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Yoga class focuses on a new level of relaxation

Each session at Toronto studio begins with a few quick puffs of marijuana, filling the room with a sweet, tranquil aroma.

Yoga teacher Lu Pancini uses a vaporizer at the start of her ganja yoga class on Bloor St. W. // PAUL IRISH FOR THE TORONTO STAR
Yoga teacher Lu Pancini uses a vaporizer at the start of her ganja yoga class on Bloor St. W. // PAUL IRISH FOR THE TORONTO STAR

The dimly lit room fills with the heady scent of incense as Lu Pancini, the teacher of this unique yoga class, greets her students with hugs and kisses.

It’s Friday night in Toronto and all are eager to spread their mats on the hardwood floor for their regular physical and spiritual workout.

Their goal: to drain the bad vibes of a crazy work week through a strenuous session of poses and breath control.

Before the traditional stretching involved in this ancient Indian discipline begins, students take place in an unusual ritual.

The 20 men and women pass large plastic bags around a circle, and each participant presses their lips to a small opening and takes deep, calculated breaths.

After a few minutes, the tranquil room begins to fill with the faint, sweet aroma of marijuana. Welcome to Ganja Yoga.

“It’s starting to catch on, in a big way,” says Pancini, 40, owner of The House of Yoga/High Times at 714 Bloor St. W., west of Bathurst St.

“At the simplest level, (the pot) basically just gets everybody relaxed to get the ultimate benefits of the yoga but, for others, it’s much more.”

And before you question the apparent contradiction of inhaling smoke while on the path to good health, Pancini, a certified yoga teacher, explains that the class uses a vaporizer where the hemp is heated — not burned — decreasing the amount of “unhealthy” contaminants. There is no combustion.

The hemp reaches a moderate temperature where the active ingredient that creates the euphoria, THC, is released as an almost invisible mist, captured in the bags and then inhaled.

Medical research on marijuana is inconclusive on many fronts but Pancini and her co-instructor, John Farley, 50, believe this form of yoga leads to heightened spiritual growth and personal development, as well as physical and emotional healing.

Last fall, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) released its cannabis policy framework, recommending “legalization with a strict regulation to cannabis control,” but also warned that cannabis is not a “benign” substance.

A written summary of the policy, supplied by CAMH media liaison Kate Richards, states that Canada’s current laws are “failing to prevent or reduce” the harms associated with the drug’s use and that any reform of marijuana control must include a strong focus on prevention and intervention, particularly those with a family history of mental illness.

And while some studies have shown that vaporizers do not emit the same high amount of contaminants as traditional smoking of the drug, scientists say more research has to be completed to get the full picture.

Back at the class, Robin, 42, is a Toronto information technology worker who “loves” the sessions but, due to what he calls popular misconceptions about the drug, would only give his first name.

“It helps me connect to my body,” he says. “I can feel muscle strands, I can isolate entire areas of my back, my legs and it just feels like I’m getting a more efficient workout.”

Robin has been in the class for two years and goes three times a week.

David Soul, a 21-year-old craftsperson with ADHD, says he feels more refreshed after finishing a session.

“I feel renewed,” he says. “I’m more focused and I just seem to put more into the session when I take the ganja.”

Lu, who has been leading the program for three years, says her clients range from ages 25 to 50 and include business owners, pharmacists, bankers, mothers and fathers.

But she stresses the class is not a happy hour or “party” time. Good conduct is mandatory and you must be 18 to participate.

It’s a “bring-your-own” policy and marijuana is neither bought, sold or stored on the property.

“People bring just a tiny bit each and it’s all shared,” says Pancini, as she holds an amount that might be close to two tablespoons. “If these people just wanted to get high, they don’t have to come here to do that.”

She considers current legislation as “ambiguous” — as do some of her students — and that her sessions don’t break the law.

But Const. Victor Kwong, media relations officer for Toronto Police, says there should be no confusion and that the law is being broken.

Without being specific to the yoga class, he says consuming marijuana is a “criminal offence under the Narcotics Act” and that anyone caught using it could be charged.

He explained the only people who can use cannabis legally in Canada are those with a medical prescription. However privacy laws prevent asking for medical status.

Monika Sarkar, project coordinator for the Ontario Lung Association, says her organization is not totally familiar with vaporizers used to consume cannabis, but that it’s obvious that various ingredients are introduced to the lungs — and that’s not a good thing. Just like with vapour cigarettes, people should realize they are breathing in more than just water.

Craig Jones, executive director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Canada) says that although police have become more lenient in certain situations, Pancini and her students should be aware that their “activities” still go against the criminal code and that they could be charged.

“People have stressful lives . . . they’ve been working all week and sometimes — even though they try — they just can’t detach,” Pancini says. “They try to relax but all they can think of are bills, relationships, their kids or their work — the ganja helps them get to the right spot.”

Classes are $20 for a single drop-in, with package deals available. For more information, call 647-347-8004.

Article source Toronto Star

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