Yoga and Cannabis

May 10, 2021 by Sandy Yanez

“The body benefits from movement, and the mind benefits from stillness”.- Sakyong Mipham

Historical Connection

In India, cannabis has been a sacred part of Buddhist culture for spiritual and meditative aid for thousands of years, and it is believed that yoga originated around the same time frame as cannabis appeared.

While the origins of the connection between cannabis and yoga are unknown, historians have linked the two in various activities, rituals, and religious significance. Lord Shiva, the Hindu deity of destruction and creation who also happens to be the god of yoga, is said to have recovered from injuries after consuming cannabis. Some people believe that this religious connection is what incorporated cannabis into yoga practice in the first place.

Cannabis was present in the 7th century when many of the yoga positions known today were created by tantric cultures who practiced a combination of Shaivite Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. Many of these religious cultures used cannabis regularly as part of their practice while they developed many of the aspects of modern Hatha Yoga.

Around 400 CE the Yoga Sutras were documented and outlined as the main principles of yoga. The 196 Sutras are believed to be composed by a man named Patanjali, who is also credited with writing the Mahabhasya, a treatise of Sanskrit grammar and a commentary on Chakra Samhita, the basic text of Ayurveda.

The Sutras mention the use of “herbs” to help with subtler attainments. It has been argued by some people that herbs mean cannabis, while others refute that fact. Many Sadhu’s (holy person) today, however, use cannabis for spiritual purposes. These Sadhu’s, or Hindu holy men, believe that cannabis allows them to liberate themselves from perceived existential limits. They use cannabis in all aspects of their prayer, including during yoga.

Modern Day Yoga

As mentioned above, yoga has always emphasized on a heightened sense of awareness. In fact, most yogis will tell you that they practice yoga to help them find a state that will allow them to reach enlightenment. However, not all yogis support the use of cannabis in their practice. The difference is doing yoga for health and wellness as exercise versus practicing yoga for the purpose of true enlightenment.

New-age yogis are combining cannabis with their practice, claiming it can help their students better connect with their mind, body, and spirit. Cannabis appears the perfect physical and mental complement to yoga. After all, cannabis can increase circulation, relax the respiratory system, relieve pain, heighten feelings of awareness and connection with your body, and slow or silence the distracting chatter constantly running through most people’s heads. Cannabis can make group yoga classes feel infinitely easier for individuals who suffer from social anxiety. For those who struggle with finding the motivation, mixing yoga and cannabis may be the incentive to get you there.

How Cannabis May Affect Your Yoga Practice

Yoga and cannabis both have remarkable effects on the body’s own endocannabinoid system. Many yoga practitioners feel that marijuana and yoga each enhance the benefits of the other, including relief from pain, reduced inflammation, improvement of depression and PTSD symptoms, reduced stress levels, and an overall sense of well-being. But just as each person experiences yoga in their own way, there is a wide spectrum of ways that cannabis may affect your personal yoga practice – for better or for worse.

THC and Yoga

Practicing yoga while medicated with cannabis can be an incredibly enjoyable experience – or a distinctly uncomfortable one, depending on the strain, how much you ingested, and delivery method. Not everyone does well when mixing cannabis and yoga, and some individuals would be better off abstaining before class.

Advantages of combining THC and yoga

  • Enhanced concentration, mental chatter and distraction tend to clear out, helping to achieve a deeper meditative state
  • Heightened focus and self-awareness
  • A heightened sense of connection and sensation within the body
  • Deep relaxation and release of stress held in the muscles
  • An overall sense of well-being, oneness, and peace
  • Quite simply, it’s fun and feels good.

Disadvantages of combining THC and yoga

  • Drowsiness
  • Compromised coordination and self-awareness, some find it harder to coordinate their movements properly
  • Risk of overstretching the muscles
  • Impaired focus and distractibility
  • Anxiety or too much stimulation from over medicating
  • Respiratory irritation from smoking or vaping compromising the quality of breath work
  • A distracting case of the munchies or an attack of giggles striking in the middle of class

Yoga and CBD

Non-psychoactive CBD (cannabidiol) products may be the perfect way to impart most of cannabis yoga’s benefits to people who can’t tolerate or choose to avoid the high associated with THC. CBD has become popular and easy to come across in recent years, and there are a wide variety of delivery methods beyond smoking and vaping, including edibles, tinctures, topical creams, and salves.

