To follow up on the blog post I wrote about what led me too seek an Ayahuasca experience, I wanted to share a bit here about what actually takes place in an Ayuhuasca ceremony…
I didn’t really know what to expect going in, but I will say now that I have experienced Ayahuasca, the location, the Shaman and the group of people you do the ceremonies with all play a tremendous role in the outcome.
I can honestly say there is nothing in my life that has made more of an impact on either me or my husband than participating in these ceremonies. They were life changing in ways I don’t think I can put into words without sounding crazy. I will still attempt to try though.
If you are going to experience Ayahuasca, I cannot stress enough the importance of being in a safe and secure environment. I had researched this a lot before I made up my mind to do it and ultimately settled on going to Rythmia Life Advancement Center in the beautiful rural setting of Costa Rica. Rythmia is actually a medically supervised facility, where people come from all over the world to seek healing, both physically and psychologically from “the plant medicine” (“La Medicina” is what the natives who use Ayuhuasca in the Amazon refer to it as, by the way).
The fact that I knew I was in a safe environment at Rythmia put my mind at ease, and although I didn’t know how important that was until after I did it, I now realize going into an Ayuhuasca ceremony with a sense of peace and trust is absolutely essential to a positive outcome. You really need to be able to let your guard down completely in order to receive the most healing and therapeutic benefit from an Ayuhuasca ceremony. If you don’t feel safe with the Shaman, the location or the people you are doing it with then you simply won’t be able to open yourself up enough to get the full benefit.
It is important to know there are places where Ayuhuasca ceremonies take place that are not safe and there are definitely shady Shamans who exist. You really do need to be careful. If you are considering trying Ayuhuasca then you definitely need to do your homework on where to go.
(Note: We cannot imagine how it would be possible to top Rythmia, especially for your first Ayahuasca experience.)
What Happens in an Ayahuasca Ceremony?
Although each Ayahuasca experience was totally different than the one before and although every night we worked with a different Shaman, each ceremony had more or less the same general format.
At exactly 8 pm each evening, anywhere between 15 to 20 people gathered in a circle on individual mats with a pillow, blanket, eye mask and bucket (more on the bucket in a bit) in what I nicknamed “the hut”. The Shaman sat in the front of the room and everyone sat still on their mats until the energy was right for the ceremony to begin.
As a side note, I did not understand the concept of “energy” whatsoever before trying Ayahuasca but it all makes perfect sense now. Ayahuasca enables you to actually see and feel an energy that exists between all living things. As an example, while walking to the bathroom during the ceremony I was able to pick up on what I will just call “vibrations” of some of the people in the room with us and sense things about them even if they were lying on the mat with their eyes closed. These were people I had never met in my entire life. The next morning I was able to confirm what I knew was real when we all sat down to rehash our experiences. Some people grasp the concept of “energy” without having to take Ayahuasca, I just happened to not be one of them. But I will never again question the idea that a certain vibration among all living things exists. This “energy” clearly must be what animals are able to pick up on. Once you see it you simply cannot unsee. But yes, it is pretty far out.
Speaking of animals, there was a dog in the ceremony each evening and he could always sense who was most nervous (it was always the people who had never done it before!) and he would walk over and sit with them. The first night we did the ceremony I was definitely feeling tense and the dog came and sat with me for about a half an hour, which I found to be incredibly helpful at calming me down.
Anyway, along with the Shaman there was always a helper each night. The helper blew Tabacco, which has been considered sacred since before recorded time, around the room for protection and to create a safe ceremonial space. The tabacco was also supposed to clear the “energy” in the room. I’ll be honest, at first I found the use of the tabacco a little unsettling, but after the first ceremony I decided it had a good purpose after all.
Once the “energy” or vibe in the room was right the Shaman would invite everyone up individually to drink the special brew, which was basically a thick nasty-tasting tea. I am used to drinking a lot of earthy tasting concoctions such as kava and spirulina, but without a doubt Ayahuasca is the most unpleasant tasting substance I have ever had in my life. Luckily you didn’t have to drink a lot of it.
After we had the nasty brew, everybody laid down on their mats and basically took a nap or sat up and meditated for about an hour while we waited for the Ayahuasca to kick in. I have to admit, the whole setting and ceremony was so completely out of the ordinary for me and the first night I laid in silence on my mat wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into. Thankfully the dog was there with me and she really did put my mind at ease.
But each night, as if by magic, just as I began to get a warm feeling washing over my body, the most incredible Ayahuasca music (called Icaros) would begin to play. The music played a tremendous role in the entire ceremony because each song had the ability to transport you to a different world (or “dream.”) The music was so powerful that my husband and I have been wondering if meditation sessions that do not involve Ayahuasca could potentially be greatly enhanced with the use of the Icaros music. We plan to look into this in the next few weeks.
