The word ‘Ayahuasca’ has been searched more than double the amount of times in 2017 since 2004. Popularity of the ancient medicinal plant has substantially increased in the last decade among westerns seeking a psychological tool for healing and expanding consciousness.
Ayahuasca is an entheogenic brew made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the Psychotria viridis leaf. Traditionally, Ayahuasca has been used by indigenous tribes guided for the purpose of ancient cultural and religious traditions. The plant is brewed in a soup like drink and distributed with the guidance of shamans, usually in a remote, natural location like the Amazon rainforest. The brew contains DMT, a powerful hallucinogen, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), which work synergistically with DMT to produce a long-lasting hallucinogenic experience.
Various studies have shown that ayahuasca therapy may be effective in the treatment of PTSD, depression and addiction.
We spoke with International Yoga Teacher and avid traveler, Taylor Iverson, about her first experience with Ayahuasca in the Amazon rainforest in Peru.
How did you hear about ayahuasca and what made you decide to experience an ayahuasca ceremony?
It was actually a few years before planning my trip to South America that a friend had mentioned Ayuauasca while discussing the healing effects of psychedelics. Quite a foreign subject (and region) to me at the time, I had forgotten about it until planning a yoga teacher training in Ecuador. I saw that teachings about different plant medicines and an opportunity to go into the jungle to do ceremonies with an Amazon tribe would be included in the course. I did some research and found it very interesting that this was the same plant that my good friend had told me about previously. Besides being drawn to the plants ability to treat traumas and illness, it seemed that it sort of came to me without searching and I knew that I should experience it. You feel a sort of significance when certain concepts are presented to you-whether it be directly or unintentional. I believe this is the heart telling you its meaningful to you and your story and perhaps to go towards it.
Did you have any expectations, hopes or fears about what you would experience?
There was a definitely a strong hope to heal or shed light on some of the pain I held from past experiences. In what way this would happen, I had no idea but I went in with good faith in the plant and tried my best to keep my mind open, surrendering myself to whatever it had to offer. There was a bit of fear of losing control or experiencing what many people refer to as “having a bad trip” which is really just the “shedding light” process I was talking about. The plant will only help you to face the dark places inside of you in order to truly understand how your circumstances have molded your character-as if our pain and our lack are simply illusions constructed of the many things that have conditioned us. Fear of the trip is really just a fear of oneself.
How did you prepare? Were you encouraged to detox your body or follow a specific diet prior to ceremony?
We were advised to stay away from processed foods, alcohol, meat and spicy foods as well as abstain from sex. We did this for about a week but the longer the better as you are just cleansing so that the plant can do a deeper cleanse. Fasting 24 hours before a ceremony is typically encouraged and I would say, from my own experience that it makes for a much gentler purging process.
Can you explain the moment you transitioned from this reality and into the effects of ayahuasca? What did it feel like? What did you see?
The transition is definitely gradual but the word that comes to mind in the beginning is “awareness.” I entered a state of deep unbiased sensitivity to the energy or ‘spirit’ in everything, whether it be physical or a thought, around me or in a different time or place. Sensation and experience became separate from me as I began to exist as the observer, not an ego that can be observed. It is said that the plant helps to open your Crown Chakra which is the seventh energy center at the top of our head allowing us to transcend physical reality into a state of ‘oneness’. This is the goal in yoga and other ancient meditative practices.
Could you describe, to the best of you’re a ability, what happened during the peak of the experience? What did you learn about yourself? Were you in a state of bliss, scared, sad or unaware of your physical body? I would consider the peak of my experience to be intense revelation. When you go into ceremony and focus on an intention, you take a ‘trip’ through a series of experiences you need in order to understand what you intended to. Like in life, we become through experience. Ayahuasca, in a sense, holds our hand and guides us through it. During this process, there were lots of tears, moments of confusion and doubt. Eventually, I reached this point where I feel I sort of unlearned the conditions of my life and became completely innocent again. That was the ultimate revelation, to truly feel through and through that I am one with everything. This experience made everything I had learnt in books and yoga courses come to life. The more I become aware of my ego, I can understand that the ‘I’ that is becoming aware is in fact; the universe. Therefore, the universe is inside of me, not the other way around. In this level of consciousness, all that exists is love, love for all that ever was or will be, forgiveness, faith that struggle is necessary for growth- both as an individual or a collective. Everyones life is unique and necessary for the progress of the whole. I think this sense of belonging is what heals so many people with depression and self-esteem issues.
