Image Courtesy of Elena Kulikova>
Behind a nondescript doorway on Telegraph Avenue, something magical is happening. A group of women are leading the way to shed the stigma of cannabis consumption and promote an elevated experience that nurtures both the mind and the body. That experience happens to be something that seems like a natural fit, cannabis and yoga, or GangjaYoga, as these classes are branded. As someone who loves finding ways to mix together cannabis with an active lifestyle, I was excited for the chance to attend a class.
I’d heard of GanjaYoga and knew some of the artists who shared the space where classes in San Francisco were often located, but for some reason, I never pursued it on my own. After moving back to California from Washington, D.C. several years ago, the fear and stigmas attached to marijuana were somehow now attached to me as well. It wasn’t until recently that I started using cannabis again, and often, it’s only in ways that still felt medicinal. Needless to say, I was nervous. So nervous that I arrived half an hour early. Seeing nobody inside at the address, I paced across the street, hitting the vape pen that I had brought and browsing the endless scroll that is social media on my phone.
Finally, when it was close enough to the start time, I crossed the street. To my surprise, a woman about my age greeted me at the door. She reminded me of an old college roommate I once had from Long Island. Maybe it was something about the way she spoke, but she had a “don’t waste my time” spirit that I admired and also left me feeling nostalgic. She was kind and informative, and when I told her it was my first time here, she even gave me a delicate paper bag with the trademark “GangjaYoga” logo on the front. I lightly shook it and took a peek inside. “There’s a few samples inside from our partners … although there’s no flower. That’s all upstairs,” she said as the doors to the elevator closed.
When I arrived at the top floor, I walked into an airy space with hardwood floors, several couches and a deck. I was quite early, so people were scarce. I walked around a bit to find a spot to put my bag down, and a woman greeted me and informed me about a few ground rules. I was welcome to consume cannabis wherever I would like in this space, but flower is not allowed inside and must be smoked on the deck. She told me to help myself to the offerings and gestured to a table near the couches. Piles of edibles, vapes, topicals and and various pre-rolled joints were spread out on the table, and bowls of strawberries, popcorn and hot tea were sprinkled in-between. I made my way over and started munching on some strawberries while striking up a conversation with a couple sitting on the couch. They were both GangjaYoga veterans who actually met at the San Francisco class. I talked to them about why they enjoyed the classes so much, and how they liked to incorporate cannabis into their lifestyle. One of them, Joe, bemoaned the lack of social spaces in which consuming cannabis is not only legal, but also the main event. The social hour surrounding GanjaYoga “makes [consumption] feel like it’s something you don’t need to hide.”
“The social hour surrounding GanjaYoga “makes [consumption] feel like it’s something you don’t need to hide””
After the two ate an edible they left to smoke a pre-roll joint outside. People then began to pour in a little after four twenty, mostly arriving in pairs or small groups. Many people were there to support the first Oakland class, with some personally supporting the instructor, Jess Dugan, and others who were simply fans of the GanjaYoga class. I discovered it was not only the first official Oakland class, but also her birthday. A friend of hers had brought in cupcakes and put them in the kitchen area. As people gravitated toward them, myself included, but we were told they were for later. Just the sight of them triggered a grumble in my belly, so I drifted back to the strawberries and claimed a spot on the couch, letting my body sink into the cushions as I pulled out my vape pen to nurture.
A woman stood confidently at the edge of the table and started asking about the different products in front of her. A set of vapes by Eel River Organics were being passed around, and it became the topic of conversation. A group of women pretended to hide it in their sleeves and take hits, giddy over the possibilities of discretely consuming in public. One woman admitted that she had never seemingly been high from a vape or vape pen and asked if someone could demonstrate the proper way to pull from a vape for her. She motioned to Jess and asked her to take a drag. “I’m OK with my level of cannabis consumption right now,” Jess told her, “but someone else might be able to.” She turned toward the rest of the group. A woman sat on the couch nearby with a pair of giveaway-like plastic sunglasses perched on her head, holding back her brunette bob. She picked up the vape in question and began describing the difference between combustible consumption methods. “The difference between vaping and burning flower is that vaping will control the exact temperature at which cannabis is consumed, which can allow you to take full benefit of different compounds, including CBD, CBN and various terpenes,” she said. “It also doesn’t light anything on fire. Active ingredients are heated until they become a vapor that looks like a fine mist. It’s not actually smoke.” We all looked at one another with a slightly guilty look, as if we thought we had known this, but in actuality, we were hearing it for the first time. She continued on. “This can change your high based not only on the flower, but also the temperature it’s heated to.”
Everyone continued to chat as people trickled in. At this point, I felt happy with my level of consumption, and I kept thinking about the confidence Jess had when declining more cannabis. It’s always important to know your limits and when you feel comfortable. I feel like I was able to smoke endlessly in college, but after stopping for a long time, my tolerance diminished. Not to mention, as technology in this sector advances, strains are becoming more potent and long-time cannabis consumers are shifting towards a heavy-hitting culture. Even though my inner younger self was horribly embarrassed, I knew better than to keep consuming. I put away my vape pen and shifted my focus to getting a hot cup of tea and warming up with some stretches next to my yoga mat.