Anyway, just as the Icaros began to play you would begin to enter what I only best can describe as a conscious dream-like state. It was almost as if you were hypnotizing yourself while also slipping into a deep, deep meditative dream world.
Just like with any dream, each night was completely and radically different than the last. But, unlike with a typical dream, you were vividly aware of the “Ayahuasca dreams.” Sometimes your eyes would be open and sometimes closed, but you were always in the dream-like state as long as the Ayahuasca was still working. You also had the sense you could control the dreams to some extent.
This Photo Shows the General Room Set-Up and What Things Look Like the Morning After an All-Night Ayahuasca Ceremony:
Ask and You Shall Receive
Everyone in the group was encouraged to start each Ayuhuasca ceremony with an intention. Why were you doing this?
Miraculously, by the end of the ceremony, almost everyone got their answer.
Although the answer would come in the most unexpected way you can possibly imagine, if you set your intention sincerely, by the end of the evening you often had the answer.
If You Don’t Fully Know Yourself, Ayahuasca Will Show You
Unlike with drugs or alcohol, both of which help one to escape their mind and detach from themselves, Ayahuasca will take you deep, deep into your psyche. I can tell you there is nothing in this world that is more intense than going deep into your own soul, mind and spirit. Unless you have done it, you can’t even begin to fathom the concept, so I won’t even waste time trying to explain.
Also, I realized the brain does not forget a thing. Memories that you didn’t even know existed do not die, they can all be relived, which can be both incredibly painful and incredibly healing all at once. It is almost as if you are unpacking the suitcase of your life.
I was even able to pick up on vibrations from my parents’ lives from before I was born. I won’t go into tremendous detail about that, but I will just say that I was able to confirm what I felt intensely during one Ayahuasca ceremony by talking to my parents when I got home and asking them about parts of their life they had never told me much about. This experience enabled me to gain a tremendous insight and understanding about my parents that I never had before.
With the help of Ayahuasca, I also found myself able to travel far back in time. For example, I was able to both feel and see just what I was like as a 4-year old child. I was able to relive parts of my childhood as if they were really happening. Most importantly, I could see that I am still that same little girl inside but that in so many ways I have strayed far away from the “real” me. As I have grown up, I stopped doing things that really make ME happy. For example, as an adult I stopped valuing the importance of having fun. I can see now that as I have gotten older I have made a gradual but definite shift away from the fun “little me” to the serious “big me” who actually feels guilty about having fun. The “big me” had decided that having fun would deter me from accomplishing a big checklist of things that society has led me to believe are important for happiness. And yet ironically, the more I accomplished in my life the less happy I was becoming.
Since we have returned home from Rythmia, I have looked into the whole concept of “fun” and it is no surprise that research shows that regularly having a fun is a key factor in having a happy life. And yet the “big me” no longer does things just for “fun”. Even if I throw a party I throw it for other people because I know they are having fun whereas I always feel guilty for the time it takes away from doing other “important” things. But the Ayahuasca helped me reconnect with the “little me” and see all the things I used to do just for fun—gymnastics and dancing are just two examples of things I used to love to do for no other reason than just to have fun. Of course at 40 years old I can no longer do backflips but I can certainly start dancing again. Although I do exercise regularly, dancing is not a regular part of my workout regimen because I tend to workout in a way that is designed for maximum efficiency (if you have my workout video you know what I mean!) And yet, I have grown to really dislike exercising over the years but I now have a new fitness outlet that I am going to explore, which has made me a lot more excited about the idea of working out than I have been in a long time.
The “little me” verse “big me” example is just one of the so so many eye-opening experiences I had during just one Ayahuasca ceremony. Each night was something totally different.
Again, it is so difficult to try to explain any one single Ayahuasca experience to someone who has never had one. I don’t want to provide so much detail that I make you think I have lost my mind (which I assure you I have not!) but I want to give enough detail to let you know it really did have a huge impact on me.
Twenty Years of Therapy in Five Hours
On one of the Ayahuasca ceremony evenings I had set my intention to rid myself of the anxiety and panic attacks I have lived with practically my whole life. As a kid, I had always thought I would “outgrow” them once I was an adult, but when I had a full-blown anxiety attack on CNN after our first book was published I realized they weren’t going away. I never made time for therapy, so in order to keep myself from having an anxiety attack my husband would have to prescribe a beta-blocker anytime I had to do live TV or get in front of a big audience. Even though I have never had these issues in small groups, over the years I have shunned away from big events because I couldn’t trust myself to make it through. I’ll never forget the feeling of complete panic as I stood behind the stage to give a speech to 5,000 people at a Juice Plus+ convention in Memphis while waiting for the beta-blocker to kick in. If the medicine had not kicked in I honestly don’t think I could have made it onto the stage that day. The CNN attack I had I actually contemplated ducking my head and leaving my husband to sit there by himself. I would have totally ducked too except we were Live and on air before I had the chance to do it! It sounds funny to tell the story but if you have ever had an anxiety attack you know all too well there is nothing funny about them. And yet during the Ayahuasca ceremony I got the feeling that I was able to go in and “rewire” my brain myself and to tell myself that the anxiety and panic attacks are over and done with once and for all. Today as I write this I truly do not think I would be able to have an anxiety attack again. This is not just my experience either. There is real research and testimonials from others who claim they have been able to “reset” their brains with the help of Ayahuasca.
