Ayahuasca has been known to be a powerful medicinal substance for millennia. However, until recently, it was only found in the jungle. Word of its deeply healing and cleansing properties has begun to spread across the world as many modern, Western individuals are seeking spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical well-being. More ayahuasca retreat centers are emerging in the Amazon and worldwide to meet the demand. Thus, if you’re feeling called to do ayahuasca, where do you begin? How do you know which ayahuasca retreat is right for you?
This guide provides thorough, accurate, and thoughtful information gathered from experts so that you can prepare yourself for the experience and find the ayahuasca retreat center that will provide the necessary level of care and safety to reap the most benefit. Remember set and setting determines so much about the experience. The ceremony provides the container in which the healing occurs. Ensuring that the container is properly set-up and secure is crucial. Knowledge is power, and looking out for your safety is a form of self-care.
There are many cultures in the Amazon that have their own systems and traditions surrounding ayahuasca. What is true in one tradition may not be true in another. Even the expression of “shamanism” will vary from culture to culture. As Sitaramaya Sita points out, “The funny thing about shamanism is that there’s not a rulebook. Nothing says, ‘this is how it is.’ It seems you’ll get a different answer depending on when you ask and who you ask. So it can be very elusive.” That being said, many of the experts in this article studied under the Shipibo tradition. –RS
Table of Contents
- Ayahuasca Overview
- What are Ayahuasca Retreats?
- What to Expect from an Ayahuasca Retreat Center
- What is an Ayahuasca Ceremony?
- What to Expect from an Ayahuasca Ceremony
- Reasons for Attending an Ayahuasca Retreat
- Is an Ayahuasca Retreat for You?
- Preparing for an Ayahuasca Retreat
- Picking an Ayahuasca Retreat
- How Much Does an Ayahuasca Retreat Cost?
Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic native to the Amazon. The brew or tea is made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub. It’s traditionally used by shamans for physical healing and in spiritual ceremonies, as well as, by some, for sorcery.
What are Ayahuasca Retreats?
An ayahuasca retreat is a center that facilitates an ayahuasca experience. These retreats provide ayahuasca ceremonies as well as all the necessities for food and lodging.
Retreat centers vary in the range of additional services they offer. Other items provided could include guided nature walks, integration counseling, massage therapy, yoga, and more. These retreats also have different options for the length of stay and the number of ceremonies. Some also have other plant medicine ceremonies.
Modern Ayahuasca Usage
Although most anthropologists will agree that ayahuasca has been used for thousands of years, ayahuasca retreats are a fairly new concept. Before the “Beat Generation” authors began exploring and writing about yagé, it was only used by natives to the Amazon.
The spreading of ayahuasca across the world began with the publication of ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes’ The Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing and Hallucinogenic Properties (Golden Press, 1976). Since then, dozens of influential books have been written on ayahuasca, Amazon plant medicines, and indigenous hallucinogens.
Now spiritual seekers, Westerners, celebrities, and seemingly everyone in between is talking about ayahuasca. According to Evgenia Fotiou, an anthropologist, most of those participating in ayahuasca retreats and ceremonies are seeking to find meaning in their lives beyond materialistic ambitions, and tools with which to heal ailments–physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual–that western medicine is not able to effectively treat.
Among the handful of celebrities that talk openly about their ayahuasca experience is the musician Sting. He describes the onset of the effects, about 45 minutes after taking the brew, akin to feeling “wired to the entire cosmos.” He goes on to say, “I realize, for the first time, this is the only genuine religious experience I have ever had.”
Author Graham Hancock says, “There are all kinds of ways to challenge ourselves. Some people do it by climbing a mountain or scuba diving. The most profound and challenging ordeal is to drink ayahuasca. It is in a way the ultimate adventure.”
Well-known ethnobotanist, mystic, and psychonaut Terence McKenna said of the plant medicine, “Ayahuasca loves to take prideful people and rub their nose in it. It can make you beg for mercy like nothing. You have to really approach it humbly.”
