Hidden in the health-conscious enclaves of Los Angeles sits Atwater Yoga, a Brazilian yoga and Pilates studio where yogis are encouraged to reach even higher planes of existence.
Thanks to recent first-person narratives, the studio's marijuana-friendly "420 Remedy" class is attracting interest from beyond city limits.
A melting pot of more than 50 students self-medicate before arriving for class—held, of course, at 4:20 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays—to find Atwater Yoga owner Elizabeth McDonald offering tea and hugs in the studio's courtyard.
McDonald moved to Los Angeles from Brazil in 2009, a year after the city was voted "Most Stressed" by the American Psychological Association. She had incorporated substances into her practice in 2007 after realizing she couldn't connect with her body well enough to achieve certain states of consciousness—her "left brain was in the way."
"I knew these [states] were real, but they seemed impossible to truly feel," the self-described "yogangsta" told Yoga Journal's Mike Kessler. "Mixing yoga and pot took me into the next dimension." She soon began practicing "enhanced" yoga with private clients, and then with entire classes of students who don't see substances as toxins.
"Do I really want a couple of uptight conservatives in here?" McDonald told L.A. Weekly. "Ideally no, but… my business welcomes all types of people, especially those tight-asses that may need it most!"
"Some of them are so divorced from their bodies," she adds. "Some people will die not knowing how to take a full breath."
Plenty of other yoga studios offer similar classes where smoking is legal, from Toronto-based Ganja Yoga to Ganja Yoga Vancouver. Ganja and yoga share more than Sanskrit linguistic roots. The Indian god Shiva, despite being the Destroyer, allegedly practices yoga and partakes of weed-steeped bhang to improve his meditation—and Hindu deities are far from the only ones blending substances and religion. Beyond that, plant-based treatments are integral to many non-Western medical practices, and the pills that litter our bathroom cabinets are often derived from one or two of them.
"At least some of the ancient sages were probably stoned out of their minds," writes New York Times reporter Leslie Kaminoff in a profile of the studio.
There is by no means assurance that pot use will up your practice.
"I would discourage marijuana as a means to enhance yoga practice unless it's used in a sacramental or medicinal manner, and not frequently," said David Frawley, founder and director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "The attaining of higher consciousness cannot simply be gained by the use of a drug."
For yoga teacher Derek Beres, it's a matter of educated use. "The real question is not what means we use, but how we use them. That someone can use yoga or marijuana—or both together—to some benefit should not be seen as weird or 'wrong.' They’re both tools, if treated as such."