In America, an increasing number of people turn to the ancient discipline of yoga every year. They do so for improved strength and flexibility, weight loss, pain-relief, and lowered stress levels. Needless to say, a regularly-implemented practice has a lot of benefits—both mental and physical—but what if you could boost those benefits to get even more out of your experience?
According to experts, there’s an emerging trend that could do just that. It’s called CBD yoga, and the internet is already racking up anecdotal evidence from people who have tried it and loved it. Still, hearsay alone isn’t enough to inform one’s health decisions, so it’s important to know exactly what CBD is, as well as what the recent scientific studies have to say about it.
Cannabidiol (or CBD) is one of the most prevalent compounds found in cannabis. It’s been used for hundreds of years to treat epileptic seizures, but new research shows how effective it can be in treating a whole host of other inflammation-based disorders, too.
Unlike THC—another abundant cannabinoid found in the plant—CBD is non-psychoactive. “The compound that most people are aware of is THC, which is the psychoactive component of marijuana—the chemical that makes you feel ‘high,’” says Melissa Groves, RDN, registered dietitian and owner of Avocado Grove Nutrition & Wellness. In fact, no matter how much CBD you take, you’ll still remain cognitively aware. That’s because CBD merely stimulates the receptors in the endocannabinoid system instead of bonding to them directly the way that THC does.
CBD comes with surprisingly few side-effects and can be administered several different ways. A few of the most popular methods are tinctures, capsules, edibles, topical balms, and vaping.
Since CBD comes from cannabis, which has a negative stigma due to marijuana, this is a hot topic of debate right now. Despite the fact that individual states are changing their policies, marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but the rules concerning hemp and CBD are currently under debate.
According to Groves, “There are actually over 100 cannabinoid compounds that have been identified thus far in hemp plants. Depending on what the laws are in the state you live in, you may have access to various cannabis products that contain the full spectrum of cannabinoids (including THC).” Full-spectrum hemp oil is thought to be especially beneficial because it comes complete with vitamins, minerals, essential fats, and optimal levels of CBD, all of which work together to boost the therapeutic properties.
Few people have ever been penalized for purchasing CBD oil online. That being said, if you’re still hesitant, Groves says that no matter which of the 50 states you live in, “you can legally purchase CBD extracts that are totally free of THC.”
As yoga grows in popularity, so does the research that proves just how beneficial it is for the mind and the body. One study in particular recorded in the Complementary Therapies in Medicine reports how “stress, anxiety and quality of life scores improved” for those practicing relaxation and hatha yoga on a weekly basis. Other research points to yoga’s ability to positively influence pain levels in the body, whether it alters the pain itself or the students’ reaction to it.
Coincidentally, those who have tried CBD say it has very similar effects, and while research is limited due to the legal limitations surrounding cannabis, the studies that do exist are promising. In a study from 2010, subjects with social anxiety disorder were given an oral dose of CBD and tested using statistical parametric mapping (a method used to record brain activity.) They showed lowered anxiety levels as well as significant activity in the brain areas associated with emotions, goal-setting, self-control, and motivation.
Another study from 2013 shows just how effective CBD is when it comes to lowering neuropathic pain in cancer patients without negatively impacting their ability to concentrate or remember things.
How can one compound do all that? “CBD is a potent anti-inflammatory agent,” Groves says. “We have cannabinoid receptors throughout our immune system, so targeting those receptors can help reduce inflammation… CBD is also an antioxidant, which means it can help repair cell damage caused by oxidative stress.” Furthermore, “CBD is an effective treatment for anxiety and insomnia. It just helps calm the body down in general.”
So what happens when you combine the two? According to Jolie Parcher, yoga teacher and the owner and founder of Mandala Yoga Center for Healing Arts, it’s more about what doesn’t happen. “Our mission is to strengthen, enliven, and steady your whole being,” Parcher says. “From this perspective on yoga, CBD is a generous guide. It helps to quiet that ‘drunken monkey mind’ enough to focus more steadily on the Tristana, the three places of attention or action.”
According to Parcher, “There is also the anti-inflammatory property of CBD that relieves you of achiness and pain.” As a result, you’re able to “move more freely and joyfully” and better “quiet the mind,” which “allows Savasana (final relaxation) to be more relaxing and rejuvenating.”
If you’re dealing with a pre-existing condition, CBD can also “relieve your pain to the point that you are able to fully partake in a yoga practice,” Groves says. “For example, my clients with fibromyalgia, joint pain due to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, arthritis, or MS really seem to benefit. The CBD allows them to participate in yoga or other forms of exercise that they had previously been unable to due to their pain.” The benefits aren’t limited to physical conditions, either. According to Groves, it lessens anxiety, which “can [also] prevent you from being fully present in your yoga practice. So, overall CBD can help you benefit more from yoga. I really think they go hand in hand.”
There’s a reason why Parcher knows so much about this combination: she runs her own CBD yoga class. It’s called AWOKE, and the aim is to “use CBD as [another] tool to awaken our senses and increase our awareness.”
To begin the class, students take CBD drops and sit in meditation for a few minutes. Parcher says, “I bring in essential oils to stimulate our sense of smell and to affect the mind” before moving into pranayama, or breathwork. After that, students “move through yoga postures slowly, exploring the range of movement and sensations in the body.”
Unlike more athletic-based yoga practices, this class has a strong focus on chanting and relaxation. “The experience of being more present to yourself—body, mind, emotions, spirit, and senses—is extremely satisfying and invigorating,” Parcher says. “I believe it makes us more considerate people as we move out into the world and interact with strangers and the people we love.”
According to Groves, “We don’t have enough evidence yet to show that CBD is 100% safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women,” so if you’re looking for ways to deepen your prenatal practice, CBD isn’t the best option until scientists have a better idea of how it interacts with these factors. “Additionally, anyone concerned about having to pass a drug test for their job may want to pass—while most tests are only looking for THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, there are some tests that will pick up any cannabinoids,” Groves says.
Furthermore, CBD “does act as a blood thinner” and can alter the way your body processes other substances, Parcher says. For that reason, you should “check with your doctor to see how the properties of CBD might interact with your medication,” whether you’re taking blood-thinners, anti-anxiety drugs, or anti-depression medications.
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