Movie star and self-proclaimed addict, Lindsay Lohan states that her eye-opening experience with ayahuasca “changed my life.”
What to Expect from an Ayahuasca Retreat Center
There are a wide variety of ayahuasca retreat centers offering different types and levels of accommodation and services. Those with higher prices usually provide more comfortable accommodation, a pre-screening, a higher number of helpers and facilitators, translators, additional services, first aid kits, and support, and other safety procedures.
Accommodation and Services
Accommodation in a low price range is usually quite rustic, with fewer or no additional services. Food is often adapted to the ayahuasca safety diet and may vary in detail. Some may allow fruits, chicken, and fish, while others may only allow vegetables and eggs. Some do not require any food restrictions at all. While most of the retreat centers are owned and managed by foreigners, some are now completely run by locals. Ownership and price range don’t necessarily reflect the level of competence of the healers leading ceremonies. Many retreats also include teacher plant diets. (For details see: Plant Dietas section.)
Number of Ceremonies
The number of ceremonies may vary from retreat to retreat. Some retreats may offer ceremonies every night, but it is good to keep in mind that this is physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. With this frequency of ceremonies, you will probably not be able to properly integrate each ceremony.
Most retreats require partial or full payment in advance without or with very limited options for reimbursement in the case that you cancel your visit or if you decide during your stay that the retreat doesn’t suit you. In advance, clearly agree upon the conditions, services, and prices to avoid any later misunderstandings or financial issues. It is always a good idea to consult numerous independent ayahuasca testimonial web pages or ayahuasca forums prior to booking your retreat.
Some ayahuasca retreats offer a medical pre-screening with questionnaires or personal interviews to ensure your participation is safe. Giving sincere and detailed answers–even if it may result in your exclusion–is important in order to protect your own health and the integrity of the global ayahuasca community. There are many healing paths; ayahuasca is just one of them. If the retreat doesn’t do the pre-screening, it’s important to check the potential contraindications yourself. Local healers are normally not trained in modern medicine and pharmacology, and thus they may not have the ability to assess those risks for you.
What is an Ayahuasca Ceremony?
An ayahuasca ceremony is a ritual during which the ayahuasca brew is administered. Ceremonies are held in a hut or a somewhat open structure called the maloka. On the ground of the maloka, there are individual mats or mattresses. Next to each person’s mat are usually items such as water, possibly a towel, and almost always, a bucket for vomiting.
Every shaman will have their individual spiritual rituals for a ceremony. A common ceremony begins with a shaman cleansing the maloka and saying prayers or blessings of protection. The shaman will also usually bless the ayahuasca batch. The shaman, or ayahuasquero, will then drink the tea after first serving all the members of the circle.
People generally describe the tea as tasting bitter and unpleasant, however, it is important to drink what you are served. Additionally, it is important to not vomit immediately as this will cause you to need to drink more.
After the climax of the experience, participants usually report feeling at peace in the moment. The shaman will close the ceremony approximately six to ten hours after administering the brew.
Participants then return to their own accommodations to rest, reflect, and sleep.
What to Expect from an Ayahuasca Ceremony
The effects of ayahuasca usually appear between a half-hour to an hour after ingestion and last for four to six hours. However, the effects may occur sooner or much later and may last a shorter or longer period of time. Each person’s experience on ayahuasca will be different, and each ayahuasca ceremony will be different. Some are beautiful, some are hard. Sometimes you may experience a lot of visions, sometimes none. During some ceremonies, it may seem that nothing is happening. However, during others, you may find yourself completely immersed in your journey. Sometimes you’ll receive teachings and insights, and on other occasions, there’ll be a lot of purging.