Advantages of combining CBD and yoga

  • Effective pain relief. Many chronic pain sufferers credit CBD with relieving their symptoms enough that they can even practice yoga at all.
  • Relaxation of tension-filled muscles, allowing for deeper movement and stretches
  • Faster muscle recovery and relief from post-yoga soreness
  • Reduced levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone”
  • Relief from racing thoughts, anxiety, and overall stress
  • A clearer mind and increased focus
  • A heightened sense of connection with the body
  • Uplifted mood
  • Combining CBD with a bedtime yoga sequence may help insomnia sufferers drift off easier.

Disadvantages of CBD and yoga

  • The most common disadvantage of mixing CBD and yoga is drowsiness from taking too much, which can lead to impaired coordination and difficulty focusing. Know your dosing, remember lower is better.

What Research Shows about Yoga and Health?

Studies have suggested possible benefits of yoga for several aspects of wellness including:

  • Help improve general wellness by relieving stress, supporting good health habits, and improving mental/emotional health, sleep, and balance.
  • Relieve low-back pain and neck pain, and possibly pain from tension-type headaches and knee osteoarthritis.
  • Help people who are overweight or obese lose weight.
  • Increases flexibility, strengthens and tones muscle tone.
  • Improves cardio and circulatory health.
  • Help people quit smoking.
  • Help people manage anxiety or depressive symptoms associated with difficult life situations.
  • Relieve menopause symptoms.
  • Help people with chronic diseases manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

The most mentioned benefits of these mind-body modalities included enhanced relaxation, reduced pain, reduced spasms, improved balance, improved sleep, and increased sense of well-being.

What are the risks of yoga?

Yoga is generally considered a safe form of physical activity for healthy people when performed correctly, under the guidance of a qualified instructor. However, as with other forms of physical activity, injuries can occur. The most common injuries are sprains and strains, and the parts of the body most commonly injured are the knee or lower leg.

Although serious injuries are rare, the risk of injury associated with yoga is lower than that for higher impact physical activities. Older adults may need to be particularly cautious when practicing yoga. The rate of yoga-related injuries treated in emergency departments is higher in people age 65 and older than in younger adults.

To reduce your chances of getting hurt while doing yoga:

  • Practice yoga under the guidance of a qualified instructor. Practicing yoga by self-study without supervision has been associated with increased risks.
  • If you’re new to yoga, avoid extreme practices such as headstands, shoulder stands, the lotus position, and forceful breathing.
  • Be aware that hot yoga has special risks related to overheating and dehydration.
  • Pregnant women, older adults, and people with health conditions should talk with their health care providers and the yoga instructor about their individual needs. They may need to avoid or modify some yoga poses and practices. Some of the health conditions that may call for modifications in yoga include preexisting injuries, such as knee or hip injuries, lumbar spine disease, severe high blood pressure, balance issues, and glaucoma.

Types of Yoga

There are several types of yoga. When you’re trying to determine which of the different types of yoga is best for you, remember that there is no right or wrong one— like any form of exercise, choose something you want to do. Bikram or Iyengar might appeal to you if you are a very detailed person. If you are more of a free spirit, vinyasa or aerial yoga might be fun. Find a class that makes you excited to go.

Kundalini Yoga

Yogi Bhajan, teacher, and spiritual leader brought this style of yoga to the West in the late 1960s. “Kundalini” in Sanskrit translates to “life force energy” (known as prana or chi in the yoga community) which, is thought to be tightly coiled at the base of the spine. These yoga sequences are carefully designed to stimulate or unlock this energy and to reduce stress and negative thinking.

