It’s a Friday night, and the mood is both giddy and relaxed at Goda Yoga studio in Culver City. The scene here in the lobby is a familiar one: barefoot and buff yogis check into class, lined up alongside tank tops for sale emblazoned with phrases like, “Heavily Meditated.” In our arms, alongside our rolled up mats, are our medical marijuana recommendations. We have gathered this evening for a Goda’s inaugural session of “420 Yoga,” a marijuana infused stretch-and-sweat-session that studio owner Nathania Stambouli intends to make a monthly event here.
After we check in and show our prescriptions, Emily Meyers, a petite woman with a gentle demeanor, welcomes each of us with a hug, and offers us a complimentary goodie bag from her dispensary Greenly, with our choice of THC product: vape, edible, or flower. Most of us leave our green treats in a cubbie with our wallets and our flip flops. A few yogis bring their vape pens into the studio with them.
Most yoga classes begin with the students’ mats positioned in tidy rows. Tonight, we’ve set up in a circle. The corners of our mats haphazardly overlap with one another, and in the center of the room are a handful of vape pens, which we all eye curiously as we stretch. There is little quiet introspection happening — no one is seated in stillness with their eyes closed and their legs crossed. Instead, we make small talk with one another, and casually eye the vape pens.
Our teacher, Vance Vlasek has long hair and carries himself with that uniquely SoCal enthusiastic mellow. Before we start class, says Vlasek, we will pass around the vape pens and communally go through a ganja ceremony. As each person takes the pen, they are to pull from it and say what their name is, and what they are feeling grateful for this evening. Vlasek starts. He’s grateful for this community. And for the opportunity to combine two of his loves: weed and yoga. He's grateful for being able to doing something like this in public. We all nod in agreement.
We go around the room introducing ourselves. There are experienced yogis who admit this isn’t our first time medicating before class; experienced weed smokers who admit this is our first time doing yoga; a single dad who’s grateful for his son; an adult daughter who’s here with her father. What we are grateful for is that we live in this city, at this time, and have access to this plant, which, in Meyers’s words, “has, like yoga, been used as medicine for thousands of years, and is once again burbling to the surface.”
Practice begins. Vlasek gets us started by focusing on our breath. With the euphoric lift of THC freshly coursing through my system, I find it easy to follow along as he talks — my mind is moving more slowly now, and my thoughts stay confined to this warm and dimly lit room.
As the class progresses, he moves us into our first challenging pose. There is a collective “Oof,” followed by several hearty giggles, as we all become mindful of the way weed impacts our balance. The pace quickens. The flow starts: downward dog, plank, up dog, back down — and through a series of grunts and wobbles, it becomes clear who among us is only here because they really love weed.
Even Vlasek’s playlist is marijuana-themed. We do “warrior I” and “crescent” pose to Sublime’s “I Smoke Two Joints.” We all laugh, while upside down, when Valsek tells us “this song might bring back memories for some of us,” and then proceeds to play Luniz “I Got 5 On It.” He invites us all to take a moment, close our eyes, and remember a time when we had a really great time while high.
My mind goes to high school, when my friends and I did, indeed, scrape together five dollars each to buy a small bag of low-grade marijuana to get us through the weekend. I think of hot boxing my best friend’s car and listening to punk compilations at high volume as we sped through our dark and empty suburbs — baiting the cops in our nightly game of us-versus-them.
I sneak my eyes open a crack and glance around the room. Everyone else, standing in mountain pose — has a calm and nostalgic smile across their face that matches mine.
It is easy to forget, now that dispensaries are nearly as prevalent in Los Angeles as Starbucks, that there was a time, not long ago, when talking about smoking marijuana was taboo among strangers, and when consuming it before a public exercise class would have been only a pipe dream. Here, and now, forced into mindfulness through yoga, we have been reminded of how fortunate we are to be here now. With no cell phones or TVs and a soundtrack comprised of old hits and our current breath — we’ve been able to forget, for at least an hour, the current presidential election, and remind ourselves that good things lie ahead in California.
At the end of class, Vlasek gives us a longer savasana (the final resting pose) than I’m used to. He turns the lights all the way down, and encourages us to acknowledge our thoughts, but then let them drift on, like logs floating down a stream. Both the cannabis I’ve consumed and the work I’ve done in class create a wash of heavy relaxation over me, and for the first time in a while, I'm able to use my savasana time to meditate rather than think about whether I should get that sweater from J. Crew, and what time the Dodger’s game is on tomorrow.
When savasana is over, we all seal our practice with the chant of one “Om.” The sound is long. It swells and soars, and contains natural harmonies.
“Wow,” Vlasesk says when we finish, “That was, like, the longest ‘Om’ I’ve ever had in any class ever.”