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4:20 Yoga Class in Atwater Village: Getting Bendy While Baked

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Mon, Aug 15, 2011 at 9:30 AM

click to enlarge Liz McDonald practices yoga on a beach in Brazil while smoking a fat cartoon joint. - ELIZABETH MCDONALD
  • Elizabeth McDonald
  • Liz McDonald practices yoga on a beach in Brazil while smoking a fat cartoon joint.

Take a nice deep inhale, press the feet, elongate the neck and allow any sort of tension to just drop out of the head, but don't think about food. We'll be needing to relax the booty muscles, to slooowly roll down one vertebrae at a time, to find your breath and allow it to move your body, but really, don't think about food.

You're at the 4:20 Remedy Yoga Class at Brazilian Yoga and Pilates in Atwater, stoned and lying contorted on your yoga mat in a spacious warehouse with hardwood floors, a wall of mirrors and natural afternoon light, so take two more breaths here and then "step into your back foot like you're squishing a grape," as Stefani Manger instructs the class.

But you weren't thinking about food.

"We're trying to work out this crunchy peanut butter in our shoulders," says Manger, who sports a black leotard under black yoga pants, turquoise feather earrings and a messy bun with bangs swept across her forehead. "Twist a little bit deeper, squeezing out the toxins, like some of that wine, the pizza..."

"I had pizza and wings last night!" shouts 33-year-old petite blonde Liz McDonald, a self-described "yogangsta" and owner of this year-old studio. As you strain to open up your shoulder blades and sink your hips a bit lower, the munchies become unbearable.

"You gotta squeeze hard, girl!" Manger calls to her.

"It's wrong for Crispy Crust to offer the wings for only $2.99!" McDonald says, pushing herself deeper into the pose. A man in a red Godzilla shirt with Japanese writing decides he can't take it anymore.

"Let's get some now!" he says, sending the class into a fit of giggles.

After moving to L.A. from Brazil two years ago, McDonald noticed that many of her private clients took a few puffs of marijuana before practicing yoga and decided to dedicate a class at her new studio to combining two of hippy-dippy California's favorite feel-good, vaguely medicinal pastimes, raising a peace sign to say "Chill, man" to the competitive, stressed, traffic-soaked city beyond.

McDonald conceived of the 4:20 class as "a gathering of creative minds, a very non-judgmental place where all are welcome," she says. "Do I really want a couple of uptight conservatives in here? Ideally no, but... my business welcomes all types of people, especially those tight-asses that may need it most!"

Students are expected to medicate in their cars before class in the parking lot, as no drugs are consumed or distributed in the studio. But the fifty members of the "420 Yoga Los Angeles" Meetup.com group seem to have no trouble obtaining pot on their own -- surprise, surprise -- and many extol the benefits of toking and posing, as did the students at a recent Sunday class. Early arrivals, fresh off their parking lot endeavors, are greeted in the concrete courtyard outside the studio by McDonald wielding a spurting hose or offering tea and fresh organic cherries from Trader Joe's.

"Do you feel hugged? Do you need a hug?" she asks you.

McDonald and Manger think that more traditional yogis who see marijuana as a toxin that inhibits enlightenment rather than enhancing it are being "yogier-than-thou." McDonald said she doesn't mind if students come in late or high or disheveled, although the class is not a free-for-all party. "Should anyone ever come here drunk? No, but if they had a beer and a pizza before they came, I don't care," she says.

One student says he and his wife come to 4:20 Remedy Yoga as often as they can. "It's nice to sort of, you know, stretch out a Sunday," he says. Being able to procure a legal prescription for marijuana strongly influenced his decision to move to LA last year, he told me. "I think marijuana creates an inquisitiveness, a stillness, something that allows you to concentrate on one thing at a time. And tactile sensations feel better, so as you're stretching everything basically feels good."

Though Manger claims her 4:20 students never behave outrageously, losing their balance and mishearing instructions just as often as their sober counterparts at 24 Hour Fitness, this double whammy of homeopathic remedies does attract some wacky yoga neophytes, like the two girls who showed up a few weeks ago with their hair in 1950s-style bouffants. When a classmate questioned whether their 'dos would survive the workout, one girl responded, "There's so many layers of spray in this thing; it's not going anywhere."

Back in class, you are in what Manger calls Happy Girlfriend pose, on your back with arms reaching straight up to hold your feet behind your head, lengthening, stretching the toes, just one more breath, until Manger talks you slowly out of it, telling you to roll over and press your bellybutton into the floor.

"It's time to put our arms out in front of us like we're flying," she says. "And some of us might be!"

4:20 Remedy Yoga meets at 4:20pm on Saturdays and Sundays at Brazilian Yoga and Pilates, 3191 Casitas Ave #112, 424-254-9313, brazilianyogapilates.com.

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