Focus on the Inhale

Can you walk the yogic path and smoke pot? Neal Pollack suggests you look at the issue of attachment to find your own answers.
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Can you walk the yogic path and smoke pot? Neal Pollack suggests you look at the issue of attachment to find your own answers.

In the past month, I've received two emails from guys who are trying to reconcile their marijuana habits with their burgeoning interest in yoga. I guess that's what I get for writing a yoga memoir that features a chapter where I describe how I used to duck behind the dumpster and smoke up before my volunteer shift at an L.A. neighborhood yoga studio. I have taken yoga classes stoned all across the country, and even spent a very small portion of my yoga teacher training stoned. However, I won't teach yoga stoned. That would mean putting other people's health at risk, which, to say the least, isn't cool. Regardless, I'm kind of an expert on the topic.

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Let's get to the questions.

My first correspondent wrote: "I feel like in some ways smoking enhances your practice in the sense you can really feel every cell stretching but at the other I wonder if it prevents you from truly experiencing transcendence or growth because you're using some type of crutch to fall back on?" Technically, that's not a question, but it did end in a question mark, so I counted it.

The second was a little more searching and personal. This man described his 20-year dependency on marijuana, saying he was a "wake and bake" kind of guy who spent more than $100 a month on weed and has long used it as a crutch to battle anxiety and depression. He asked if I've managed, through yoga, to temper my own use, or, as he put it, "I wonder if getting the smallest glimpse into the nature of universal consciousness is better than blazing half an ounce of top-grade shit."

To this guy, I will say, it's not exactly either/or. You can smoke (or, better, vaporize) top-grade pot and still practice yoga, just like you can have a few glasses of wine one night and still take a class the next day. Yoga is available for you to do no matter what your physical or mental condition, and no matter what your history of substance consumption.

However, what both my correspondents describe is really a problem of attachment. From this perspective, it's not the marijuana consumption that's harmful, necessarily, but the need for using it to achieve a certain mental state. When you become dependent on something, no matter what that something might be, it's probably time to shake up your reality a bit.

I've heard plenty of people talk about the "natural high" they get from yoga, but in my experience it's a very different kind of high, one that's infinitely renewable, free, and always very healthy for you. Marijuana, on the other hand, is unpredictable and can lead to some bad results. Not always, of course, and not as much as some other drugs, but it's rarely a cure for what ails you, unless what ails you is glaucoma, chronic pain, or various other disorders where THC seems to have strong medicinal qualities.

That said, I'm still an ailment-free stoner who enjoys a little toke off the vaporizer now and then. It's a sense-pleasure that I'll admit to having a hard time shaking. But I'm also a lot less into it now that I practice yoga, because I have another, better outlet, and a way toward peace of mind and soundness of of spirit that will last me until my dying day. For all of marijuana's fine qualities, it can't claim that. Even Tommy Chong quit eventually.

Ideally, I'd like to continue along a similar path for the rest of my days. I like to envision myself as be an 80-year-old man who still does yoga, enjoys some gange now and then, and writes novels. If that's not the key to long-term health, it's certainly the key to a healthy attitude. And it's a better way to budget out that $100 a month.