Pairing cannabis and yoga is nothing new, they have been linked together for centuries. People have been using the plant to enhance their practices, minds, and spirituality for thousands of years.
In the Hindu tradition, both cannabis and yoga came from Lord Shiva, the Lord of Ganja, and Adiyogi (original yogi). The story goes that Lord Shiva gifted humans cannabis to help them find enlightenment and inspiration after becoming partial to it himself. As a result, in India – the birthplace of yoga – the cannabis plant was revered and celebrated for millennia, and the country’s sadhu’s (religious sages who dedicate their lives to meditation and asceticism) have long been known (and continue to) smoke chillums filled with hashish as part of their spiritual practice.
According to The Vedas, the earliest texts of spiritual guidance written in Sanskrit, sadhus have been pairing charas – a name for a particular handmade form of cannabis hashish – with their yoga practice since 2,000 – 1,400 BC. The Vedas also mention sadhus drinking bhang, Lord Shiva’s “nectar of the Gods.” Bhang is still widely consumed throughout India, especially during the holidays of Shivaratri and Holi.
THE YOGA SUTRAS
Many believe that cannabis is directly mentioned in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s as his reference of “herb” in book 4, verse 1: “The subtler attainments come with birth or are attained through herbs, mantra, austerities or concentration…” Here he is saying awakening can come in various ways – occurring naturally or from meditation, mantra, inner efforts, or herbs. The Yoga Sutras, which were compiled in 400 CE, outline the basic principles of yoga and are considered the authoritative yoga text.
Despite its long history in India, cannabis is currently illegal there. In 1961 during the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs the U.S pressured India to make cannabis illegal despite opposition due to social and religious customs. Thankfully there are loopholes for bhang and religious use. This was part of the larger disastrous American-led War on Drugs that began in the early 20th century.
As the War on Drugs thaws and these combined practices grow in popularity, it’s important to remember this ancient history. Ethnobotanist and yogi Chris Kilham explain in his book Lotus and the Bud, that cannabis and yoga are both currents of wisdom and enlightenment, they are both allies for healing and expansion that when thoughtfully combined can offer profound benefits for the mind, body, and spirit.