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Why some yoga classes are using pot in their practice

Some yogis are finding their favourite way to get through cobras and downward dogs is with a few tokes of marijuana. But purists aren't quite sold.

'I can do it sober but it's just so much nicer this way'

Curtis Hagerman takes a toke from a vaporizer bag in the middle of a cannabis yoga class at Green Sprouts Cafe and Vapor Lounge in Barrie, Ont. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

Class was supposed to start almost 20 minutes ago. Most of the yoga students are still socializing, sipping tea and taking a few last tokes of marijuana.

The group slowly makes their way to their mats, spread out in the centre of the Green Sprouts Cafe and Vapor Lounge. The Barrie, Ont., cannabis lounge hosts cannabis yoga classes every Sunday. 

"We're always 15 minutes late," said cannabis yoga instructor Trina Wannamaker. She was busy toking up too.

Cannabis yoga instructor Trina Wannamaker tokes before starting one of her classes. She's been teaching the class for about eight months. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

The cannabis class is a lot like regular yoga. There are downward dogs, child's poses and cobras. But some students have vaporizer bags at their side, ready for tokes when needed. Others get high before class, using volcano-shaped vaporizers.

Some Barrie, Ont., yogis are finding their favourite way to get through cobras and downward dogs is with a few tokes of marijuana. The CBC's Haydn Watters sat in on a cannabis yoga class to find out why they do it. 4:09

Erin Jewell, who co-instructs the class with Wannamaker, said students are welcome to toke up at any point though there's no obligation to.

"Where a normal instructor would say, 'Hey, have a glass of water,' we'll say, 'Have a glass of water or a bit of a toke.'"

Instructor Erin Jewell helps students wind down near the end of a cannabis yoga class. She said consuming cannabis before class makes for fewer inhibitions and feelings of judgment. (Haydn Watters/CBC)
There are two classes on Sundays, moved later to accommodate church-goers and what Jewell calls 'stoners' who like to sleep in. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

For Jewell, the pairing helps her focus more.

"It's a connection of the mind and the body, which is hard to achieve in Western society at all, but especially if you are completely stone sober, it's not likely to happen at all," she said.

"It helps to allow your thoughts to move a little slower and to really allow you to truly focus on your body and your breathing."

'I can do it sober but ...'

Curtis Hagerman inhales a couple vaporizer bags before class and keeps one at his side during so he can toke here or there. The cannabis helps him relax.

"Marijuana can ... help you not think about it. Make it go away. A little easier to kind of look at the void and just be OK with it all. And concentrating with your breath and kind of losing yourself in that," he said. It also helps Hagerman with his flow — movement crucial to yoga.

Hagerman, centre, lunges forward mid-class. He keeps a glass of water and a vaporizer bag next to his mat. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

"I can do it sober but it's just so much nicer this way I find."

Marco Duarte is on the mat next to Hagerman, wearing stretchy psychedelic-coloured pants and a partially tie-dyed T-shirt featuring an alien with marijuana leaves for eyes. He's been doing yoga since he got a back injury.

He ended this particular class blissed out and "incredibly stoned."

Marco Duarte takes a sip while waiting for one of the lounge's volcano vaporizers. He said it feels nice doing yoga with people who are 'like-minded.' (Haydn Watters/CBC)

"It amplifies the whole thing. You get really into it," he said of mixing yoga with marijuana. "I felt very connected with my body. I felt very connected with everything that she was saying."

How do they do it?

Chris Green, who co-owns the lounge with his wife, Gillian, said they are operating within the law. They do not sell cannabis but rather serve as a space where users — many with medicinal marijuana licences — can come and consume it. Customers must be over 19 and the Greens can ask to see ID.

But they said they cannot specifically ask whether they have been prescribed medicinal marijuana as, they say, "it would be a lawsuit liability due to patient-doctor confidentiality."

A lone sandwich board advertises the classes on one of Barrie, Ont.'s main streets. The lounge has been offering the classes since last summer. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

The couple said they follow health, police, bylaw, fire and police department regulations just like any other business and have valid Ontario business and restaurant licences. 

"Normalization is what we are trying to do here," he said. "Cannabis starts as a sprout. Coffee starts as a sprout. Like all plants, it's just a plant."

Wannamaker leads the cannabis yoga class from the front of the lounge. She said her intention in instructing the class was to introduce yoga 'to a community that might not have necessarily thought that it could be part of their lifestyle.' (Haydn Watters/CBC)
Both Wannamaker and Jewell pointed out how many men come to the classes, when they have found yoga participants tend to be mostly female. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

Wannamaker echoes that.

"We're here for inclusivity," she said, post-class. "We've created one more small safe space for people that might be overlooked in the traditional sense when it comes to inviting people into social circles and into different communities."

'Yoga itself is the high'

Not all yogis are sold. Violet Pasztor founded and runs the Canadian Yoga Alliance, which has about 2,000 members who are registered yoga teachers. She doesn't think an added buzz, like cannabis, is necessary.

"Personally, blazing in a yoga class, no, I don't agree with it," she said. "Yoga itself is the high."

She thinks with legalization impending, cannabis yoga will likely become more of a trend, but thinks it will fade away when people realize "how ridiculous it is." These types of classes have also been held in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Wannamaker believes the combination allows for inclusivity: 'Not everyone is as comfortable going to a yoga studio as some people may be.' (Haydn Watters/CBC)

Cannabis yoga is the latest in a long list of alternative yoga treatments. There's been beer yoga, snow yogaalpaca yoga and goat yoga — all which Pasztor thinks are "fluff." 

"We're all about true yoga," she said. "Ultimate true yoga ... is a natural high and it's about the natural path."

Jewell disagrees.

Monitors around the lounge show this relaxing image — while soothing spa-like music is played over speakers to aid the students. (Haydn Watters/CBC)
All sorts of people have taken part in the classes. 'We’ve seen every demographic come through this door and everyone has been very receptive to each other,' says Chris Green, one of the lounge's owners. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

"I find when people go into a normal yoga studio ... there's that little feeling of trepidation and anxiety of, 'Everyone's a yogi. Everyone's going to be judging me. What if I'm not wearing my yoga outfit like everyone else is?,'" she said. 

"When you come here, people are in their sweats. It doesn't really matter as much. There's no judgment. Everyone's just doing their own thing."

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