The practice of yoga incorporates a mind-body experience that helps guide a soul's journey towards enlightenment. ‘Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’, a 2,000-year-old guidebook, opens with Sutra 1.1: Now the Journey of Yoga Begins. The opening word ‘now’ invites all embodied beings to begin their journey and hone their practice to actualize their full potential. Translated from Sanskrit, the word yoga means ‘union’ and provides a method to balance mind, body, and spirit and to promote the relationship between our conscious selves and our higher power.
Endocannabinoid balance helps the physical body achieve homeostasis and provides health benefits that are complementary to a consistent yoga practice. These benefits include lower stress and anxiety, reduced pain, improved sleep and elevated mood. Marrying the ancient practice of yoga with consistent cannabis consumption thus further supports our journey toward a higher state of being.
The body's endocannabinoid system equilibrates several physiological processes; among these are mood, memory and appetite, all driven by endocannabinoids we have known for millennia. One of these is Anandamide, derived from the Sanskrit word Ananda which translates to ‘joy’ or ‘bliss’ - an ode to its positive psychological effects.
These effects are further enhanced by plant derivatives. Research shows that ‘other inactive biological products, accompanying the primary endogenous cannabinoids, increase their activity’. This effect is commonly known as the entourage effect, where plant derivatives such as cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes and other natural chemical compounds support a dominant molecule and produce a ‘maximal pharmacological effect’ (Ferber, et al., 2020, p. 92). Using whole-plant extract aids the endocannabinoid system to achieve homeostasis in the body, balancing the body and mind to help optimize the benefits of a yoga practice.
Breath control moves our life force energy (prana) throughout our body. This is foundational to yoga, increasing concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana). Honoring the symbiotic relationship between breath and practice thus also includes a focus on lung function as lungs are a primary detoxifying organ. Optimizing the holistic benefits of cannabis and yoga would thus be incomplete without a discussion on healthier alternatives to inhalation. As regulatory restrictions continue to ease, cannabis consumption modalities innovate beyond inhalation toward safer ways to consume this ancient and sacred plant. These include:
Sublingual and Buccal:
Sublingual absorption is a safe alternative to combustion inhalation, with cannabinoids absorbed into the bloodstream through the sublingual artery under the tongue. This can result in a faster onset time than buccal delivery (gums/cheeks) or oral ingestion, with oil and alcohol-based tinctures the most common delivery format. Readily dissolvable strips and tablets offer greater accuracy than oil-based liquid counterparts, and these are a good choice for new consumers with many options at the lower <5 mg dosage level. With typical onset times at 15-30 minutes, these also align well with pre-class set-up timing.
Orally ingested infused products result in the longest onset times with brownies, gummies and chocolates as common delivery modes. The low water solubility of cannabinoids results in slow and variable absorption rates and complicates onset time predictions. It is common for it to take 60-120 minutes before one feels the complete effect of an oral ingestible.
Due to the conversion process that occurs in the liver, oral ingestion can result in a strong physical effect or ‘body high’. Experimentation with edibles during a yoga practice is best reserved for those who already have experience with edibles as well as with yoga.
Oral Ingestibles with Drug-Delivery Technologies:
Water-soluble technologies such as nanoemulsions applied to cannabis can reduce the onset time of oral products, providing a more consistent effect and enabling water-based products such as beverages. Drinkables are often high in sugar content, creating a need for healthier alternatives that appeal to a plant-based, low-sugar diet. As the cannabis industry evolves, healthier alternatives are entering the market that better support a yogic lifestyle.
The skin is our largest organ and contains numerous cell types and CB receptors that exist within its complex layers. Cannabinoids interact with these and other skin cell receptors such as TRPV ionotropic and PPAR. Despite these biological interactions, topical products do not result in any psychoactive effects. Dermal products target deep muscle tissue and are ideal for yogis drawn to more physically demanding practices such as Ashtanga, Bikram, or Power Vinyasa. The powerful anti-inflammatory effects of Cannabigerol (CBG) and Cannabidiol (CBD) promote injury prevention and assist recovery.
Topical Transdermal products, often sold in the form of a patch, aim to facilitate the diffusion of cannabinoids past the deep tissue and into the bloodstream. The result is a low, slow, and steady release of cannabinoids into our systemic systems. Consumers may experience a slightly euphoric high when these are formulated with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This is an excellent product for new users to experience the effects of THC as well as the extended pain relief provided by the longer release times prevalent on shelves today.
The products below are often marketed with unclear messaging and thus, along with the various modalities described above, important to understand:
Hemp Seed Oil:
Consumers must be wary of labels advertising formulations with hemp seed oil as cannabis sativa seed oil to convey the incorporation of cannabinoids. Hemp seed oil contains high concentrations of Omega 3, 6, and 9 and helps repair and moisturize the skin, but it generally does not contain the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD.
Delta-8 THC is a molecular isomer of the common Delta-9 THC. Structural chemical differences lead to a more subdued psychoactive effect, resulting in greater mental focus and a less heightened physical state. This is the ideal cannabinoid to quieten our monkey minds (chitta vritti) and to bolster the power of now, further enhanced by meditative Nidra yoga.
Western yoga practice can benefit from exploring the historically sacred union between yoga and cannabis. Cannabinoids offer immense benefits with anti-inflammatory properties aiding deep physical exploration and recovery. Cannabis further enhances the psychological benefits of yoga by elevating mood while reducing anxiety and stress. The psychoactive properties of cannabis can invite spiritual connection to life force energy by combining meditation and temporary psychosis, offering us intimate access to divine healing energy and higher energetic frequencies. The Sutras of Patanjali's "eight limbs of yoga" illuminate a path to enlightenment and union (samadhi). Adding cannabis to a consistent yoga practice will provide a path for all beings to live a more purposeful, peaceful and balanced existence.
Note: Thank you to Dr. Monica Vialpando for her invaluable contribution to our research. A cannabis scientist as well as a certified yoga teacher, Dr. Vialpando serves as MAZAKALI's science advisor.