This is accomplished by challenging both mind and body with chanting, singing, meditation, and kriyas (specific series of poses paired with breathwork and chanting). You might notice everyone is wearing white, as it’s believed to deflect negativity and increase your aura. Typically, a kundalini class starts with a mantra (a focus for the class) then includes breathing exercises, warmups to get the body moving, increasingly more challenging poses, and a final relaxation and meditation.

Who Might Like It: Anyone in search of a physical, yet also spiritual practice, or those who like singing or chanting.

Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa yoga is also called “flow yoga” or “vinyasa flow”. It is an incredibly common style. It was adapted from the more regimented ashtanga practice a couple of decades ago. The word “vinyasa” translates to “place in a special way,” which is often interpreted as linking breath and movement. You’ll often see words like slow, dynamic, or mindful paired with vinyasa or flow to indicate the intensity of a practice.

It has been described as a style of yoga where the poses are synchronized with the breath in a continuous rhythmic flow, and the flow can be meditative in nature, calming the mind and nervous system, even though you’re moving.

Vinyasa yoga is suitable for those who’ve never tried yoga as well as those who’ve been practicing for years.

Who Might Like It: Anyone who wants more movement and less stillness from their yoga practice.

Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga derives its name from the Sanskrit words for sun and moon, and it’s designed to balance opposing forces. The balance in hatha yoga might come from strength and flexibility, physical and mental energy, or breath and the body. Hatha yoga is often used as a catch-all term for the physical side of yoga, is more traditional in nature, or is labeled as yoga for beginners. Hatha translates to ‘forceful,’ but this relates more to the aspect of concentration and regularity of practice rather than applying unnecessary force to the body.

To be considered hatha, classes must include a mix of asana (poses), pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation, so other types of yoga — like Iyengar, ashtanga, or Bikram — are technically considered to be hatha yoga as well.

Who Might Like It: Anyone looking for a balanced practice, or those in search of a gentler type of yoga.

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga yoga consists of six series of specific poses taught in order. Each pose and each series are “given” to a student when their teacher decides they have mastered the previous one. This is a very physical, flow-style yoga with spiritual components. The practitioner moves at the pace of their own breath and to their personal edge, or growth point. Each person memorizes the practice and moves at her own pace through the poses.

Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is often taught as “led” classes in the West, where the first or second series is taught from start to finish over the course of 90 minutes to two hours. There is no music played in ashtanga classes.

Who Might Like It: Anyone who likes routine or a more physical yet spiritual practice.

Yin Yoga

Yin yoga is a slower style of yoga in which poses are held for a minute and eventually up to five minutes or more. It is a type of yoga with roots in martial arts as well as yoga, and it’s designed to increase circulation in the joints and improve flexibility. The practice focuses on the hips, lower back, and thighs and uses props like bolsters, blankets, and blocks to let gravity do the work, helping to relax. While other forms of yoga focus on the major muscle groups, yin yoga targets the body’s connective tissues.

Yin also aids recovery from hard workouts. Adding a deep stretch and holding class like yin can be extremely beneficial to a strong body. Holding poses longer benefits the mind as well as the body, providing a chance to practice being still. This is a beautiful practice that honors stillness. This style of practice is a great balance for vinyasa flow.

Who Might Like It: Those who need to stretch out after a tough workout, or anyone interested in a slower-paced practice.

Iyengar Yoga

Named for its founder, B.K.S. Iyengar, who developed his classical, alignment-based practice in India. This type of yoga became popular in the US in the 1970s. Iyengar yoga is known for the high level of training required of its teachers and for its resourceful use of props. While considered optional in many practices, multiple props are used in Iyengar classes — including chairs, walls, and benches, in addition to more common ones like straps, blocks, and bolsters.

Iyengar yoga emphasizes detail alignment and longer holds of positions, usually less intense than other types of yoga, and is suitable for people of all ages and skill levels.

Who Might Like It: Someone who likes detailed instruction, anyone with physical limitations, or those in search of a more classical form of yoga.

Bikram Yoga

Bikram Choudhury developed Bikram yoga. It is a form of hot yoga. These classes, like ashtanga classes, consist of a set series of poses performed in the same order, and the practice has strict rules. Each class is 90 minutes, with 26 postures and two breathing exercises, and the room must be 105° Fahrenheit with 40 percent humidity. Additionally, instructors do not adjust students.