So, in addition to the numerous physical healing benefits of Ayahuasca (I also talk more about the healing benefits of “La Medicina” HERE) I would say an intense Ayahuasca ceremony can be like having twenty years of psychotherapy in five hours. Most importantly, you are able to shut out the external world and come to the realization that YOU have the answer to solve so many of your own problems. But that realization does not always come easy.
As an example, on my 5th and final Ayahuasca ceremony, which was intended to be the most healing ceremony of them all, it would be an understatement to say that I had one of the most intense nights of my entire life. That final ceremony lasted almost 12 very long hours but as the sun came up, I realized I had more clarity about my life and myself as a person as well as a depth of understanding of the people I care most about than I possibly could have ever imagined. Everything I questioned about the meaning of life and the purpose of some of the most painful parts of my own life, including the suicide of dear friend of mine, became crystal clear. For the first time ever I felt a sense of peace and resolution that I have never felt. Ever.
I also came to the realization that there are no coincidences in life. That thought occurred to me while I was going through something that connected me to my dad in a way that I had never felt connected to him before. But as I sat there questioning whether my thoughts about there not being coincidences were a bit too far out, the Shaman did something on my head that only my dad has ever done to me (and I assure you my dad has never worked with a Shaman!) All growing up my dad made this funny noise and blew on my head in a joking manner to tease me and nobody else has ever done that to me ever. It’s hard to explain what it was that dad did without showing you but nobody else does that. I have NO idea how the Shaman knew to do that gesture right then and there but it was the “sign” I needed to believe that there are no coincidences.
All I can say again is that once you see, you can’t unsee. And once you see you can no longer look at life exactly the same as you did before. And trust me, that is not a bad thing! The world has opened up in the most beautiful way that I would have never have been able to imagine just a week ago.
It is not necessary to know exactly what I experienced on each of my Ayahuasca ceremony nights because everyone has their own journey. And besides, even if I try to explain them I would never be able to do so without sounding like I may have flown over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But what happened and what I saw and how I saw my life unfold with such incredible meaning, clarity and purpose was nothing more than a miracle.
This is a Photo of Me the Morning After My Fifth and Most Intense Ayahuasca Ceremony…and Yes, I Have Looked Better! 😉
But do you have to get sick in order to reap the benefits of Ayahuasca?
Is Throwing Up an Inevitable Part of an Ayuhuasca Ceremony?
If you read about Ayahuasca ceremonies you will quickly come across a number of stories that sound far out, wild and some even downright scary.
One of the things I was completely paranoid about was the fact that so many people claimed they purged (vomited) at some point in the ceremony. The purging supposedly detoxifies your body and is actually considered “getting well” in the world of Ayahuasca users. Although I knew the purging could potentially play an important role in the healing benefits of Ayahuasca, the idea of vomiting did not sit well with me. The fact you get a “barf bucket” at the start of the ceremony did nothing to ease my mind either.
However, my husband attended six Ayahuasca ceremonies and I attended five (my fifth was so intense—in an incredibly healing good way–that I physically and mentally was not up for the sixth and final one), and neither of us threw up once.
We did adhere rather strictly to the “Ayahuasca Diet” guidelines though both the week leading up to the ceremonies and for the entire time we were at the Rythmia retreat. I’m not totally certain that the diet is the reason we didn’t get sick, but it was a very healthy clean diet to follow (just a bit more strict than the anti-inflammatory and clean eating diet I normally follow) so we figured there was no downside to giving it a try. Although I don’t know for certain, I just have a feeling adhering to the “Ayahuasca diet” plays an important role in whether you get sick or not.
Although there is so much more I could say, I don’t want to turn this blog post into a book. However, because this Ayahuasca experience has absolutely made a tremendous impact on my life I will definitely be writing more about it in the future.
But for now, I will just say that each session was incredibly powerful, beautiful, healing and insightful all at the same time. Even though my husband’s experiences were completely different than mine, we both felt as though our brains were working more and able to generate more thoughts faster and at greater intensity than we ever could remember in our entire lives.
Although we both went into it physically healthy, we both know that there is no doubt the Ayahuasca stimulated neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells). We had thoughts, downloads of information and new ideas come to us that we could never in a million years have had in our normal state of consciousness.
We also both came to the conclusion that at the end of your life it will be the people and the relationships you have that will mean the most. We also both concluded that we are all connected on some level and that deep down we all want the same thing: love.