What were some of the physical effects?
I started to feel less connected to my body so walking or even moving around in my hammock took some extra focus. Physical sensations were more intense or even amplified when I was paying attention to it. of course, the most prevalent effect is the diarrhea and vomiting. This is the purging process in which the physical body experiences the cleansing of the plant. We are multi dimensional beings and what takes place on a subtler energetic level will manifest in the physical and mundane as they are still one in the same. When I felt some trauma or energetic blockages moving through and leaving my body, this is when my stomach would start churning and the purging would happen.
What did it feel like to return to this reality? Was it a slow gradual process or a quick awakening?
I’m not sure I really ‘returned’ to this reality but rather entered a whole new version of reality. Everything around me needed a second look as I had a whole new way of looking at it. This quick shift really made me question the concept of objectivity when experience is so subjective to the individual. We often look at different cultures or traditions and it doesn’t make sense to us because we believe that they are making up false ideas. Each of us make up what we believe to be real based on everything we’ve been taught since childhood. Black to me is white to another. I think this is great and what makes life so colourful but also encourage everyone to reflect on where their opinions and ways of thinking may have come from and why. Months following the ceremonies, I did go through a more difficult time with this as my old truths sort of fell away and I tried to grasp on to what I really did believe in. it’s been a process of coming back to my self underneath the groomed and shaped identity I had lived to be. I continue to explore and learn about the world but remember that I can only ever touch the tip of the iceberg. The only thing I know to be 100% true is that I do, in fact, exist.
Was the ceremony/experience everything you thought it was going to be?
Everything and more. My expectations couldn’t have possibly have exceeded it as I had be never felt that type of beauty before. We can only imagine from which we’ve already seen so it was beyond what I could have dreamt it to be.
How did your life change following the experience? Did it’s awakenings last one week, one month, years, forever?
My life changed because I began to live everyday with this new sense of being that I previously explained. At first this can be difficult because many of us have so many patterns and ways of living that are become no longer acceptable to us. I didn’t want to waste my time or energy (my life) focusing on anything that wasn’t for the betterment of my world. People I could know longer connect with became distant and habits that didn’t serve me seemed silly. Applying these lessons to your life is up to you and it takes time. I’m still referring back to my experience in order to reconnect with myself and move forward in my life. I would definitely say the awakening lasts forever in the sense that once the Ayahuasca opens your eyes, you will never forget what it showed you. The ideas I had on many subjects after the ceremonies have changed up to this point and will continue to do so as I grow and change as well. This is why its important not to make conclusions or attach yourself to anything that comes to you afterwards. Keep your mind open and let life unfold infront of you. The learning will never stop.
What do you feel are common misconceptions about Ayahuasca?
The one that stands out to me the most is that when people consume it, they are just going to get ‘high’ and experience something that isn’t real. Thoughts, visions, and sensations are all ways in which we experience this life . When you see these things in a new and more profound way, you may begin to question everything you thought was real in the past and see why you’ve been made to believe only certain things are real. Reality is what we choose to believe and then create.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone deciding whether to try an ayahuasca ceremony?
Obviously it’s important in anything you decide to do, that you feel comfortable with the situation and the people guiding you through it. Trust yourself and you will know when the time is right. As for the fear of the trip itself, it isn’t a battle with your darkness but a unity. You may laugh at yourself afterwards for being afraid of the plant. It loves you.