Since Bikram yoga has so many rules, many studios simply call their classes “hot yoga” so they can customize their offerings. Devotees of hot yoga tout the massive amount of sweat and the added flexibility the practice gives them.

Practicing yoga in a heated environment allows students to get deeper into postures, improves circulation, and aids in detoxifying the body.

Who Might Like It: Anyone who likes to sweat, someone who wants a more physical practice, or those who like routine.

Power Yoga

Like vinyasa yoga, power yoga traces its roots to ashtanga but is less regimented and is more open to interpretation by individual teachers. “Power yoga is generally more active and is done at a quicker pace than other styles of yoga,” says Chun.

Power yoga strengthens the muscles while also increasing flexibility. The variation of sequences keeps the brain engaged while you work all muscle groups in the body.

Power yoga can be hot yoga or not, and some studios offer a mix of power and slow flow yoga to ease students into this intense practice. Fans of power yoga may also like buti yoga, which is just as physical but also includes tribal dance, primal movements, and plenty of core work, and is one of my personal favorite yoga styles.

Who Might Like It: Those who like ashtanga but want less rigidity, anyone who wants a good workout, and anyone who wants a less spiritual yoga practice.

Buti Yoga

Buti Yoga is an Indian Marathi word that means “a cure that’s been hidden away or kept secret.” Created in 2010, this niche workout combines traditional yoga moves and tribal dance. The plyometric elements of a Buti yoga classes are cardio intense as opposed to traditional yoga that offers a more zen approach. Buti yoga is a great mood booster that will give you a full mind-body journey, leaving you sweat drench and smiling.

Wild and liberating movements will pump up your heart rate, so you’ll burn more calories and increase your resting metabolic rate. And at the same time, you’re working hard to strengthen your muscles. Buti Yoga aims to cleanse and release toxic energy, or harbored trauma—it’s about letting go. It also focuses on being a part of a community.

Who Might Like It: Those looking for a more intense aerobic, loud and creative style.

Sivananda Yoga

Sivananda yoga is a form of hatha yoga based on the teachings of Hindu spiritual teacher Swami Sivananda. Classes are generally relaxing: while most yoga classes end with savasana (a final relaxation/corpse pose), Sivananda starts with this pose, then moves into breathing exercises, sun salutations, and then 12 basic asanas.

Sivananda is for someone looking for more spiritual or energetic work and can help push yourself to the next level if you’re a beginner. Designed to support overall health and wellness, Sivananda yoga is appropriate for all levels and ages.

Who Might Like It: Those looking for a gentler form of yoga, anyone who wants a more spiritual practice.

Restorative Yoga

If you walked by a restorative yoga class, you might think everyone was taking a nap on their mats. This form of yoga uses props to support the body. The goal is to completely relax into poses, which are held for at least five minutes but often longer. This means that you might only do a handful of poses in a class, and it’s perfectly acceptable to drift into sleep during them.

Some teachers might even lead you through yoga nidra – a guided meditation that allows you to hover blissfully between sleep and wake. One hour in yoga nidra is said to equal a few hours of shuteye, and while that can be a good self-care tool, it can’t replace a healthy night’s sleep.

Though all different types of yoga can aid stress relief and brain health, restorative yoga places its focus on down-regulating the nervous system. Restorative yoga can benefit those who need to chill out and de-stress, and it can also be used as part of your rest-day self-care.

Who Might Like It: Anyone who needs to de-stress, those dealing with pain, and someone who struggles to relax.

Summing it up

Cannabis can be used to deepen your yoga practice, whether it is in a cannabis-friendly studio or in the comfort of your own home. Cannabis can help increase your focus and mindfulness during yoga. Sometimes people find it hard to rid themselves of their daily stresses while settling into their yoga practice, but cannabis can help focus the mind and free it from frivolous thoughts. Cannabis helps you to de-stress and prepare yourself to enter a more meditative state. Yoga is all about finding your center within yourself and cannabis can help you achieve that goal.


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