If you’ve landed here, you’re probably already thinking ahead about how to make the most of an upcoming Ayahuasca retreat. Whether you’ve decided to take Ayahuasca as part of your spiritual journey or want to address a specific issue in your life, experience tells us that the people who gain the most from their ceremonies are those who take time to prepare beforehand and integrate what they’ve been shown afterward.
Whilst you can (and should) prepare your mind and body, it’s worth starting by saying that there are no guarantees for what you as an individual will experience with this mystical plant. You may have already had an experience that didn’t completely satisfy you, or worse, turned out to be challenging.
In this post, we’ve condensed our decades of working with Ayahuasca and thousands of participants into practical tips you can use to make the most of your experience. Giving you the best preparation for a safe and deep experience with ayahuasca.
1/ Find a facilitator you really trust
Feeling safe is the most important criteria for taking Ayahuasca. If you are in a space where you do not feel safe, these feelings will be amplified during a ceremony and can lead to paranoia – which can lead to an even darker experience.
Since Ayahuasca is an amplifier, all our feelings and emotions will be stronger during a ceremony. Knowing that someone you trust and respect is there to guide you through will allow you to let go and enter deep into the experience without fear.
What should I look for in a good ayahuasca facilitator?
Trust is built by the way a facilitator connects with each participant. A trained facilitator has strong guidelines and boundaries during a ceremony that are there to keep participants safe. That’s because an ayahuasca ceremony is a powerful experience that can go awry when people are left on their own and without boundaries. The reason there is bad press around ayahuasca is not because of ayahuasca itself, it is because of careless untrained facilitators holding ceremonies in an irresponsible manner.
A good facilitator will always take care to check your medical history. Not all medications are compatible with ayahuasca, so if a facilitator doesn’t check your history, that’s a red flag. Equally, your diet plays a big role in how Ayahuasca will affect you during your ceremonies. Any good facilitator will help you prepare for your experience, including talking you through a proper Ayahuasca diet.
This can be a life-changing experience, for better or for worse depending on how it is handled by the facilitator. Do your research and listen to your feelings, if you do not feel safe, do not feel obligated to participate.
2/ Ayahuasca is not for everyone: Don’t force the experience
It’s becoming increasingly trendy to try a weekend away at an ayahuasca retreat, sometimes for all the wrong reasons. In order to gain valuable insights about yourself that you can apply to everyday life, you should dedicate enough time to it.
It might not feel convenient, and perhaps ayahuasca simply isn’t the right option for you (after all it’s not like going to a yoga retreat for a rest). But, if you want meaningful learnings from your experience, you need to be fully committed.
When you take the time to disconnect from your routines and travel to a completely different environment, you’re giving yourself time and space to process the deeper aspects that cannot be confronted in a weekend.
But what if I don’t have time to travel for 2 weeks?
You are not alone! Most people who travel to do an ayahuasca retreat in South America don’t have time — they make time. Life will always be pulling you in 1000 directions, using your will to prioritize yourself is something each of us has to learn.
Having an Ayahuasca experience without the proper preparation before and the time for reintegration after can lead not only to a sub-optimal experience; you may also have a dangerous reaction if you have not done the diet and ingest something incompatible.
3/ Where you have your ceremony matters
Contrary to the sensational videos posted all over the internet, an ayahuasca ceremony can be quiet and calm – this is the optimal setting for a deep experience. If you have people running around, screaming, or dancing, these distractions will pull you out of the experience.
If you are in an over-crowded ceremony where people are not getting the required attention, or you are in a ceremony where people can enter and leave as they please, this can lead to feeling unsafe during the ceremony.
Despite what some may think, your ceremony doesn’t have to take place in a dank hut either! Ceremonies should ideally be conducted in clean, comfortable, and calm surroundings that help you focus on your experience.
You should also expect a good retreat to share tools & techniques to help you continue applying the insights from your experience as you reintegrate into everyday life. Look out for one with various workshops on offer. After all, the ayahuasca ceremony is just one part of the journey, the work on yourself has to continue long after.