After the ayahuasca begins to take effect you may begin to feel the need to purge. Purging can be vomiting, having diarrhea, screaming, or crying. These physical reactions are very common. It is recommended that participants not hold back from this and to even view the purging as part of the healing process. But purging won’t necessarily be a part of every ceremony. The maloka in which the ceremony takes place will be filled with many sounds. Shamans often sing to those in the circle to help guide the energy. They also may beat drums or blow tobacco smoke on a person.
You may experience visual hallucinations. However, not everyone has visions, and participants should not enter a ceremony with these expectations.
Ayahuasca may take you through challenging moments. To overcome them, you can use various techniques such as deep and slow breathing, prayer, or calling in your spiritual guides. Additionally, concentrate on the healing songs, and trust in the healer and in the ayahuasca. It is best to drink in an environment in which you feel safe with healers and guides you can trust. If you do find yourself in a difficult ceremony, you’ll have the reassurance and support to go through it.
Retreats should have enough qualified helpers present during the ceremony. The recommended ratio is at least one helper per ten participants. It is advisable not to leave the ceremonial space because in the case of an emergency the healer or helpers would not be able to help you.
Reasons for Attending an Ayahuasca Retreat
Each person will have their own reasons for drinking ayahuasca. What seems to be a common thread among Westerners is feeling a lack of fulfillment in their lives or the desire to find values outside of modern-day constructs that tend to be materialistically focused.
In her study, “A Study of Ayahuasca Use in North America,” Rachel Harris looks into the reason so many Westerners feel called to travel to South America for plant medicines. She writes,
The original intentions of almost all ayahuasca users can be characterized as either personal or spiritual growth. Three were searching for physical healing from medical diagnoses, and three described themselves as curious. The intentions changed with experience to become more spiritual. One subject described it as ‘…less personal and more transpersonal.’ Two of the three subjects who were initially curious said that they now saw their curiosity as profane and that they have become more focused on inner healing. The most recent intentions included the desire to heal specific psychological patterns or to deal with current crises such as the death of a mother. They also described an awareness of the process of healing—to go deeper, surrender more and open to a greater experience of love.”
Benefits of Ayahuasca
Like so many other psychedelics and plant medicines, the benefits of ayahuasca can range and often vary from person to person. However, there is a growing body of research on the healing and therapeutic properties of ayahuasca. Organizations in the United States such as MAPS have conducted studies on the effects of ayahuasca on substance abuse. More research has been conducted by leading institutions outside the U.S. by leading institutions such as the Beckley Foundation. Ayahuasca has been researched to assist with ailments such as depression, grief, anxiety, and PTSD. Users of ayahuasca often call it “life-changing.”
Some people report Ayahuasca help in:
- Energetic Cleansing
- Release clogged or toxic energy
- Physical Healing
- Illnesses, cancer, parasites
- Emotional Healing
- Depression / Anxiety
- Mental Healing
- Enhanced Connections to Self
- Spiritual Growth
- Enhanced Connections to Nature
- Connection to Plant Spirits
Reality Sandwich asked Dr. Joe Tafur, “How can ayahuasca help people with mental health issues?”
The way that it seems to be beneficial for those problems, in my experience, is by helping people work through trauma. Then it’s beneficial through the spiritual processes that people enter: forgiving and loving themselves and coming back into gratitude and compassion. That’s a powerful kind of experience.”
Is an Ayahuasca Retreat For You?
Studies show that its respectful and controlled use in communitarian settings can be beneficial for public health. However, ayahuasca is not a solution for all difficulties or diseases.
There are not many contraindications for ayahuasca but some can pose a serious risk and are therefore important to consider. It is dangerous to combine ayahuasca with some pharmaceutical drugs, and with the majority of illegal or recreational drugs. (See Ultimate Ayahuasca Guide for details.) Interactions with certain foods aren’t dangerous to healthy people but could be a serious risk for people with cardiovascular problems.
The majority of risks may be avoided by respecting the ayahuasca safety diet and by checking if your health or lifestyle is suited for ayahuasca. If you are on medications, it is important to further investigate in more detail with your medical doctor or therapist.
