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Psychedelic Yoga
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Everything You Wanted To Know About Psychedelic Yoga

4 min
Lifestyle Smartshop

Since the 1960s, there has been a growing interest in using psychedelics to improve yoga practice. Yet the relationship between the two goes back thousands of years. Could it be that psychedelics and yoga promote the same end, just in different ways? And how alike are these practices anyway?

Around 2,000 years ago, the Indian sage Patanjali was believed to have written the Yoga Sutra. In this text, Patanjali specified the methods and purpose of yoga. Yoga was to be a blend of physical discipline and increased consciousness. The term yoga comes from the Sanskrit word योग (yuj) meaning yoke or "to bind".

It was in the 1960s in America that the study of psychedelic use while practising yoga became a field of study in itself. Since then, people have been exploring and experimenting. However, many studies now show that it wasn't the 60s that introduced psychedelics to yoga. In fact, the very practice might have begun with psychedelics.

Are Yoga And Psychedelics The "same End, Different Means"?

YOGA AND PSYCHEDELICS

A 1965 article in the San Francisco Chronicle suggested that the practice of yoga and the use of psychedelics shared a common aim[1]. While today, yoga has been taken over by Instagram bodies, the roots of yoga have always lived in spirituality and consciousness. The practice of taking psychedelics often shares the same goal. To understand how similar these practices are, let's take a look at the history of yoga.

The Psychedelic History Of Yoga

The study of psychedelics is still in its infancy, but the use of psychedelics actually has a long and well-documented history. Humans have always enjoyed spiritual communion and consciousness-raising through the consumption of plants—from the ayahuasca ceremonies of South America to the Eleusinian Mysteries of the ancient Greeks.

SOMA

Psychedelic Yoga: Soma

So, it's of no surprise that early writing about yoga mentions drinking a kind of tea to elevate the practitioner's ability to access new types of consciousness. In both the Rig Veda and the Upanishads, Hindu spiritual texts, there is mention of a drink called soma ("extract") or amrita ("nectar of immortality"). In each document, there is information on how to prepare the tea by extracting juice from a specific plant. The 48th hymn of the 8th Manda of the Rig Veda[2] says: “We have drunk Soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the Gods discovered”.

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So, while it seems fair to say that plant medicine would have been used during yoga, what's less clear is the actual kind of plant used. Regardless, the incorporation of hallucinogenic plants may have become less popular due to a change in the way people lived.

The Yoga Sutras

We know that as humans migrated and moved into cities, access to psychedelic plants would have become much less convenient. Instead, yogis would rely more on deep-breathing meditative practices known as kriyas. Yet, in the Yoga Sutras, sage Patanjali explicitly mentions that for some, access to the spiritual world requires a little assistance, and he advocates for the use of psychoactive plants by people attempting a spiritual journey. "These spiritual attainments may be congenital in some, or they may be gained by the use of certain medicinal plants, by incantations, by fervour, or by meditation".

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60S Revival And Pushback

Psychedelic Yoga: 60s Revival And Pushback

The relationship between psychedelics and yoga practices entered Western consciousness with force in the 1960s. As psychonauts like Dr Timothy Leary were exploring the consciousness-expanding properties of psychotropic substances, mainstream proponents of psychedelics were praising the benefits of using various substances to elevate their yoga practice. While this created a new scientific interest in psychedelics and yoga, it wasn't all well-received.

Accusations Of Cultural Appropriation

While Leary and his cohort were emphatic about the positive effects of psychedelics in yoga, they also claimed to be creating a new spiritual practice. However, the "new" spiritual practice took liberally from existing religious traditions. Rather than adding anything new to the practice of yoga, they appeared to be white-washing it. As a psychiatrist, Leary was well-educated, however, he lacked the sensitivity that might come from a more informed approach to Eastern religions.

Guru Disapproval

Psychedelic Yoga: Guru Disapproval

There were also yoga gurus who were fiercely against the use of psychedelics during yoga practice. The concerns were twofold. First, while yogis appreciated the value of altered consciousness, some felt that the use of drugs could trivialise the search for enlightenment. Meher Baba, an Indian Sufi teacher, wrote a 1966 article entitled God in a Pill?[3] that spoke out against psychedelics. He described the experience of using drugs for a spiritual influence as superficial. Secondly, there were concerns that the substances could be actively harmful to the physical and spiritual well-being of the practitioner, and should therefore be avoided.

Could Psychedelics Take Your Yoga Practice To The Next Level?

COULD PSYCHEDELICS TAKE YOUR YOGA PRACTICE TO THE NEXT LEVEL?

The relationship between Western science and psychedelic drugs was only rekindled in the 1990s. However, the Western infatuation with yoga has gone from strength to strength. It was reported that by 2016, over 31 million Americans had tried yoga. The benefits of yoga come from the integrative idea of supple bodies and healthy minds. While proponents of psychedelic yoga suggest that the use of consciousness-expanding drugs can benefit the physical practice, is there any science to back this up? Well, yes, actually.

Science And Spirituality

Research into the benefits of psychedelics dwindled through the 70s and 80s, but thankfully a more scientifically rational approach to hallucinogens has been taken in recent years.

Fundamental research conducted by the Beckley Foundation in Barcelona found that there is a connection between how the human brain responds to psychedelics and how it responds to meditative practices[4]. In fact, neuroimaging analysis has found that an increase in openness, optimism, and de-centering can be seen across the brain scans of both experienced meditators and those taking psychedelics. While the research is very much in its infancy, there is growing evidence that there could indeed be a useful and robust connection between yoga and psychedelics.

Should You Try Psychedelic Yoga?

When it comes to raising consciousness, psychedelics have long been considered an "entry point". And while yoga and psychedelics seem to access a complementary model of consciousness, it's important to highlight that there is still limited research on the topic. It's important to emphasise that nobody can decide if psychedelic use is right for you. This all depends on where you're based, your physical and mental health, and any medications you may be taking.

Things To Consider Before Taking Psychedelics For Your Yoga Practice

THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE TAKING PSYCHEDELICS FOR YOUR YOGA PRACTICE

Should you decide to try it, we have a breakdown of some things to consider before taking psychedelics for your yoga practice.

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Intention

The grounding of any positive psychedelic experience comes from understanding why you're doing it. In the case of psychedelic yoga, you need to be clear about your goal. This means understanding your intentions, as well as understanding the process—and the potential risks.

Start Small

It's vital to remember that yoga is a discipline. To take part in psychedelic yoga means you need to be measured, disciplined, and controlled. As with any psychedelic, the rule of "dose low and go slow" applies. Don't mix and match substances or start with a dose that's too high for you.

Your Surroundings

A vital component of psychedelic use is making sure you're in a safe and secure environment. If you are looking to increase your consciousness, it's essential that you're somewhere you can safely and openly enjoy the process.

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Conscious Breath Work

Psychedelics aren't a substitute for yoga practice or vice versa. Make sure you are practising deep and conscious breath work. This will help you feel centred physically while also easing your mind.

Integration

An oft-overlooked aspect of using psychedelics is integrating any small (or large) lessons you learned from your trip into your daily life. It will take time to process the emotions unearthed by psychedelic yoga practice. Ensure you have a comfortable and relaxing way to come back down, and give yourself the time you need to reflect.

Zamnesia

Written by: CJ
CJ is a London-based word nerd and writer who loves to write about the mind-bending and consciousness-expanding. They’re a non-binary poet with a healthy dose of wanderlust.

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Disclaimer:
We are not making medical claims. This article has been written for informational purposes only, and is based on research published by other externals sources.

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