Stoned Yoga


When my editor asked me if I smoked pot, I said no, but I voted for legalizing it in the state where I live. My problem with marijuana is that it was illegal when I was growing up and as someone who has lived by “right” and “wrong,” my decision to abstain was quite easy. It wasn’t legal. But as many of my pot smoking friends would argue, it was better for you than alcohol. They reasoned that no one ever got high and punched someone in a bar.

Then they changed the laws in some states and voila, stoned yoga classes were born. So when my editor asked if I would get high and go to a yoga class, I realized this was an adventure. The editor had given me permission to let go of any stigma I had. This was in the name of journalism.

So here I am in my car in a back parking lot with a joint before a 9am Hot Yoga Class in the cold of January in Vermont. I tell my friend Sam, who happens to be teaching the class that I feel like a pothead before he heads in to the studio. Left alone in the car, smoking, I am nervously thinking I will get busted. Smoking pot is hard I realize, as I relight my joint for the 4th time.

And then a wave hits me. I feel calm, slower. My mind is not racing, tallying, keeping track, or judging. I am watching a sweet curl of smoke wind its way up and out the window. I feel warm and sweet and giddy with a secret. No one knows.

I open the door, walk to the studio and am welcomed by a big grin from Sam. I am not worried about pretending to be normal or adhere to any set of yogic values I have about how to live or be in the world. I just am. This is usually the feeling that I get after yoga class, not before it.

When I put my mat down I realize I am more in my body than my head. And even though I’ve been a long time practitioner, this is the central issue in my life---how do I get more into my body. I am amazed and feel like I’ve just discovered something wonderful. Much like how I felt when I began my practice. There was a sweetness. A joy in something new. I am wondering how much it is the marijuana or just that I have done something quite different that is creating these feelings.

I am not fidgeting, looking at the clock, waiting for class to begin or looking about the room checking out the other students, comparing, making judgments or telling stories. I am in a hot room in the middle of winter listening to the most beautiful guitar music I have ever heard from Sam’s iPod.

Sam begins by offering us the inquiry to make everything a meditation and to be aware of sensations as we practice. He brings us to stand and I feel solid, stable and focused in my joints, ready to be led on a journey, which is not normal for me.

As a yoga teacher, I find it hard to relinquish the identity of teacher. Even when I am a student, I find myself wearing both hats. I’m drinking in ways of languaging a yoga class or vinyasa flows to expand my teaching practice. But I am 100% present in this yellow room with dark wood floor and the minimalist beauty of its simplicity echoes my internal state.

Normally it is physical exercise under the umbrella of spiritual practice. But this time it was only about sensation. I could stop competing with myself. The aim of practice had shifted. There is a part of me that wonders if it was just his calm, mindful, meditative presence---though I’ve taken his classes not high before and while I felt relaxed and centered, this feeling is more profound. I was not challenging myself, I was simply being myself. In other words, my ego had left the building.

And then it hits me, mega case of the munchies and all I can think about is devouring a chocolate croissant from my favorite bakery. Then I am right back to organizing planning mind. How long until class ends? Will there still be one left by the time I get there? Anxiety slips in. Craving takes me away from the present moment.

Yet, I would do it again. Perhaps because I never “experimented” growing up, or perhaps because the yogic practice has taught me to live more in the realm of life as inquiry, rather than absolute. Do I think I’ll be a stoned regular at the 4:20 class, no. But every once in a while, I’ll light up on the path to enlightenment. And I’ll hit up the bakery after class!

-- Paisley West

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