Ayahuasca should not be taken lightly, and it’s not a shortcut. During the ceremony heavy emotions, experiences, or memories of past trauma may surface. Healings and teachings need to be integrated into everyday life, which is never an easy or quick task. The decision to participate in ceremony needs to be yours, not anyone else’s, and it is advisable to set realistic expectations.
It is not suggested to take ayahuasca if:
In our interview with Dr. Tafur, we asked him who should not seek this particular plant medicine. He recommends not taking ayahuasca:
If you’re extremely fragile or without support. I see a lot of people go to it out of desperation. There are some people that do really well that way, but ayahuasca is not necessarily for that. Of course, you can be hurting, that’s why we use it: to help people. But, you need to be ready to do some work and be able to, at least, psychologically function at that level so you can get something done, move forward, and work on things.
That being said, a high-risk situation is bipolar disorder with a history of mania. People can get pushed into a serious manic episode. Then, people with schizophrenia or a history of psychotic episodes can get pushed into psychosis. There are also cardiovascular issues: people who are at risk of heart attack or stroke. If they go through a very stressful experience during the ceremony, that could be a problem. There are also all kinds of medications that could have contraindications with ayahuasca. People have to be very careful about that.”
Additional Things to Consider for Not Taking Ayahuasca:
- You don’t trust your administrator or shaman/ayahuasquero.
- You are on certain medications such as MAOI Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI’s) and/or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). Always consult your resort facility about any and all medications you are taking before you sit in a ceremony.
- Family history or personal psychological problems. Always consult your resort facility about any history of mental health conditions.
- You are taking it because of some external pressures.
- You are pregnant.
- If you are menstruating (See For Women Section).
- You are not physically well, including but not limited to:
- Heart disorders.
- Unstable diabetes.
- Chronic High Blood Pressure.
When in doubt, speak to your primary care practitioner. Also, consult your ayahuasquero, curandero and facility administrators.
Preparing for an Ayahuasca Retreat
Different lineages take the dieta more seriously than others. Dr. Tafur says, “There are many different ayahuasca traditions throughout the Amazon. Some cultures don’t think the diet is necessary. Most of them, however, give it some kind of importance. I work in a Shipibo tradition. We believe that you can get more benefits from the ceremony through being careful with your diet and your behavior before and after. It gives the ayahuasca more of a chance to sink in.”
There are two types of diets connected with ayahuasca: a safety diet and a teacher plant dieta. A safety diet excludes foods high in tyramine. It could pose some serious risks with certain medical conditions. This type of dieta is recommended 24 hours before and after the ceremony.
Some retreats now offer plant dietas. During the plant dieta you drink tea or extracts prepared from one or more plants called teacher plants. These are plants used for healing different health problems and are usually not psychoactive. With a plant dieta, you additionally support your healing process.
Teachers of plant dietas may have even stricter food prohibitions. In the strictest form, there is only one type of food allowed, usually yucca. It also requires the dieter to spend time with themselves away from other people and to abstain from sexual activity.
The same type of dieta is required for apprentices. In this case, each dieta usually lasts at least four weeks up to several months, depending on the process and specialization of the apprentice. The apprentice does not choose the plant to diet with. Towards the end of a dieta, a teacher or apprentice receives information about which plant he or she should dieta with next.
During these dietas, the apprentice connects with the spirit or the energy of the plants and receives sacred healing songs and other tools from them. This form of dieta also excludes any sexual activity. Isolation from other people is also highly recommended. This type of dieta requires time and it is not an easy process. Therefore, careful consideration is recommended before making such a decision.
Meals in the few days before sitting should be light and healthy. Suggested foods to avoid include but are not limited to:
- Dairy products.
- Refined sugar in junk food.
- Salt from processed and canned foods.
- Spicy foods.
