There were thirty of us, all women, practicing our breathing in very specific ways for two minutes. Some breathed in through their tongues, rolled like straws, and then out through their noses slowly, while others breathed in and out sharply, using their diaphragms. Both systems felt odd, but the final result left me less skeptical than when I’d first walked in the door.
I felt calmer and less anxious, a common goal of breathing practices and meditation, but that is just one part of the puzzle that Becca Williams solved with cannabis, changing her life in the process. Williams, who describes herself as a “ceremonialist soulcraft practitioner and plant medicine integrationist,” has been performing cannabis elevation ceremonies with a combination of high-CBD flower and Eastern meditation practices for over a year, to “enrich and heal” the lives of others, she says.
Some she hosts in her Cherry Creek North home; this event was at the Metlo, where she recently explained her methods and her own journey in front of Ellementa, a group aiming to build a network for women interested in cannabis. Many of the attendees worked in the industry; some had never smoked but were “feeling out” the space, and others had been using cannabis for a long time.
Williams first encountered weed in college. After a traumatic childhood with alcoholic parents and perpetual anger in her home, she was riddled with anxiety. “On a daily basis: anxiety, fear, lots of self-doubt, depression, sadness — and it was roiling,” she said. She felt a sense of relief when she tried her first joint, however, and has been self-medicating with cannabis ever since.
But weed wasn’t the answer for everything. As Williams grew older, her past issues still controlled her life. She had a successful career — working as an anchor for National Public Radio in Chicago and later editing several other publications — but she sees these roles more as pleas for help.
“I used to say if there was such a thing as no self-esteem, I had no self-esteem,” she said. “Because I had no self-esteem, I raced toward the most outward thing,” which was being an anchor and a reporter. Those feelings aren’t rare in women, apparently. When Williams asked who in the room had difficulty with self-esteem every few weeks, everyone raised their hands. Every week? Still everyone. Every day? Nearly everyone. Unrelenting? People thought before they raised their hands for this one, but a number shook their heads.
So how did Williams beat this? Not in the way that a lot of seminars and self-help books often suggest, which is telling women to focus on the positive without addressing “the shadow side,” or the trauma that’s holding you back.
“We cannot push that shit down,” Williams said. Instead, she took a nine-month course that used kundalini, an ancient Indian form of yoga, to teach emotional liberation. While she came out of it feeling “reborn,” the more important thing was that she now had reliable practices to take her back to a centered state.
Williams did one thing differently from the other eleven people who took the course with her, though: During her practices, she consumed small doses of high-CBD cannabis, finding more healing than her classmates, she said. The practices themselves, which deal with a mix of breathing, Eastern yoga and sound or mantras, strengthen the nervous system and reorganize neural pathways. Cannabis amplifies that, according to Williams; there is evidence that cannabis, especially CBD, can help some parts of the nervous system.
Williams described her ceremonies as a secular form of the kundalini tradition, “graced in a ceremony that I have created for our Westerners” in Denver — plus a little bit of pot. For three hours, a maximum of eight people go through the waves together.
In past ceremonies, some participants have gotten up and run out of the house because they were too afraid of their “shadowy” stuff, she said. But she estimates that around a third of her first-timers return to her ceremonies, where she provides high-CBD cannabis flower for anyone who chooses to consume. There’s no requirement to smoke, though, as these ceremonies are done all over the world without it.
You also don’t need monthly, three-hour ceremonies to keep from falling into depression again, Williams noted. Once you learn the techniques, the practice can be strengthened and maintained through just eleven minutes of daily work.