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Yoganja: Come as you are



Yoganja: Come as you are 2

Both yoga and cannabis have histories dating back at least 5,300 years. Yoga began in ancient India as early as 3300 B.C., and the first medicinal uses of cannabis were recorded as early as 4000 B.C. in China. When cannabis is used in conjunction with yoga, sensations are heightened and a deeper connection between the mind and body is formed.

So when the Facebook invite for Yoganja classes at Prism House appeared in my newsfeed, my interest was piqued. I’d always been curious about yoga, but had never really had the courage to try it. I like to be good at what I do, and participating in new activities can be scary. As a reluctant perfectionist, I wanted to find a way to participate in a group activity that I knew would make me feel better in my body while still maintaining some dignity. Somehow, wearing yoga pants while contorting into positions that my body does not yet comprehend, in a yoga studio full of size 2 yogis, was not appealing to this yoga newbie. However, the idea of integrating cannabis and consuming it openly in a private residence with the group before beginning the yoga session was definitely appealing. Armed with a vape pen and the resolve to actively pursue a healthier lifestyle this year, I signed up for the class.

Kristen Mico and Samantha Montanaro

Prism House is a beautiful, 4,000-square-foot American Foursquare house in Northeast Portland. The atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable, and there were plenty of pillows, blankets and mats for those of us who didn’t have a yoga mat. The proprietors of Prism House, Samantha and Chris Montanaro, are recent transplants to Portland, and in my not-so-humble opinion, were destined to be Portlanders from the start. For this particular Yoganja session, special guest DJ Granola set the tone for the evening with a soothing mix of ambient house music. This class included a diverse group of participants, which enhanced the experience as we all joined the circle for the passing of the “peace pipe” (joints and vape pens).

The smoke session gave us an opportunity to talk among ourselves, and I was grateful to learn that I was one of a handful of people who were also working on personal health goals. After a warm welcome to the group, Samantha introduced us to Portland-based yoga instructor and filmmaker Kristen Mico. Mico’s unique perspective on yoga made for an empowering experience for all. And while some yogis are focused on specific yoga styles like kundalini or hatha, Mico is dedicated to building community, approaching health holistically and making yoga accessible to everyone.

Mico’s perspective on yoga is one of inclusion and healing. She recognizes there are barriers to practicing yoga that discourage participation. Like me, not everyone feels welcome in yoga studios; vulnerable populations, folks from lower income brackets, those dealing with trauma, people of size and color — not everyone feels comfortable taking a class at a trendy studio space in the Pearl District. But Mico’s is clear about her mission: Teach people how to have their own relationship with yoga. Yoga is not a competition, and many people who would benefit from yoga have no interest in “getting good” at it or engaging in the “yoga lifestyle.” Yoga can help healing and people can practice it in a home like Prism House — together, around common interests — and build community.

“The fact is that everyone is there to take care of themselves, and there is a mind-body-spirit component to oneself,” Mico said. “Just being there acknowledges that and people see that in themselves and in each other. We mirror that for each other when we practice together. Yoga is one of many healing arts and is very natural to me. Accessing and connecting to the deeper self is really where the healing begins.”

When Samantha decided that she wanted to host regular yoga classes at Prism House, Mico was her first call. They have a common goal of normalizing the cannabis plant. Mico believes that yoga is all about relationships, especially our relationship with ourselves, which really dictates how we relate to others.

“Cannabis is also a great tool for creating a deeper connection to oneself, as it removes some of the inhibition we can have with self-expression,” Mico said. “Cannabis is also very powerful plant medicine on a spiritual level, and is a great way for city dwellers to access the plant world, which we are symbiotically connected to. Cannabis can be a beautiful teacher in this way.”

Combining cannabis with yoga, especially in a safe group environment, can facilitate deeper connections and conversations while promoting community wellness. As for me, I successfully participated in my first yoga experience. I got everything from the experience that I had hoped, plus much more. The sense of community, feelings of connection with the group as a whole, the lowered inhibition from the cannabis, the contagious, little giggles when a move was just too much. All of these elements made for a yoga experience that I really enjoyed and will definitely do again.

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