Psychedelics and Yoga (Hear Me Out)
I know. I know. This topic is likely going to ruffle some feathers and it’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea but I think it’s worth talking about.
Now, some disclaimers, I don’t have experience here. I’m relying on stories from other people (ideally – people who actually practice yoga not just someone looking for an excuse to trip). This stuff is also illegal in some places. So don’t do something silly and then tell the judge I told you to do it.
I’m not the first one to touch on this topic. It’s been a growing trend on social media and some yogis have been to ceremonies making use of them.
Some people are doing it to expand their consciousness and using it as a tool in their journal for spiritual enlightenment or to experience new things. There’s also an argument that it has a role in therapeutic treatment.
I don’t smoke myself, but I don’t agree with the stoner image we see a lot in movies when it comes to some drugs. There’s been a growing use in numerous sports for marijuana, for example, as an aid in recovery to help with inflammation, sleep and reduce anxiety.
In yoga specifically, people have talked about how it massively changed their yoga routines. From heightened senses and a reduction in injuries to increased kinesthetics and mindfulness.
My movements were beat-driven, pulsing, and oceanic. I would never, ever use the word graceful to describe myself or my yoga practice. But after smoking, I felt—keyword felt!—more synced with the music and my body. My movements crested and receded, and I added little pulsing movements to each hold because staying still was a challenge. I wondered afterward whether my mind is what’s stopping me from having more grace in the first place…I also wondered whether it was all an indica-fueled facade.
(Pssst… if taking something with your routine doesn’t sound like your cup of tea why not check out Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy (which you can get free with an Audible trial instead?)
But more and more these events (usually spanning a weekend or so) are gaining in popularity. While there’s nothing new about people using LSD or other psychedelics to try and broaden their mind – there does seem to be a growing trend with its connection with yoga, but even that isn’t new. As Yoga Journal have already covered:
Yoga’s Psychedelic Roots
Anthropologists have discovered mushroom iconography in churches throughout the world. And some scholars make the case that psychoactive plants may have played a role in the early days of yoga tradition. The Rig Veda and the Upanishads (sacred Indian texts) describe a drink called soma (extract) or amrita (nectar of immortality) that led to spiritual visions. “It’s documented that yogis were essentially utilizing some brew, some concoction, to elicit states of transcendental awareness,” say Tias Little, a yoga teacher and founder of Prajna Yoga school in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He also points to Yoga Sutra 4.1, in which Patanjali mentions that paranormal attainments can be obtained through herbs and mantra.
“Psychotropic substances are powerful tools, and like all tools, they can cut both ways—helping or harming,” says Ganga White, author of Yoga Beyond Belief and MultiDimensional Yoga and founder of White Lotus Foundation in Santa Barbara, California. “If you look at anything you can see positive and negative uses. A medicine can be a poison and a poison can be a medicine—there’s a saying like this in the Bhagavad Gita.”
White’s first experience with psychedelics was at age 20. It was 1967 and he took LSD. “I was an engineering student servicing TVs and working on electronics. The next day I became a yogi,” he says. “I saw the life force in plants and the magnitude of beauty in nature. It set me on a spiritual path.” That year he started going to talks by a professor of comparative religion who told him that a teacher from India in the Sivananda lineage had come to the United States. White went to study with him, and he would later make trips to India to learn from other teachers. As his yoga practice deepened, White stopped using psychedelics. His first yoga teachers were adamantly anti-drug. “I was told that they would destroy your chakras and your astral body. I stopped everything, even coffee and tea,” he says. But within a decade, White began shifting his view on psychedelics again. He says he started to notice “duplicity, hypocrisy, and spiritual materialism” in the yoga world. And he no longer felt that psychedelic experiences were “analog to true experiences.” He started combining meditation and psychedelics. “I think an occasional mystic journey is a tune-up,” he says. “It’s like going to see a great teacher once in a while who always has new lessons.”
Each to their own at the end of the day. I don’t think it’s something I would personally try but it’s still an interesting idea and I’m always curious to learn what others are doing with their yoga routines.
Take a look at the Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy (which you can get free with an Audible trial) and some further reading here.