This Is What An Ayahuasca Experience Is Like

This Is What An Ayahuasca Experience Is Like

You may have heard about the psychedelic brew ayahuasca and how people travel to South America to try it. But despite knowing that it is used traditionally in ceremonies, by both the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin and non-native travelers, you may be wondering what the ayahuasca experience is like.

Truth be told, all ayahuasca experiences are different. As with any other psychedelic, the way the experience manifests depends on many factors, including set, setting, and dosage. People have different makeups and life histories that will translate into different experiences. Nonetheless, ayahuasca still has unique properties as a psychedelic and people often report common themes in the ayahuasca experience.

In this article, we will describe what an ayahuasca experience is like so that you can have a better idea of whether or not this is the right experience for you. Also, if you are planning on joining an ayahuasca ceremony, you might want to be prepared for certain ceremonial, physical, perceptual, emotional, psychological, and spiritual aspects of the journey.

What An Ayahuasca Retreat Is Like

Some of the most popular places to join an ayahuasca ceremony are to be found in Latin America, in countries such as Costa Rica, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and Brazil. That said, you can also find ayahuasca retreats all over Europe and North America.

For many people, part of the ayahuasca experience involves traveling to a different country to partake in the experience. This might mean hopping on a plane to Peru and then making your way to an ayahuasca retreat in the jungle. Here you will join others who have made similar journeys. The level of comfort you enjoy at such a retreat often depends on cost. You can find luxury ayahuasca retreats nowadays.

At the retreat, you will have set meals and typically participate in multiple ayahuasca ceremonies. If joining these kinds of retreats, you can expect to spend several nights at the retreat center. Some people even stay for two weeks or longer, so they can participate in more ayahuasca ceremonies.

Ayahuasca retreats may include other ceremonies and activities as well, including tobacco and San Pedro ceremonies, and time for discussion after the experiences.

What Is An Ayahuasca Ceremony?

Now let’s describe what the ayahuasca ceremony is like, as this is a crucial part of the experience.

An ayahuasca ceremony is typically led by an experienced shaman who is familiar with both taking ayahuasca and giving it to others. You will take the ayahuasca with everyone else at the retreat, in a designated ceremony room. Here you will have your own area to sit and lie down. If taking ayahuasca in nature, you will likely be able to hear the sound of wildlife around you during your experience (especially if you’re in the jungle).

What An Ayahuasca Ceremony Is Like

You will usually take ayahuasca in the evening, having fasted beforehand. At some point in the ceremony, the shaman will invite each participant to come up to him or her and take a cup of ayahuasca he or she has poured for you. You will then drink it in one go. You should know that ayahuasca is known to be foul-tasting.

Then you will return to your area in the room. After each person has drunk the brew, there is a waiting period. After some time, 20-60 minutes, you may begin to feel nausea and the urge to vomit. This is perfectly normal. This stage is called the “purge”. After you vomit, you should feel better and the effects will intensify. You will have a bucket for vomiting. The lights may be turned off during the ceremony, with just some candles burning, as the darkness helps you to better see the ayahuasca visions. The lights will be turned back on at the end of the ceremony.

During the ceremony, the shaman may sing icaros. These are medicine songs used by South American indigenous shamans in ayahuasca ceremonies. Anja Loizaga-Velder and Armando Loizaga Pazzi state in their work The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca (2014):

“Icaros are meant to deepen or steer the ayahuasca trance, inducing and modulating visions and emotions and stimulating subconscious material on different levels.”

The ceremony will last for the duration of the ayahuasca experience, which can last up to six hours.

Physical Effects Of An Ayahuasca Experience

Taking ayahuasca can have a range of possible physical effects, including the following.

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Nystagmus (rapid rhythmic movements of the eyes)

Perceptual Effects Of Ayahuasca

As with other psychedelics, ayahuasca can affect your sensory perceptions, the way that things look, sound, and feel. But when you take ayahuasca at a retreat, you may take a dose that is high enough to induce visions. Common visions include the below.

  • Geometry
  • Memories of events in your life, including traumatic or repressed memories
  • Fantastical and otherworldly places
  • Places in historical time
  • Imagined points in the future
  • The Earth and the kinds of events currently taking place on it
  • Wildlife
  • Animals
  • Entities

Emotional Effects Of Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca can induce various emotional states, which can be pleasant or unpleasant in nature. The emotional effects of ayahuasca may include the following.

  • A feeling of emotional release
  • Better connecting to one’s emotions
  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Joy
  • Euphoria
  • Bliss
  • Ecstasy
  • Contentment
  • Peace
  • Gratitude
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Dread
  • Panic
  • Despair

It should be noted that it is common to experience different emotional states during a single ayahuasca experience. These moments can include mental discomfort, as well as periods of elation or calmness.

Psychological Effects Of An Ayahuasca Experience

One of the most powerful and healing aspects of an ayahuasca experience is the ability to think differently and take on new perspectives. The psychological effects of ayahuasca include the below.

  • Increased self-awareness
  • Increased self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Facing personal demons, such as negative thought patterns and behaviors, as well as past mistakes
  • Reinterpreting conflicts within oneself and with others
  • Deciding to make changes in one’s life

Spiritual Effects Of Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is a powerful psychedelic, and it is common for many people to experience mystical effects when taking it. These include the below.

  • Making contact with “Mother Ayahuasca”, a motherly type presence that users feel imparts wisdom, lessons, messages, care, and healing. The messages are often ecological in nature, relating to the destruction of the planet and the need to protect the environment
  • Out-of-body experiences
  • Ego loss
  • Feeling oneself transform into an animal
  • A feeling of unity, such as feeling unified with all of humankind, the environment, or the entire universe
  • A sense of being outside time and space
  • Ineffability
  • A sense of sacredness or the “divine”

Integrating An Ayahuasca Experience

The ayahuasca experience does, in a way, continue long after the psychedelic effects are over. The experience also includes a period of integration, which is when a person tries to make sense of what happened during the experience. This includes finding meaning of certain visions, messages, or lessons. This might involve writing or talking about the experience with others, or reading material that can help illuminate certain aspects of your journey.

Another important aspect of ayahuasca integration is applying the experience to your life. This might involve making changes to things highlighted below.

  • Relationships
  • Lifestyle
  • Career
  • Habits
  • Goals

It is normal for many people to find that their whole outlook on life changes after one or more ayahuasca experiences. However, these may be incredibly transformative, and, perhaps, challenging during the experience itself. The rewards often tend to be worth it. These rewards, for countless individuals, are long-lasting psychological healing and personal growth.

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Sam Woolfe

View all posts by Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer based in London. His main areas of interest include mental health, mystical experiences, the history of psychedelics, and the philosophy of psychedelics. He first became fascinated by psychedelics after reading Aldous Huxley's description of the mescaline experience in The Doors of Perception. Since then, he has researched and written about psychedelics for various publications, covering the legality of psychedelics, drug policy reform, and psychedelic science.

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