WORCESTER — At the onset of the pandemic, Clark University student and certified yoga instructor, Melanie Adams couldn’t make herself practice on her mat. With so much going on in her life — from being forced to go back home to leaving her friends behind and even trying to circumnavigate a virtual world — yoga wasn’t taking priority for Adams.
Her solution? Ganja yoga.
In October of 2020, Adams earned her certification in ganja yoga, making her one of only of two yoga teachers in Massachusetts trained to teach cannabis-enhanced yoga.
“This is a great activity because cannabis and yoga pair so well with some improved flexibility, and for some people their balance can improve,” Adams said. “People really get into the flow of it more. It takes away the obstacle or the boundary of the mind.”
Adams, who works at Worcester’s Mayflower Medicinals at 645 Park Ave., ensures that the cannabis she shares with her classes is safe and high quality.
“I just want to make sure everyone’s having a good time,” Adams said. “It’s very important to know how to safely guide people through this practice. I was able to apply everything I already knew from being a yoga teacher and from teaching for almost three years at this point.”
People, who must be over 21, join her for the invite-only, two-hour class on her porch where they pass around a pre-roll or bong at the start. Adams also offers edibles that are generally 70 to 80 mg, such as Lucky Charm marshmallow treats or blondies, that she makes herself in the shape of a heart. Students pay for the yoga portion of the event and not for the cannabis, ensuring that Adams and everyone present are heeding the law.
The group sits around and smokes for around a half hour, listening to a collaborative playlist, before they move to Adams’ fenced-in backyard and lay their mats out in rows to begin their hour-long practice with a 15-minute meditation to end it all.
Adams, who is a senior at Clark studying psychology, mentioned a Sanskrit phrase, “this is what occurs when the mind ceases turning,” that becomes center in a ganja yoga practice.
“I want to help people to unlock that state of almost enlightenment, where they’re not as focused on all their obligations and worries that they usually carry,” Adams said. “This is a space where they can escape all of that, even if it’s just for a little while.”
For Adams, she said the hardest part of ganja yoga is remembering what she did on one side of the body in order to repeat it again on the other.
“I find that I’m much more creative, though,” Adams said. “I don’t have to put in all the effort because it channels through me. After teaching yoga for four years, the poses are stored within my body.”
Though, Adams admits ganja yoga isn’t for everyone.
“I don’t think it’s a general oversweeping thing. Cannabis yoga is not for everyone,” Adams said. “I will say that I often get a few people each visit that do not consume cannabis at all.”
Beyond her ganja yoga, Adams teaches four to five vinyasa yoga classes a week at Clark, Holy Cross, and sometimes Anna Maria College.
Adams started practicing yoga at 15 years old. She called it part of her personality and a weekly tradition. She did it for a gym credit, but yoga quickly became an integral part of her life.
She went on to receive her 200-hour yoga teacher training in 2018, right after high school. Adams specialized in vinyasa yoga. In 2020, she earned her training in trauma conscious yoga, a practice that has definitely made an impact on how Adams teaches her own classes to this day. This sense of yoga has allowed her to learn how to be more adaptable and look into other areas, such as how the practice can help people through transitions and other hard times in their lives.
Now, each Wednesday and Thursday, Adams prepares to lead a yoga class at the College of the Holy, as she drives to the College Street location in her car that sports a yoga-moniker on the license plate and sets up with her yoga mat with a tie-dye design.
“In these times when the external world makes it hard for us to slow down and breathe, remember that, when surrendering, the outcome is not a sign of weakness,” Adams said to her students at the start of a class. “It is a sign of trust, that there is more than one way to get to our destination. We can be calm and enjoy. We don’t need to endlessly toil.”
Adams teaches in an empowerment-focused style, ensuring that she is mindful to her audience and that anyone is able to practice alongside her.
“My teaching style is that everything is optional because you’re the only one that knows your body,” Adams said. “I think that sometimes yoga turns into ‘Simon Says’ and people think they have to do what the instructor says or the people next to them are doing.”
Instead, Adams uses words like “if you’re able,” “if it feels comfortable,” “you can,” and “if you want.” She gives a variety of choices for her students in each pose. Adams, who said that her “eccentric personality” leads to unique yoga experiences, also encourages her students throughout the practice, cheering them on when they try something new and telling them that they got it in tough poses.
“It’s disempowering to have someone tell you what to do,” Adams said. “Your yoga practice belongs to you.”
Looking to the future, Adams wants to start outdoor teaching again. She wants to one day use her yoga and psychology backgrounds together to become a yoga therapist. She would use yoga in a more individual and personalized style.
“I really think that every single person in the world should be practicing yoga in some way,” Adams said. “I don’t think there’s any kind of exercise that can substitute this kind of stretching.”