Stretching into cobra pose or hanging your head in downward dog while high isn’t anything new for yogis who’ve used cannabis in the privacy of their own homes for years. But it is new for most of us, who’ve enjoyed the therapeutic benefits of one or the other — and maybe even both, but never together. But as more and more states legalize the plant, combining yoga and cannabis is becoming increasingly popular, and the travel industry is taking note: “Cannabis vacations” are popping up all over the country, and a slew of new cannabis yoga retreats are being offered to eager consumers each month. In the interest of journalism (and my own edification), I tried one out.
In Colorado, the cannabis-driven travel industry is booming. The state offers both an array of “Bud and Breakfasts” (chill cannabis-friendly lodgings where guests are free to smoke on the premises and in their rooms) and a number of more active “retreats,” which combine cannabis with featured activities. Of these, mixing yoga with cannabis piqued my interest most.
The cannabis yoga retreat I chose was 420 Yoga Retreats led by Darrin Zeer — Yogi D — a bestselling yoga author I’d interviewed about his books. “Come,” he’d said, “it will be perfect for you. We do a creative mix of marijuana, yoga, meditation and movement. It’ll be a time of radical stress management that will warm your heart and help your mental aches and pains.”
I should say upfront that I’m a newbie who’s turned to medical marijuana to help with some health issues, including anxiety, grieving, and depression. I was expecting to spend the long weekend with daily cannabis users, where yoga was an excuse to be high all the time. But I couldn’t have been more surprised.
Zeer’s cannabis yoga retreat was on a ranch — in Parshall,CO, in the Rockies, just a couple of hours away from Denver. The weekend starts on a Friday afternoon and ends on Sunday. Shared cabins cost $645 per person, but, if you want to camp, it’s just $395 (these prices include all meals, classes, treatments, and a goodie bag).
After check in, on the first evening, guests came together and joined in a welcome circle. Yogi D set the lay of the land, encouraging us to hug and go with our own ganja flow in the morning and evening cannabis yoga sessions. His intent is to help everyone “enjoy deep peace and passionate joy together, lifting our spirits and releasing emotional and physical blocks.” He also encouraged us to “toke whenever you want. There are no rules here.”
On the way to the ranch we stopped at a dispensary where we picked up our goodie bag. We got to choose two joints of our desired cannabis strain — seeking to relax and enjoy the calm, I chose “Venice Beach” and “Thin Mint” (with the help of a savvy young travel mate).
Additionally, the retreat’s goodie bag included gummy edibles, CBD gel cap samples, some matches, and a CBD suppository (which, frankly, I left behind — I’m a newbie after all, not quite this adventurous).
After checking into our cabins, there was scheduled free time, with some of us dipping in the hot tub, taking our first inhales, and relaxing before the first evening yoga session. When we arrived at the studio, the lights were dimmed as we lay on our mats. The yoga flow was low key, but under the influence of cannabis, I honestly just wanted to lie in savasana the entire time. I was also quite emotional, tears seeping down my cheeks — the combo effect of the pot, the yoga poses, and the high mountain altitude.
In most yoga classes I’ve taken, everyone is in sync trying to do poses perfectly to the yoga teacher’s instruction. Here at the cannabis retreat, people were out of sync and doing pretty much their own thing. The expert yoginis were doing complex poses and inversions letting out deep sighs, lost in their own intimate cannabis yoga experience. There were grunts and even wailing. Yogi D didn’t care. He loved watching how we all released our physical and emotional blocks as he’d promised we would.
Post yoga, and after a super-plain vegan meal, Yogi D exclaimed, “Let’s go toke!” The group then gathered on the deck and lawn, under sparkling lights on top of a steep gorge overlooking a rapidly running Rocky Mountain River. Our fellow retreat guests were a cross-section of society. Those who stood out most were stressed, pent-up tech and financial professionals from New York and Silicon Valley who were there to let off steam. One said he was awkward in social settings, had never had cannabis before, and felt that the cannabis-yoga combo would help loosen him up and give him more confidence.
Beyond the tech bros were a group of young women clearly there just for the cannabis, they’d never done yoga, and spent their days on the porch giggling. There were also a couple in their late seventies, likely hippies in their day, who looked like anybody’s innocuous grandparents. During an evening of dancing, the septuagenarians took to the floor, gyrating, waving and flailing their arms like free spirits lost in their own world.
Over the course of the weekend, it was clear some were genuinely at the retreat for the joint (pardon the pun) cannabis and yoga experience, some more so for the individual activities. Some did neither and spent their days hiking and horse riding.
I was there in both an exploratory and observational way — to see what cannabis yoga might be like, and what a cannabis yoga retreat was really all about. Other retreat activities included mala bead bracelet making, chair massages and “cupping” (a reiki practitioner sticking suction cups on our backs to increase lymphatic drainage and circulation). We enjoyed — or endured, in mine and my chatty travel mate’s instance — silent vegan meals, encouraged to be contemplative and just nod and smile.
Sometimes we ditched the activities to enjoy our goodie bags and lounge on our cabin deck reading, or pulling faces at the ranch goats, giggling. Whatever I thought the experience was going to be, it was not. But what it was, was a relaxing and laid-back weekend away from the world to do whatever we wanted. “No pressure,” Yogi D kept saying. “You are here to be you”. An energetic and always upbeat spry fellow, just wanting to share the joys of both his professional worlds.