They chat away breezily between vaporizer tokes, sometimes veering off into conspiracy theories about the government or discussions of the healthiest way to smoke marijuana. Then the 12 yoga lovers extend their arms and breathe deeply. Yoga mats cover the floor. A guitarist strums chords as incense weaves its tendrils across the room.
As the light haze of pot smoke dissipates in the downtown Toronto living room, the ganja yoga session begins.
"When you're high, you can focus better on your breath," says Dee Dussault, who runs a monthly session of "cannabis-enhanced yoga" at her home dubbed Follow Your Bliss.
She says smoking marijuana in small doses before a yoga class also makes students more receptive to the poses and philosophies behind the activities. "For some people, it makes them uninhibited and open to the idea of the heart chakra, for example."
Heart chakras aside, ganja yoga has the THC whiff of being the latest yoga fad, following on the heels of hot yoga, circus yoga, pre- and postnatal yoga, acro yoga (acrobatics), even hip-hop yoga. While cannabis has been deeply entwined with spiritualism over the centuries, some yoga practitioners say that a pure body is ideal for the exercise and that smoking pot could cause an unwieldy imbalance. As one online-forum commenter opined: "Why should we try to purify our body and soul through yoga if we later intoxicate it again with marijuana or other substances?"
But Dan Skye, senior editor at New York-based High Times magazine, which tracks marijuana trends, disagrees with yoga purists who believe getting high before a class is detrimental. "Pot is changing medicine; it's changing recreational habits," he says. The latest research seems to back up his claim: A recent McGill University study found that cannabis helped alleviate chronic neuropathic pain.
Ms. Dussault remains unfazed. For the past year, she has run ganja yoga out of her home studio as well as at the Hot Box Café in Toronto's Kensington Market. The class takes place on the last Friday of the month, after work, and she charges $15 for each session. Often, she invites a musician to play some relaxing tunes during the 90 minutes, and she gives out munchies - fruits, nuts, tea - after the class.
Because Ms. Dussault publicizes ganja yoga openly, there is the question of legal repercussions. But she's quick to say, "No, I've never been worried about cops. I think they have bigger fish to fry."
Among the ground rules at the studio, participants must bring their own pot - and there's no dealing or mooching. And she makes a point of meeting students before the session "to determine if they want to come just to get stoned."
Ms. Dussault also encourages participants to fine-tune their yoga skills before embracing ganja yoga. She wants to ensure that people "first experience the true teachings of yoga" and then try ganja yoga to enjoy a different yoga flavour.
Her studio isn't the only site for cannabis-enhanced yoga. The B.C. Compassion Club Society, a full-service compassion club in Vancouver, offers yoga sessions for those who use medicinal marijuana. Nicole Marcia, the club's yoga therapist, says she notices that many yoga patrons are "medicated" once they start the session, but for one important reason.
"They need marijuana in order to fight the chronic pain and anxiety they feel," Ms. Marcia says. She notices that some patients with multiple sclerosis, for instance, are able to "be present" and practise yoga once they've gotten high.
Many pot dispensaries and compassion clubs in California and Colorado - where pot is decriminalized - offer yoga classes, including The Herb Shoppe in Colorado Springs. Qat Carter, who teaches there, says that some of her students prefer to eat marijuana edibles, such as pot brownies, because ingesting cooked pot lengthens the high. "My husband says it helps him increase his body awareness and makes him more relaxed when he does the poses."
Torontonian Melinda Reidl, 36, enjoys how the marijuana buzz complements the yoga experience. "Marijuana quells those voices in your mind," she says, adding that ganja yoga encourages more deliberate movements. It's not a competition to push you to sweat hard, like in some hot yoga studios, Ms. Reidl notes. She calls Ms. Dussault's sessions "a slow-dub version of yoga."
Blending a stoned perspective and the precision of yoga could be dangerous, warns Monica Voss, an instructor of 30 years who practises out of Esther Myers Yoga Studio in Toronto. "Some people might not be aware of their body when they're high and maybe they would injure themselves," she points out.
She would like to see academic studies done to determine cannabis's relation with pain release and concentration. That way, yoga practitioners may feel more comfortable recommending this type of yoga combination. "It's healthy to see all these yoga variations, but buyer beware," she adds.
But Mr. Skye, who used to work in the fitness industry, says he saw many people smoking before stretching. "I knew a few muscle heads who used to toke up on the gym's fire escape just before class," he says.
"I like the idea of smoking pot as a spiritual experience, not just for recreational use," says Tanya Pillay, 35, who attended her first ganja yoga class in August. "When you take an activity like yoga and take the altered state smoking pot creates, it combines to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts."
"Yoga and marijuana, together," Ms. Pillay says, "it's like putting salt on your food. It's just a little enhancement."
Special to The Globe and Mail