I started chatting with the woman nearby. Her name was Judy. Poised in her movements, she did not seem like a Saturday-before-brunch type of yogi. I soon discovered that she was a yoga instructor, as well as an enthusiastic GanjaYoga follower. After attending a GanjaYoga class with founder Dee Dussalt, she was inspired to pursue her yoga instructor certification. After she completed an additional certification , she is now bringing GanjaYoga to her hometown in San Jose. “I saw a gap in the class offerings,” she said. “So many people are commuting from Silicon Valley and the South Bay to take these classes.” Her first class will take place on April 28th, 2018.
Shortly before the class started, an older man entered and immediately made his way toward Jess. Another friend or regular, I presumed. I turned my attention back to finishing my tea before it became cold. He took a place on the mat nearby, and interestingly, Jess and Judy gave him doting attention, showing him a vape and its function. He took a long drag. As he exhaled, a large puff of smoke filled my view, filtering bits of light coming through the windows of the setting sun. Later, as I and many others in the class discovered, this was his first time actually consuming marijuana.
As the sun set and the room filled up with warm, joyous bodies, Jess began the class. We started by working our way around the room, introducing ourselves to each other and sharing why we had chosen to practice yoga in this space. The pair next to me included two generations: a woman and her husband (who were visiting from L.A.) and her mother, whom she brought along for the experience.. When it was my turn to introduce myself, I stumbled over the words I had rehearsed in my head. Typically, with the indica strain in my Bumblebee disposable vape pen that I’ve been consuming from the majority of the day, I tend to have a better grasp of conversation and primarily feel a body high, making it my go-to. I blame my blunder more on my social anxiety, something I’ve worked for years to manage but still struggle with. I wonder why I didn’t try the CBD tinctures laid out for us as I try to push the verbal missteps out of my mind. I lost focus on the others’ introductions while I was fixated on myself, wondering if everyone thought I was too high. After looking around the room, I forgot for a minute that everyone else was also high. There was no more anxiety over it. I absolutely was high—but so was everyone else, and it was completely okay.
We began with our seated asana and setting our goal for our practice. Typically, my goal has remained the same over several years. It always comes down to balance—finding balance within myself and not letting my anxiety take over. It emerges constantly in different forms, evolving and mutating, as I battle to catch up and find new ways to tame it. I’ve used both cannabis and physical activity to find relief, so pairing the two seemed like a natural fit. Finding the right mix, however, seems to be a new challenge in itself. Typically, I love heart pumping sweat sessions that leave me so focused on the physical challenge that I forget my other fixations. That, however, is not what you will find in Jess’s slow flow. Instead, she guides you through the vinyasa with a substantial amount of time between many of the sequences. This time allows you to reach deep within yourself, and with the aid of cannabis, really ensure that each movement is purposeful. As Jess later describes it, “it allows you to drop deeply into the body, into the physical area, and sharpen the tool that is the mind-body connection.”
“I absolutely was high - but so was everyone else, and it was completely okay. ”
As we finished, I noticed that our vinyasa was perfectly timed to conclude when the sun had set. As we slowly opened our eyes and came back to the world around us, some people prepared to leave quickly while others gathered around a plate of unicorn-themed cupcakes brought to celebrate Jess’s birthday. Many people thanked Jess individually between bites of cake and vegan frosting, with edible glitter staining their lips. The room was full of love and positive energy, as many seemingly supercharged after the flow, walking just a touch lighter and more purposeful.
As I waited to thank and speak with Jess, she and Judy were checking on the older man whom they were talking to earlier. During the yoga instruction, I had peeked a few times to look around the room. He was curled up, peacefully napping. Another time, he stood up and moved toward the couches, where he currently sprawled. It reminded me of the first time I was high, aimlessly wandering around my friend’s empty house with a bag of Doritos, forgetting I needed to study for an exam coming up. I wish my first time had been somewhere like this and with people experienced and knowledgeable. Instead, I experienced it like many others through trial and error, always in fear of being caught and feeling the strange stigma attached to cannabis consumption.
Jess and I talked about that stigma, and how she deeply embedded it can be for people. As the first employee at the ArcView Group, a prominent cannabis investment firm, Jess helped build it from the ground up. After several years of fighting on the front lines for drug policy reform, the stress began to take its toll. While taking a break from the cannabis industry, she returned to her hometown in Pennsylvania to reflect, and it was there that she felt the stigma that cannabis consumers often still carry. Despite knowing that cannabis legalization was right, Jess felt like there was still something to hide when it came to cannabis consumption. These conflicting feelings inside of her are what ultimately brought her to her mat. “I wanted to explore my feelings of wrongdoing in an intimate space. I wondered if I could work through that with the intention, breath work, and movement medicine [that yoga offers]”. In addition to learning more about herself through Yoga, she found finding a new calling. She is now the first GanjaYoga instructor in Oakland, and you can join her Tuesday evenings and on Sundays for an elevated and rejuvenating slow flow class.
It seems that cannabis and yoga seems to become a natural fit for many people, with many friends confessing that they consume before going to class anyway. While each person may be different in their preference of strain and consumption, Jess was also able to give us some advice on the best products to incorporate into your yoga practice. After everything was said and done, this experience was something I would love to come back to. Not only was the room full of diverse people that I enjoyed talking to, but it felt like I was discovering something unique and magical. A feeling similar to discovering a unicorn – or something similarly elusive – a great tasting, gluten-free vegan unicorn cupcake.