Yoga is relaxing, weed is relaxing, so obviously -- with pot getting the legal A-OK in California last September -- a certified hatha yoga instructor in San Francisco decided to Combine. The. Two.
In a small, mixed-use artist space in SOMA, certified Hatha yoga instructor Dee Dussault leads twice-weekly cannabis-enhanced yoga classes to help her students reach higher (get it?!) states of spiritual consciousness. I know this because, as a card-carrying medical marijuana patient who also practices yoga regularly, I decided to try it.
Here’s what you need to know:
First, the basics:
1. The classes start between 7:15 and 7:30pm (remember we’re on marijuana time) every Monday and Wednesday evening. Check the schedule and reserve a space, or just show up.
2. You must have a medical marijuana card or a referral from your doctor to partake on the premises, and Dee checks cards and IDs as you arrive.
3. It’s BYOBud, but often a dispensary or someone in the local cannabis industry will sponsor the class by providing samples; everyone is down to “puff, puff, pass” so if you’re partaking during the class, it’s polite to bring enough to share.
4. You can smoke at any time during the class, but there are two formal partaking sessions -- before the practice begins and right before final savasana or corpse pose meditation.
5. Bring a mat if you have one, but if not, they have a few extras you can borrow.
What should I smoke?
We’re far past the point of needing to smoke mystery weed from a guy who knows a guy. (We are, right??) And as such, certain activities call for certain types of weed. Sativa, with its higher concentration of THC, stimulates the mind, making it great for creative work or social gatherings, while indica often produces a mellower high felt in the body -- great for melting into the couch. For yoga, the best enhancement would be something in the middle. Dee can recommend strains or you can ask a budtender at a dispensary for a hybrid with relaxing and uplifting effects.
Can you give me a play-by-play of what to expect?
Totally: Merchants of Reality, where the class rents space, is located on Ninth and Folsom, a stone’s throw from The Stud Bar and Powerhouse. Ring the doorbell if the door is locked and someone will open it for you and likely not give you any direction on where to go next. Head up the painted steps and marvel at the papier-mâché sculpture that covers the wall. If you smoked before class, this may take a minute. Take a left at the top of the stairs and pass a couple artist studios. The last door on the right reveals a no-frills studio with art lining the walls. The soft-spoken, ever-soothing Dee will check your medical card and answer any questions you have.
The first 15 to 20 minutes of class are more like a social club for stoners than a yoga class. When I arrived, one student was in the midst of rolling seven joints to pass around, while small groups compared notes on cannabis strains and marveled at a sleek, bright red vaporizer that looked like the smoking device equivalent of a Ferrari. A friendly CIIS student studying integrative medicine tipped me off to free acupuncture treatments through SPARC (a dispensary a few blocks away), while a dude who lives in the Lower Haight told me about his totally legal and legit-sounding weed delivery service. If you ever needed a weed hookup, this would be a one-stop shop.
Once everyone is checked in and the room has become thick with hazy, sweet-smelling smoke, Dee calls everyone into the circle. This is where I got tense, which could have been the anti-social effects of the weed or, more likely, my PTSD-like hatred for icebreaker games. Luckily, all we needed to do was say our name and why we were there, which could be interpreted as existentially (“I need inner peace”) or physically (“my shoulder has been acting up”) as you wanted. I ended up enjoying this part more than I thought I would because it finally answered my biggest question coming into this: who’s going to Pot Yoga???
So, uh, who’s going to Pot Yoga???
The class I attended had about 20 people in it (usually there are more like 10-15, but this session was free) and was pretty diverse. One dude said he tweaked his back doing parkour and needed a good stretch. A middle-aged man revealed he started coming after suffering a mild heart attack two months ago and found the relaxation therapeutic and healing. A couple regulars said they attend class because they like the Zen way it starts their week. While another guy shared: “I like smoking weed.” The class was a nice little microcosm of the city’s pot smokers and was slightly more diverse in age and race than you’d find at most bars in the city -- ah, the uniting powers of free weed and yoga.
What’s the yoga like?
After circle time, Dee dims the lights (bless her), turns on some ambient red lighting, and lights a couple candles, signaling the beginning of class. Even if you’ve never done yoga before, you won’t have any trouble following Dee’s cues and many of the positions will feel familiar and easy to you. And as Dee will remind you often, you can do whatever feels good for you and your practice. Take a break, take a few puffs, crawl into the fetal position (child’s pose isn’t much different), or simply gaze at the ceiling, which is painted like a night sky (YES). Anything goes in this darkened, hazy room -- and don’t worry, no one is looking or thinking about you. They’re likely too high to notice.
The class starts with a brief meditation as Dee guides you through a few breaths. There’s something deeply relaxing and hilarious about having someone tell you how to breathe, which is what I was pondering when I became momentarily distracted by the fact that a remix of the theme song from Ghost was playing softly from the boom box in the corner. Usually in my regular yoga classes, this is when I’d get irritated at myself for not fully “checking in with my body,” whatever the fuck that means. But thanks to my slightly altered mood, I just laughed a little, imagined Patrick Swayze spinning clay, and happily drifted to the next thought, whatever it happened to be. Is this meditating? I’m not sure, but it felt awesome.
Next up: Cat-cow pose, performed on hands and knees. I knew I was getting lost in the practice and my new consciousness when I started saying cat-cow over and over in my head.
Cat-coooowwww. Exhallleee caaaaaatttt -- inhaleeee coowwwwwww. Caaaaaat cooooooooowwww.
What would a cross between a cat and a cow look like? Sounds kind of like a yogic mythical creature. There’s a T-shirt design in here somewhere, perhaps for the ironic yoga-practicing set? Oh wait, are we still cat-cowing?
And that’s sort of how it went, at least for me, for the rest of the hour. I drifted between listening to Dee’s cues, noticing how the smoke from my neighbor’s joint looked like the Milky Way against the ceiling, and marveling at how long I could actually hold my leg up around my armpit. But regardless of where my mind was, it never really mattered. As Dee assured everyone in her soothing voice, whatever you were experiencing was exactly what was supposed to be happening. As a Type-A yoga-doer, this concept had previously always escaped me in my usual practice.
And sure, at the beginning, the lack of structure might make newcomers like myself feel tense -- especially since assessing social cues becomes way harder when you’re stoned -- that feeling melts away when you’re in a darkened room on a mat, freed from the pressure to even think. For me, smoking was like using a block or a strap to help me get further into a stretch, only the weed helped me surrender more fully to meditation -- or at least not care as much if I got there. By the end of class, I emerged sleepy-eyed and deeply relaxed -- nothing could bring down these good vibes, man... except walking out of the studio and finding myself on a darkened Ninth St. Weed-fueled paranoia (or was it common sense?) told me to walk with purpose and hope no one would harsh my mellow.
This SOMA space is a haven for artists in the area, with studios, productions spaces, and event spaces. It serves as both a location for production and for show, plus they rent space out to groups like a cannabis-friendly yoga class.