It is also recommended to avoid substances for a few weeks before your ceremony. This includes but is not limited to:
Be sure to tell your facility of any and all herbal remedies as well as medications you use, especially antidepressants and antianxiety medication.
- Arrive at your retreat well-rested.
- Don’t eat six hours before your ceremony.
- Drink plenty of water the day before and the day of your ceremony.
- Engage in regular physical activity in the days before your retreat.
- Set an intention for your ceremony.
- Don’t set expectations for your experience.
Additionally, Dr, Tafur noted to be mindful of your behavior before and after the ceremony:
Take some time for quiet contemplation. Don’t bring a lot of media and external influences into your life. If you just watched this big, heavy movie the night before, it’s common that those images will come up in your experience.”
Picking an Ayahuasca Retreat
There are countless ayahuasca lineages and shamans to work with. A growing number of retreat centers are opening up worldwide. With seemingly innumerable options, how do you decide where to go? What factors should be considered when making your choice?
Rachel Harris says we can ask ourselves:
What ceremony should I attend in terms of my personal safety, first and foremost, and then in terms of the authentic healing possible?”
Below are some concrete things to consider when picking an ayahuasca retreat to help answer these questions.
Recommended Information to Obtain from Your Retreat
As a general place to begin ask ayahuasca retreat centers for detailed information on:
- The ayahuasquero(s) conducting the ceremony:
- How many years have they been drinking ayahuasca?
- How many ceremonies have they led?
- Does the shaman sing?
- Are the songs recorded and/or a playlist?
- The ceremony:
- How many participants?
- How many assistants does the shaman have?
- Does that ratio fit the recommended one assistant per ten participants?
- The accommodations:
- What type of lodging do they provide?
- What are the meals they offer?
- Integration support:
- Do they provide support after the ceremony while at the retreat?
- Do they provide support post-retreat?
Retreat Screening Process
It is important for you to know the facility where you will be going and for them to know you. Be sure your facility asks you questions about:
- Physical health
- Psychological health
On considering which practitioner and/or retreat to choose, Dr. Tafur commented:
First, you want an ethical and available practitioner. You want somebody that’s going to demonstrate their commitment to safety because that person is going to be screening the people who are coming to their ceremony. If they don’t even bother to meet you or greet you beforehand in some way, then that’s dangerous because they’re not even worried about what could go wrong. They have to demonstrate a concern for your mental health and cardiac history, and what medications/supplements that you’re taking.”
Awareness of Abuse
As the rise in ayahuasca’s popularity has caused an increase in retreats opening, issues of safety also increase. There seems to be a common thread for religious and/or spiritual authorities to abuse their power, which includes sexual misconduct. Shamans, neo-shamans, and ayahuasqueros are no exception to this occurrence.
In her essay, “The Bioethics of Psychedelic Guides: Issues of Safety and Abuses of Power in Ceremonies with Psychoactive Substances,” Eleonora Molnar brings to light some of these violations. She writes:
Westerners who use ayahuasca, iboga, peyote, and psilocybin in search of authentic and ritualistic experiences open themselves up to abuses of power by shamans and neo-shamans. Such potential predators can take sexual, physical, and psychological advantage of participants with female participants particularly vulnerable to this kind of maltreatment. While not all self-described ceremonial guides are abusive in their behavior toward ceremony participants, safety matters and precautions are important and relevant to all who participate in such explorations. Some of these ceremonies are of questionable legitimacy, authenticity, and participant safety.”
Doing research on your ayahuasca retreat center, their shaman, and their faculty is important. While attending a retreat, people are in a vulnerable state. You will want to find a retreat where you feel safe for the entirety of your experience. Reading reviews and getting personal recommendations are some ways of protecting yourself.