4/ Check-in on your expectations
There are a lot of misconceptions about Ayahuasca and the way it works. This is usually caused by
- cultural misunderstandings and interpretations,
- the media portraying it as a dangerous recreational drug, with ceremonies conducted by mavericks,
- or even how retreats themselves portraying it as some sort of miracle cure that will fix all of your problems
Unfortunately, while there is certainly a magical element to this brew, these views often lead to a gross misunderstanding of Ayahuasca and disappointed participants. The reality is that there is no way to predict what will happen in your ayahuasca experience. This is also the beauty of it, because who would want to go through the same thing every time?
For many people, unpredictability is the scary part. But this is exactly what makes the experience insightful. Ayahuasca can “enlighten” aspects of us that have been hidden in our shadow. It can bring awareness to the reasons we are suffering, blocked, or trapped. The uncertainty also helps in learning to let go of control and experience whatever is happening without negativity, whether it is during the ayahuasca experience, or in everyday life. This helps in developing the observer’s perspective on life, to be able to experience a situation without reacting to it.
5/ Set yourself intentions
To counter the deeply programmed pull of expectations, we can shift our energy to intentions. What is the difference between an intention and an expectation? An intention has no attachment to the outcome. An expectation is only attached to the outcome.
With an intention, we state our interest, and with that, we let go of the desire to be fulfilled. If our intention is answered we can be grateful. If we receive something unintended we can be grateful as well for whatever ayahuasca has shown us.
6/ You’ll take away what you put in
There is an equally active role you must play when taking Ayahuasca. Cooperation is one of the most fundamental keys when working with ayahuasca and modified states of consciousness. Remember that ayahuasca is not a magic pill. You may have a life-changing experience, and you may not. Even if you have a “life-changing” experience, making the effects permanent requires a lot of work after the retreat in your everyday life.
If you are not willing to make changes once you go back the effects will fade away and you will go back to the same routines, suffering, obstacles, and limitations. Ayahuasca can do its part, you have to do your part – no one can do that for you, no matter the promises they make.
7/ Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
Expecting a savior to resolve our problems is one of the greatest weaknesses of many people the world over. The idea that someone else will fix our problems is what disables us from using our own power.
Do not expect an ayahuasca experience to be comfortable.
While we provide a lot of physical comforts to participants during the ayahuasca ceremony, the inner experience with ayahuasca can be uncomfortable. But the proper way to say this is
“ayahuasca amplifies the discomfort you are living with in your everyday life”.
Often times ayahuasca will amplify a pattern of behavior that can be deeply uncomfortable. If you are someone who is generally anxious, over-thinking, frustrated, disappointed, resentful, or have some uncomfortable disposition in your everyday life, you can expect ayahuasca to amplify these patterns during the experience. And it is important to learn the right tools to deal with these patterns before the experience so you already have some practice in applying them, otherwise, you can get overwhelmed during the experience.
During our spiritual development workshops, group integration sessions, and also one-to-one conversations with participants, we teach and practice techniques that can be used to quickly shift from the above-mentioned states during the ayahuasca experience. Not only do we practice shifting to a different state, but we also learn to use them as triggers to go deeper to learn when we started with this behavior and heal it at the source by using our own power to rescue ourselves.
8/ Check for contraindications
Before booking any retreats, be sure to check for any contraindications for Ayahuasca. These include specific medications and those with specific conditions. You can find out more here or get in touch with us to discuss your suitability.
If you are taking medicines incompatible with ayahuasca (such as anti-depressants), you must be sure to:
- Get cleared by your physician – You may be able to gradually wean off medication with their supervision. Once you’ve been completely stable and clean of medication for 3 months, you can attend a retreat.
- Start psychotherapy – If you haven’t already, you should work on resolving the underlying cause of any conditions like depression. This should of course be with a fully qualified psychologist and without medication. You will likely need continued support after the retreat, so find a center willing to continue their support. Learn more about our ongoing spiritual counseling here.
- If you drink alcohol, stop – If you drink, be it infrequently, or every day, you will have to stop entirely 3 months prior to a retreat so that you don’t experience any withdrawals.