Gifts from Ancient India: Cannabis & Yoga

Oh Yoga, once a mystical practice from ancient India that is now widely practised today. While many of us know yoga as a specific form of exercise, practitioners claim that it is so much more than a mere means to fitness. 


If you know, you know. 


While the benefits of yoga are numerous, the ultimate goal of yoga is to free ourselves from suffering by creating “union between body, mind and spirit, as well as between the individual self and universal consciousness” (Basavaraddi, Dr. Ishwar V.). It’s all about the interconnected harmony of the universe, which is why it comes as no surprise that more and more people are wondering whether there’s a relationship between cannabis and yoga to explore. 


Cannabis and Yoga: A History

As it turns out, Yoga and cannabis share very similar roots.  Both originate from ancient India, are highly intertwined with the religions of the region, and are believed by many to have been practised in tandem for much longer than recorded history can tell us.


Though the exact origins of yoga are unknown, the earliest reference dates back as far as 2700 BCE (Gumbiner, Jann) from the Indus-Saraswati Valley Civilization (3500 to 1600 BCE), one of the world’s largest and most advanced civilizations of the era, where ancient carved trade seals were unearthed containing images of various yogic poses. Yoga was then passed down to the Vedic cultures where we find the earliest written mention of yoga in the Rig Veda ("Yoga"), one of the 4 most sacred texts of India known as The Vedas. 


It’s in these texts, compiled from 2000 to 1400 BCE, where we also find the first written reference to cannabis (Ekhart, Esther). According to the Vedas, cannabis was one of the 5 most sacred plants on the planet and was known as a “joy-giver”, liberating us from anxiety.  To this day, cannabis remains a prominent substance in Indian culture, most often consumed as Bhang, a beverage made from an assortment of nuts, spices, cannabis and boiled milk. 


Diving deeper into Hinduism, we find another connection between cannabis and yoga in Shiva, the Lord of Destruction. As one of the most powerful gods of Hinduism, Shiva holds many titles, including the Lord of Yoga and the Lord of Bhang (Cannabis).  

Shiva, the Lord of Cannabis & Yoga

If this seems like a bit of a contradiction, it’s because it is, and quite the beautiful contradiction it is.  As the Destroyer, Shiva is responsible for ushering in new beginnings, representing the delicate balance between life and death. From this context we can understand how yoga, the ultimate practice of mind and body balance, would have been mastered by Lord Shiva, also said to be the very first Guru.  


How exactly then does cannabis fit into this picture? 


Cannabis, Yoga & The Endocannabinoid System

Cannabis is often claimed to help induce a sense of deep relaxation, but why might this be so? What’s really happening inside our bodies?


In the 1990s, scientists discovered a regulatory system called the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), much like the respiratory and nervous systems, that works to keep our bodies in homeostasis. According to Harvard Health, this system helps regulate “many of our most critical bodily functions such as learning and memory, emotional processing, sleep, temperature control, pain control, inflammatory and immune responses, and eating” (Grinspoon, Peter), tending to the parts that are most in need at any given moment.


This system works via chemical signals and cellular receptors in the brain, regulating levels of activity and returning our physiology back into homeostasis, or in other words, our internal state of balance. 


Our body then naturally produces endocannabinoids (endo- meaning internally produced), which are specific molecules that stimulate the ECS receptors in our brain. Mind-body practices like meditation and yoga can actually enhance the body’s natural production of cannabinoids. In fact, the very first discovered endocannabinoid was named anandamide, inspired by ananda, the Sanskrit word for bliss! 


While this system can be found among various animal and plant species, the endocannabinoid system within the human body is particularly similar to that found in the cannabis plant, meaning our bodies are especially receptive to the phytocannabinoids we consume (phyto- meaning from the plant). Cannabis, it turns out, is remarkably capable of stimulating the body’s natural balancing system, sort of like a supplement. 


Yoga and cannabis, it seems, pair so well together because they’re both stimulating the same components of our physiology, which explains why more and more yogis are advocating for cannabis in their yoga practices. 

Yin Yoga, slow and deep stretches

Combining Cannabis with Yoga: A Few Tips


If you’re considering incorporating cannabis into your yoga practice, Dee Dussault, founder of Ganja Yoga in San Francisco, shares some of the following tips to help you stay safe (Bryant, Jackie): 

  1. Go Slow - THC has the potential to raise blood pressure which can impair your physical judgement. It’s best to stick to slower forms of yoga, like Yin or Hatha.
  2. Pick the strain that works for you - When it comes to finding an ideal strain, it’s a matter of trial and error. Ask your local budtender about strains that can match the specific experience you’re looking for, then pay attention to how the experience goes, making note of the terpenes, type, and percentage offered in that particular strain.

 

There is still so much to learn in terms of cannabis research, but at least it seems the world is ready to start. Hopefully we’ll continue discovering more about how to use this plant safely and effectively, and we’re grateful for the yogis out there advocating on the plant’s behalf. 

 

If you're interested in trying this out for yourself, here are a few certified Ganja Yoga teachers in Canada you can reach out to!


Ever tried yoga and cannabis? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!

 

Works Cited

  1. Basavaraddi, Dr. Ishwar V. “Yoga: Its Origin, History and Development.” Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, 23 Apr. 2015, https://www.mea.gov.in/in-focus-article.htm?25096%2FYoga%2BIts%2BOrigin%2BHistory%2Band%2BDevelopment.
  2. Bryant, Jackie. “Cannabis and Yoga Go Together like...” Yoga Journal, 2 Sept. 2021, https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/cannabis-and-yoga/.
  3. Burgin, Timothy. “History of Yoga.” Yoga Basics, 16 June 2021, https://www.yogabasics.com/learn/history-of-yoga/.
  4. de Melo Reis, Ricardo Augusto, et al. “Quality of Life and a Surveillant Endocannabinoid System.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, 28 Oct. 2021, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8581450/.
  5. Ekhart, Esther. “The Benefits of Yin Yoga.” Ekhart Yoga, 11 Aug. 2021, https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/practice/the-benefits-of-yin-yoga.
  6. Grinspoon, Peter. “The Endocannabinoid System: Essential and Mysterious.” Harvard Medical School, Harvard Health Publishing, 11 Aug. 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-endocannabinoid-system-essential-and-mysterious-202108112569.
  7. Gumbiner, Jann. “History of Cannabis in India.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 16 June 2011, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-teenage-mind/201106/history-cannabis-in-india.
  8. McLaren, Erik. “How Hinduism's Cannabis God Fuels India's Weed-Loving Culture.” Herb, 14 Aug. 2019, https://herb.co/news/culture/shiva-india-ganja-culture/.
  9. Robinson, Randy. “Ganja Yoga Brings Mindfulness to a Higher Level.” RxLeaf, 24 May 2019, https://www.rxleaf.com/ganja-yoga-welcomes-cannabis-to-studio/.
  10. “Weed's Leading Women.” Newsweek, 8 June 2018, https://www.newsweek.com/weeds-leading-women-1054963. Accessed 17 April 2022.
  11. “Yoga.” Yogapedia.com, 23 Apr. 2020, https://www.yogapedia.com/definition/4/yoga.

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