The wellness community and its many manifestations — yoga studios, self-care events, life coaches, and healing retreats — have been woven into the fabric of East Bay living for decades. And with the changing landscape of cannabis legalization comes opportunities for instructors and coaches whose practices center on pain, stress, and anxiety to also harness the healing properties of weed.
“I’ve found that a lot of people are receptive to cannabis through topicals,” said Mistie Jung, a body worker whose services include deep-tissue massage and energy work. “It’s the gateway for people who are scared of it.”
Initially exposed to cannabis topicals while living in Hawaii, Jung enrolled in Oaksterdam’s semester program after returning to the Bay, graduated with honors, and was hired at Harborside San Jose where she discovered the dispensary’s holistics program. “I learned about products and experienced holistics for myself, getting acupuncture and reiki done, and participated in a lot of cannabis,” she said. “I started formulating all my own ideas by learning about topicals and being able to try them out.”
Armed with the knowledge to develop her own practice, Jung left the dispensary two years ago to focus on bodywork full-time. In addition to serving clients with traditional deep-tissue massage at the Body Mechanix gym in Castro Valley, Jung offers private massage sessions using cannabis topicals, primarily Prana Bio Medicinal products — “the cleanest medicine,” she said — to ease inflammation and pain for everyone from grannies to professional athletes. Private clients may also bring their favorite products for use in their massages.
“CBD will help relax the muscle, it’ll help circulation in that area, swelling, it’ll keep inflammation down,” Jung explained. “If you’re in pain, I’ll do the THC first, then add the CBD to counterbalance the sedative effects.” Clients are also invited to consume during their private sessions. “I always say not a sativa or something that is more mind-building,” she said. “Do something body-relaxing that puts you in the space of readiness, openness, willing to let go, willing to receive.”
Ashley Asatu is a yoga teacher whose practice integrates sex and wellness with cannabis. “Cannabis helped me deal with social anxiety, depression, healing from accidents,” Asatu said. “Once I started getting more intentional about using cannabis to help increase sexual pleasure, that was a whole different ballgame.”
Asatu’s services include yoni (vaginal) steaming, a boot camp to guide women through exploring their pelvic floor muscles, and the Yogasm Experience, a yoga workout centered on improving flexibility and stamina during sex. “There’s all kinds of different things that people can explore,” she said. “I like to lead people down that road and provide space for women to openly talk about what their sexual experiences are, what they like, what they use.”
When clients work with Asatu, cannabis is one of the many resources that they are encouraged to try. A yoni steam session can include CBD trimmings among herbs like lavender, peppermint, and rose, helping “women who are having extreme pain issues like endometriosis, women who have a lot of scar tissue, have had any kind of surgery down there,” Asatu explained. “Some women have some nerve damage after having kids, and I find that the CBD really helps.”
Also important to Asatu is that women, particularly women of color, have safe spaces to consume and talk about weed. “Not only does cannabis help me with all of my mental and emotional aspects,” she said, “it helps with those little aches and pains, those invisible illnesses that no one can see, like depression and anxiety.” This view inspired her to cofound HIO, which stands for “Healing Inside Out,” a collective that organizes wellness events. Their recent Coachella Valley cannabis retreat was the first ever organized for and by people of color. “We want to have this event where women of color, people of color, can come together to use cannabis,” Asatu said. “Not only use it but to learn more, because not everyone has a friend who’s a cannabis consultant or owns a dispensary.”
For Ganja Yoga founder Dee Dussault, things have come a long way since she first started holding monthly yoga and cannabis classes in Toronto nearly a decade ago. “There was a lot less information about the health benefits of cannabis,” she explained. “Back then I was operating more from a spiritual platform, saying we have a right to alter our state of consciousness and to use cannabis for mystical experiences.” Since bringing her practice to the Bay Area three years ago, Dussault has grown her Oakland classes from monthly to twice weekly, released her book Ganja Yoga, and certified 30 teachers as Ganja Yoga instructors.
Dussault explains what’s different about her practice. “At all of our classes, the first little bit is socializing and consuming,” she said, “and at our California classes we invite people to bring their own.” The social vibe is another aspect that makes Ganja Yoga unique. “It’s really unlike a conventional yoga class where you put your mat down and maybe say ‘hi’ to your neighbor, but for the most part have your own individual experience,” she said. “At Ganja Yoga we have that time where you’re passing joints, you’re making conversation with people around cannabis or what their favorite products are.”
The classes are geared toward all experience levels, body sizes, and ages because the focus is more on relaxation than fitness. “Cannabis helps to relax bodily tension, and can reduce pain and inflammation,” said Dussault. “If the strain and the dose are suitable for the person, then it can also help reduce mental tension and stress and anxiety.” When participants are relaxed, she said they are “much more able to deeply tap into the relaxation that yoga itself provides.”
But even as the Bay Area’s wellness industry broadens to include cannabis, practitioners must be careful not to push the boundaries of what’s legal. In Ganja Yoga, for example, participants must bring their own weed because the event isn’t licensed to dispense cannabis. Jung can’t advertise or do her cannabis-infused massage at the gym because to do so would require a consumption license. But since residents are allowed to consume privately in their homes, she’s mobile. Asatu also books private appointments, further illustrating that for these wellness practitioners, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
“Cannabis is still not completely legal, we still have this bad stigma on it,” Jung said, emphasizing that education is the key to eradicating outdated, inaccurate information for good. “All I want to do is just put it on your body and help you, make a difference in your life, and I believe that cannabis is one of the safest, most effective ways to do that.”