Western Culture Perspectives to Consider
If you are thinking about a retreat in the jungle, you also need to consider other factors. The climate in the jungle is hot and humid with frequent rainfall. The journey to the retreat center may include walking muddy trails or taking a boat with the company of mosquitoes and other stinging insects. So these places tend to be remote and access to medical care is not easy or fast. If you have any serious health conditions, you should carefully assess the accessibility of the ayahuasca retreat, their medical support and safety procedures. There are also retreats closer to healthcare facilities, but they are not located in the jungle.
Sitaramaya Sita suggests the question is:
What is your risk tolerance?”
Maybe trekking in the jungle is part of the adventure you are looking for. Or maybe you can’t wrap your head around the possibility of no electricity.
If the jungle isn’t for you, a whole different set of risk factors come into consideration. With the exception of sitting with the Santo Diame, if you are taking ayahuasca in the United States, you are doing something illegal.
Additionally, accessibility can come down to language barriers. Do you speak the same language as your shaman? Will there be a translator?
Sitaramaya Sita continues:
This is all dependent on self-responsibility and education. I think that those of us who have been around for a while say, ‘Educate yourself. What is it that you’re looking for? Why do you want to go?’ Then based on that – do your homework. Who and where most likely fits what you’re looking for? And then, do that homework, do the research. If you don’t get information or referrals, but you have a gut feeling and you want to go with it — do that but have that self-responsibility.”
Women should be mindful of their menstruation cycle when booking an ayahuasca retreat. This is another situation that each lineage and shaman may approach differently. Practices around women sitting while they are menstruating range from “absolutely not” to “sure, no problem” and everything in between. Find out your retreat’s policy and if possible, try to time the retreat so that you’re not expecting your cycle. Be sure to come back to Reality Sandwich, as we are in the process of researching and writing all about the issues specific to women and this plant medicine.
Knowing Your Shaman
More and more experts are emphasizing the importance of getting to know your shaman. This way, you engage in your own healing process. That includes looking out for your safety. There are reports of shamans adding different plants to their mixture. Some of these plants are additional medicinal plants that the shaman feels called to add. Whereas other times they add plants that are less safe to combine with an ayahuasca journey. However, these plants enhance the visuals that Westerners have expressed a high desire to experience. Thus the shamans are catering to Western desires but not their safety.
JS: “I heard recently of friends going to an “ayahuasca ceremony” in Malibu and ingesting several different psychedelics including a mixture of psilocybin with the ayahuasca root.”
DM: “That’s a problem with a lot of these retreat centers, both abroad and here–there’s no regulation. I’m not saying there should be, necessarily. But people get some very peculiar combinations. I heard of one center in South America that combines ayahuasca and ibogaine. I think that is a bad idea on a number of levels pharmacologically.”
Dennis McKenna’s brother, Terrence McKenna, said this about different shamans’ brews:
Ayahuasca… is only as good as the person who made it. The ayahuasca is a combinatory drug, and so it brings the human interaction and the lore of it into a much more central position.”
What all this boils down to is: get to know your center and your shaman. Approach the situation as if you were picking a medical specialist. This could include: choosing a retreat that someone has personally recommended to you, reading the reviews on your shaman and the retreat center, and reaching out to them and asking questions.
Get to know who you’re about to let guide you through a psychedelic experience.
Preparing for the Challenges of an Ayahuasca Retreat
An ayahuasca journey may pose some challenges. Attending an ayahuasca ceremony is not an all-around easy experience. Chances are you will have to travel, often to remote locations. Unless you speak Spanish or Portuguese or possibly another language, it is highly likely you will not be able to speak to your ayahuasquero without a translator. And these challenges present themselves before you even drink the brew.
Many indigenous people who work with ayahuasca do not call it “ayahuasca” or even “medicine.” In many locations, ayahuasca is known as purga (purge in English). It is highly likely you will experience vomiting and/or diarrhea. The physical challenges also may not be the only ones you will face.
Many people who attend ayahuasca ceremonies also face psychological challenges during their ceremonies. Similar to the body purging “the sickness” out, your mind could potentially do the same purging of traumatic, emotional sickness.
