Yoga, Shiva & Ganja
A woman approached me after class last week. First exchanging pleasantries, she went on to describe not enjoying the pre-class music, a few tracks from the latest record by The Roots. ‘Yoga is not about using low-vibrational language,’ she said. I explained that the album, Undun, is actually a concept record that, in part, has to do with overcoming adversity and struggle. Any music, or language for that matter, has to be understood in the context in which it’s used; no word is inherently ‘low vibrational,’ whatever that means. But I understood her point - she doesn’t like the ‘F’ word - and continued to listen.
 
Her second comment was a little more detailed. ‘When you had us go into pigeon and told us to meditate in the pose, you played a track about smoking ganja. You can’t reach higher consciousness when you’re playing music about pot.’
 
This is an argument I’ve seen thrown around a bit, which somewhat surprises me, as entire cultures have, also in part, involved marijuana as sacrament. The Rastafari and sadhus share more than dreadlocks (which took root in Jamaica after indentured Indian servants introduced them to enslaved Africans). In fact, sadhus, some of whom practice yoga, also carried ganja (the substance and the word) with them to the new island. The origins of Rasta philosophy can be traced to India.
 
Don’t for a minute insinuate Bob Marley wasn’t tapping into serious consciousness.
 
In India, where deities rule over multiple domains, Shiva is well-known for two, outside his role as destroyer: yoga and marijuana. Drinking copious amounts of bhang, he used the ganja-laced beverage as a meditative tool, much the same way that Buddhist monks tip back green tea to help them sit for hours on end. Native American shamans make use of tobacco while in a peyote ritual; in fact, the only time I personally ever smoked tobacco was in this context. The concept that humans use chemicals found in plants to focus and/or ‘elevate’ is in no way new or suspicious.
 
What bothered me most about the comment was not that she didn’t like the song, but this entire notion of ‘higher’ consciousness. I understand it on an abstract level; yet abstract is all the term can ever really be. Perhaps what is really meant is that through the practice of meditation we can lower levels of cortisol in our blood, which relaxes us and makes us feel at ease, or increase levels of the hormone prolactin, which is comforting.  A recent study at Wake Forest found that subjects who meditated reported a 40% reduction in pain intensity and 57% reduction in unpleasantness in pain, as compared to a 25% reduction in pain for those on morphine. It’s easy to comprehend how a relaxed, easeful person feels ‘high.’ What’s challenging is the idea that one method for one person is the only that ‘works.’
 
Her main contention, as we discussed further, seemed to be in regards to people who suffer from marijuana addiction. While unfortunate, there are many more dangerous and damaging materials we can become addicted to. Addiction is a neurological condition that can affix itself to many different substances, from caffeine and nicotine to reality television and thinking that a little man in the sky is documenting your every action (and will reward you no matter what). We can use any of these positively, or we can become enslaved by them. 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.
 
But we’ve arrived at a place where some laugh at the very notion of medical marijuana. What’s really sad about this is that we’re so distanced from plant medicine that we now need to put the term ‘medical’ in front of it to even gain a smidgeon of credibility. There is simply no reason to associate people who use it for therapeutic or meditative reasons with those who see it as a method of escape.
 
As for attaining ‘higher’ consciousness? The next time you see someone, smile. If a friend needs a dollar, open your wallet. When a local politician is attempting to limit women’s or gay rights, think about why you would vote for them. Understand your actions and align them with what you would like to stand for in this world. Leave the metaphysics and dogma aside, be a moral person, and entertain all possibilities before judging.
 
And because it’s such a great track and, in my estimation, perfect for pigeon pose, enjoy:


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About the Author

Derek Beres has devoted his life to exposing people to international music, yoga and mythology as a means of creating better individuals and a more understanding global culture. A multi-faceted author, DJ and yoga instructor, he is the creator of Flow Play, exclusively at Equinox Fitness. He writes a weekly column for Big Think, 21st Century Spirituality, and is one half of global music producers EarthRise SoundSystem. Based in Los Angeles, he is on the teacher training faculty at Yogis Anonymous in Santa Monica and Strala Yoga in New York City. Derek’s yoga classes and music have been featured by the NY Times, LA Times, People, Self, Fitness, Yoga Journal, Boston Globe, Newsday, NBC Weekend Today, ABC Eyewitness News, Fox Business, BBC, NY1, MTV, NPR, and PRI.

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