PILSEN — A yoga community has gone virtual to help those stressed out by the pandemic to connect with their higher selves.
Before each Wednesday night yoga class, instructor Jean Edrada leads the group in a short meditation to invite each person to look inward and set an intention for the experience they are about to embark on together.
Then, guided by Edrada’s voice, dozens of people across the city and beyond light up their joints, blunts and bongs in unison over a Zoom video conference line.
Even before recreational weed was legalized in Illinois, Edrada’s Movement and Medicine classes used the natural healing properties of cannabis to elevate the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of yoga.
The underground yoga sessions were originally based at a DIY space in Pilsen, where Edrada’s curated program allowed guests to connect with each other over tea in a community circle, purchase infused edibles from vendors and experience other meditative practices like sound healing from a gong therapist.
The transition to virtual sessions makes it hard to deliver the same experience. But as a silver lining, Edrada said the change allows her canna-business to build an engaged community and connect to people in an entirely new way.
Recent sessions have been joined by people all across the country, with some tuning in from Australia.
“It’s been difficult in a way because a part of the whole thing was being surrounded by people. Sort of creating community,” Edrada said. “But there’s this level of a safety net because it is virtual. It’s within the privacy of their homes, so not having to worry about going to a particular place or being caught. People can be a lot less afraid to consume.”
The virtual yoga series is also a project of the Tree Femme Collective, which aims to shift the attitudes around weed. By tapping into the medicinal power of cannabis and incorporating it into healing practices like yoga and mindfulness, Edrada hopes to dismantle some of the stigma around the plant.
A core mission for Edrada, who is Filipina, is racial equity and diverse ownership in the cannabis industry since many people of color are still incarcerated for cannabis offenses as dispensaries reap millions in the new green economy.
“Communities of color have always been using weed as a medicine,” Edrada said. “Before it became an industry, before it ever became illegalized and then legalized, it has always been a source of healing for people.”
“If I can create a space and an opportunity for people to use cannabis without the stigma and access the health benefits of the plant, then it is my responsibility to do that.”
Since perceptions around weed are beginning to change, Edrada decided it was the right time to open up the formerly underground, invitation-only yoga classes to fill a dire need among people struggling with anxiety, depression and social isolation brought on by the pandemic.
“It’s now more important than ever to take care of our mental health because it really is a wealth of our community. When we’re not in good relationship with ourselves, when we’re feeling inadequate, whatever it may be, it’s reflected in everything else that we’re a part of,” she said.
And in a time when many folks are stuck at home, it’s easy to fall into autopilot and consume food, alcohol, television and marijuana out of sheer boredom. The elevated yoga sessions are an opportunity to be present in the body, to center the mind and to be aware and intentional about the usage of cannabis to serve a higher purpose, she said.
“It doesn’t work if the intention isn’t there. You can have a cake, a delicious chocolate cake. But you mindlessly eat it, and you don’t even enjoy it,” she said. “Pause for a second and bless what it is that you’re about to consume. Because it’s about to be a part of you.”
Movement and Medicine is doing a series of yoga practices designed to achieve spiritual alignment by balancing the chakras. The chakras are a tantric Hindu approach to understanding the relationship between the mind, body and emotions. It focuses on seven energy centers along the spine.
Each chakra corresponds to different emotions and needs: the root chakra for stability, the sacrum for pleasure, the solar plexus for willpower, the heart chakra for love, the throat chakra for truth, the third eye chakra for intuition, and the crown chakra for higher consciousness.
“We use tools like movement, breathwork, ganja and meditation to have a better-oiled system,” Edrada said.
The chakra series will continue 7 p.m. Wednesdays through June 10. Edrada plans to begin another chakra series at some point after then and will continue with virtual sessions, she said.
Attendees must register for class beforehand. A donation of $5 or more is suggested for the classes, but no one is turned away for lack of funds.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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