These challenges are why many of those who have experienced ayahuasca recommend that you prepare for your ceremony. These preparations must include setting intentions and adhering to the recommended diet. Preparing can also mean creating a supportive community and finding an integration circle before/after you go. This will ensure you will have space to smoothly integrate the experience into your life.
How Much Does an Ayahuasca Retreat Cost?
Prices will depend on the center, accommodations, meals, extra services, length of stay, and the number of ceremonies.
A fairly basic center with shared dorm rooms and only basic services costs about $1,000 for three ceremonies in six days.
A more upscale center with private accommodations and resort-style meals will cost approximately $3,000 for seven ayahuasca ceremonies and a fourteen-day stay. Additionally, extra services can incur more costs and are typically equivalent to spa prices.
Here are some examples of the average price points:
Six-day Retreat Price. Includes one Ayahuasca ceremony, one San Pedro ceremony and one Sweat Lodge (without medicine):
- $995 per person – Private Room
Six-Day Retreat Price. Includes two Ayahuasca ceremonies & one San Pedro ceremony:
- $850 per person – Dormitory
- $1050 per person – Shared Room
- $1250 per person – Private Room
Six-Day Retreat Price. Includes three Ayahuasca Ceremonies, one Kambo (Sapo) Therapy, six Yoga Sessions.
- Six days stay at the villa
- Three ayahuasca ceremonies with a Peruvian shaman
- 1 Kambo Ceremony
- Rapé sessions
- Daily Yoga
- Sananga ceremony
- Personal consultations
- Educational Program (three lectures/discussions about shamanism with the shaman)
Once you have braved the brew, what’s next? Chances are you will be returning home to your everyday life after your ayahuasca retreat.
What to Expect After an Ayahuasca Ceremony
Ayahuasca reflects our interior world, our connection to other people, and to the world around us. We may experience a change in our perception of ourselves and of our reality and a connection with spiritual realms. On a personal level, ayahuasca may bring into focus our inner beauty, but also our inner conflicts, doubts, and fears. This may, among other things, include the emergence of memories and images from the past and other mental contents that will carry a stronger emotional charge than usual. Sometimes the messages we receive are clear and easy to remember or to integrate. However, sometimes understanding and integrating the experience requires more time and effort. In such cases, the support of a therapist or a trained person may be helpful.
It is good to start the integration process by creating art (painting, music, poems, etc.) or writing down what emerged during the ceremony. The task of finding words to describe the experience may support the integration of its contents. Every ayahuasca experience fades and such activities may help you understand it from different perspectives over time. The individual or group sharing that happens after the ceremony may also be a useful way to start the integration. In the case that your retreat adheres to a teacher plant diet, it is good to come off the diet gradually by slowly adding sugar, salt, meat, and dairy products back into your diet.
Sometimes you may return to your everyday life with new perspectives about yourself and your relationships, and sometimes you may consider major life changes. Or perhaps a ceremony may initiate a deeper inner process that you are not able to understand or know how to integrate. In those cases, it is a good idea to find the support of a trained person or therapist.
What is Integration?
Psychedelic integration is an integral part of processing an ayahuasca ceremony. Integration functions almost like a bridge between the ceremony and the person’s daily life. It helps the person ground the experience and begin to apply what they learned to their life. The important thing to remember is that integration is a process. Some ceremonies will require more time than others to process. There are a variety of ways to integrate, and you may find that you need different means of support depending on how you’re feeling.
Dr. Joe Tafur says:
There’s all kinds of integration that people do. First, take some time for yourself: journal, contemplate, take a break from a lot of interaction. Allow the experience to integrate within you. Then, a lot of people find it beneficial to have somebody to talk to about their experience.
That can be a family member, a healthy social network, or integration circles that are popping up in different communities. They all share, connect, help and guide each other. Then, there are people who need a more advanced level of care. That could be a practitioner or some kind of mental health professional. All those things should be considered.”
