoga experiences, I would roll my eyes at this kind of hippy-dippy talk. But somehow, when McDonald said it, I nodded my head in solidarity. I'm on a magic carpet ride, I found myself agreeing. Fuck the yoga police!
I was somewhere between a "yoga high" and REM sleep when something cold and wet poked me on the foot. It was Prince's nose.
By the time McDonald encouraged us to "come back from our magic carpet ride" for the ending of class, I actually felt like I was floating above my body. Undoubtedly, I was much higher than when we started the class. Was it the yoga? Was it the brownie? Was it the yoga and the brownie?
I'm stifling laughter as we finish shavasana, which is really not supposed to be funny.
It took me a moment to come-to before I could slowly roll onto my side and lift myself back onto the ground. I felt heady again, but also lighter, as if I had shed half my bodyweight. McDonald came over, with Prince trotting beside her, and asked how I liked the class. All I could do was giggle and nod.
"She's baked," my boyfriend said, on my behalf. McDonald giggled.
I squinted at her, trying to remember what I had wanted to ask, but all I could come up with was a faint little laugh. "I feel awesome," I told her.
And it was true. I've never really bought into yogic lore, but I felt genuinely renewed—like I had been on a real meditative journey. On the drive home, I closed my eyes and basked in the sensation. After ten minutes of silence, I turned to my boyfriend.
"You won the bet, by the way. Can we go to In-n-Out?"
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