Sharing the Experience
Someone can and will integrate on their own. In a group setting, the process usually involves the individuals sharing their experience during the ceremony and what they are taking away. Many participants find their ceremony experiences to be profound. However, they struggle to integrate the realizations once they’re back to their regular day-to-day lives. This is especially true for those who do not have anyone to talk to about their process. Carving out time for yourself is important but having a support network or someone you can talk to will be a valuable asset as one is processing. Integration is an integral part of the healing process.
Circles, events, or groups for integration may be an important part of your ayahuasca experience. Especially for those seeking yagé as a medicine for mental illness, integrating the psychedelic journey can be where the healing actually occurs. Often the emotions and realizations had during the ceremony can feel overwhelming and confusing after returning back home. It can be challenging to go back to day-to-day patterns of behavior after such a perspective-altering event.
Integration circles provide an open and safe environment for people to freely talk about their journey in a non-judgemental space.
Many find that exchanging personal experiences with others in a “group therapy” setting useful in integrating the ayahuasca ceremony and continuing on the healing path that ayahuasca opened for them.
Some people sit for an ayahuasca ceremony one time–others, thousands.
Determining if you will sit ceremony again should be decided the same way you chose to sit the first time. Do not let your retreat center or shaman dictate when you need to come back. If your first experience was too challenging and others want you to “give it another chance,” do not let them pressure you to sit again. Seeking the counsel and advice of your shaman or other participants is a great way to start thinking about the experience again.
For many people, ayahuasca is a journey that they continue to take, while others never sit again after their first experience. For those seeking ayahuasca for help in healing emotional trauma, you may find the plant medicine becomes part of your healing process.
Rachel Harris says,
I would venture to say that many people are using ayahuasca as part of an unfolding healing process that has an ongoing quality to it much the same as the therapeutic process.”
In the end, you decide what is best for you. In fact, many people who have experienced this plant medicine will say that the ayahuasca will tell you when to drink again. You just have to listen.
Throughout this article, we have incorporated educational and academic information obtained from experts in the ayahuasca field. At Reality Sandwich, we extend our deepest gratitude to these industry leaders for their collaboration on this guide.
Erika Oblak – Written Contribution
Economist, environmentalist, and author of The Time is Now: The Teachings of Ayahuasca, Oblak has completed a few dozen teacher plant dietas, participated in several hundred ayahuasca ceremonies, and led a number of them on her own. In her mind, the magic of visionary plants like ayahuasca resides in their teachings of deep ecological and healing knowledge.
Rachel Harris – Interview
Psychologist, award-winning academic researcher and author of Listening to Ayahuasca: New Hope for Depression, Addiction, PTSD and Anxiety, Harris is a retired psychologist with both a research and clinical background. Driven by her own experiences, Harris began investigating the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca. She conducted a three-year research project with Lee Gurel, Ph.D. that resulted in A Study of Ayahuasca Use in North America, published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs (Summer, 2012).
Sitaramaya Sita – Interview
Sita is a PlantWisdom Practitioner trained in the Shipibo tradition. She conducts innovative healing journeys around the world and is the organizer and founder of the Convergence conferences. Sita has appeared as a guest speaker at various Los Angeles and Worldwide events including the Ayahuasca Monologues and the Aya Awakenings film premiere. She has also presented and collaborated at the World Ayahuasca Conferences in Rio Branco, Brazil, Ibiza, Spain and Girona, and Spain. She appears in the forthcoming film, The Song That Calls You Home.
Dr. Joe Tafur, M.D. – Interview
Author of The Fellowship of the River and an integrative medicine activist, Dr. Tafur learned how ayahuasca shamanism could be used to heal the emotional body. Dr. Tafur has spent years studying with shamans learning how ayahuasca can help heal the emotional body. He is an activist dedicated to education and bringing awareness to the issues that modern medicine lacks the connection between spiritual and emotional health – which is where many mental illnesses occur.