You’ve probably heard about Ayahuasca, the Amazonian psychedelic brew. Perhaps you’re even considering a life-changing journey deep into the Peruvian jungle to partake in the dark bitter tea that has been brewed for centuries by Native American Shamans.
You’ve probably also heard that working with Ayahuasca is no joke. The experiences can be nauseating, overwhelming, and purgative - cleansing and renewing the mind, body, and spirit.
During ceremony, powerful emotions, sensations, and visuals can arise, and repressed memories can surface, which can be challenging and at times even frightening.
And yet, at the end of a week-long retreat and 3 Ayahuasca ceremonies, it’s common for participants to say “it was the most incredibly profound experience of my life and the most important thing I have ever done for my health and well-being.”
So, if you’re going to do this, you want to be informed, and you want to do it right. If so, this page is for you, a compilation of information and references to everything you need to know about Ayahuasca before embarking on your journey within.
Want to learn how to get the most benefits from plant medicine, and how to avoid the uncertainty, mistakes, and years of retreats and slow progress? Watch our free webinar HERE.
Section 1: What is Ayahuasca and where does it come from?
Section 2: Benefits of Ayahuasca
Section 3: Effects of Ayahuasca
Section 4: Ayahuasca Retreats
Section 5: Preparation and Integration
Section 6: Plant Dieta / Master Plant Diet
Section 7: Common Mistakes with an Ayahuasca Experience
Section 8: Where to go for an Ayahuasca retreat
Section 9: Ayahuasca FAQ
Ayahuasca is a plant-based psychedelic, which contains the active chemical DMT (dimethyltryptamine) and MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors).
The psychedelic Ayahuasca brew is made up of two plants, the Ayahuasca vine (banisteriopsis caapi vine) and the leaves of the chacruna (psychotria viridis) plant.
The sacred plant medicine can be found throughout Central and South America, most commonly in countries around the Amazon basin such as Brazil, Costa Rica, and Peru.
We have strong evidence for Ayahuasca ceremonies that date back 1,000+ years. In an Ayahuasca ceremony, an indigenous healer, or shaman, facilitates healing experiences in which the Ayahuasca tea is consumed.
Traditions vary from the Peruvian Shipibo, to the Ayahuasca church of Santo Daime, and other Native American churches and indigenous traditions.
Generally, people seek out Ayahuasca to heal, grow, and/or deepen their spiritual connection, often described as a sort of "soul quest".
As part of related psychedelic research at Johns Hopkins University, ~50% of participants rated their medicinal plant journey as “the single most personally and spiritually significant of their lives”. Over 90% rated the experience as amongst their top five.
There are two decades of psychedelic research from leading institutions such at Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Imperial College, and NYU proving the safety and benefits from plant medicine to accelerate long-lasting psychological growth in a broad range of areas such as cognition, creativity, life satisfaction, clarity of purpose, mood and behavior, relationships and wellbeing.
The experiences facilitate amplification of the subconscious mind, a deep spiritual experience of the self, often revealing aspects of the psyche that have been suppressed, repressed, or forgotten. It is also quite common to receive downloads of information and vivid visuals. Many receive answers to meaningful unresolved questions as well as healing unprocessed trauma of the past.
Plant medicine retreats are also effective in healing to overcome anxiety, depression, PTSD, apathy, lack of direction, negativity and even physical conditions such as autoimmune disorders.
When the work is done well, yes. You can expect enhancements in how you think about and relate to yourself and others, and you could feel more vibrant on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. You may feel an increased sense of belonging and interconnectedness with loved ones around you, enriching those relationships. You may also establish a deeper sense of your purpose and your so-called soul quest, along with clarity and passion for the work you do, and to live every day with more love, joy, and inner peace.
Creative thinking measured before and after ayahuasca ingestion. In both test groups, divergent thinking increased after consuming ayahuasca. (source: Ayahuasca enhances creative divergent thinking while decreasing conventional convergent thinking - Scientific Figure on ResearchGate.)
Ayahuasca affects everyone differently, based on:
The temporary effects of Ayahuasca are subjective, but may include:
Ayahuasca promotes neurogenesis - the growth of new neurons, as well as new neuronal connections, facilitating information exchange and reconciliation between parts of the brain that normally do not communicate.
Along with that, there's often a compartmentalization in our brains. So we're effectively healing and regaining neuroplasticity and through that, aspects of our brain function, which is believed to be the root cause of the sustained benefits from the research. You can read more about this in our blog posts on the Default Mode Network HERE and Neurogenesis and Neuroplasticity HERE.
An Ayahuasca healing retreat varies from place to place but they often consist of eco-friendly centers immersed in nature and offering Native American ceremonies utilizing Ayahuasca tea, vegetarian meals, an encouraged digital detox, and wellness practices such as yoga, meditation and breathwork.
Ceremonies are typically facilitated by a Shaman, healer, and/or therapists and take place all over the world, although there are only a select number of countries where plant medicine ceremonies are legal. Typical retreats are about a week long and will include 3 Ayahuasca ceremonies, though it varies based upon location and tradition of the retreat center. Many ceremonies follow a Native American tradition of musical rituals passed down from many generations of utilizing plant medicines as tools for healing, growth, and transcendence.
For your safety, it's important to go through a high quality medical screening, and to ensure that safety is a priority for the retreat center. Be diligent asking questions in relation to the preparation, practitioners, medicine, integration, and Ayahuasca healing protocols - we’ve shared a helpful list below. Don’t be afraid to ask for references and to speak with past participants about their experience. Not only will you get a sense of the retreat itself, but you will be able to find out whether or not they have been able to make meaningful improvements to the quality of their life post-retreat.
Research on psychedelics show how they rewire our neural pathways in the brain. This is serious work and it is advised to choose your retreat and coach/therapist as you would your hospital and neurosurgeon. By working with experts who are not only medically pre-screening you, but also getting to know your state of mind prior to a retreat, the overwhelming majority of risks can be mitigated.
As this is still a nascent ecosystem with no standards in place, many retreat centers are not able to keep up with some of the contraindicated medicines and latest safety protocols. More broadly, if you look at the various aggregator websites for plant medicine retreats, almost every retreat center has been rated as 4.9 stars or 5 stars - which means the ratings are not serving their purpose. To the untrained eye, it is difficult to identify what “good” looks like, and it is challenging to find high-quality practitioners as they are in short supply. On the surface, it might seem great that people are having 5-star experiences at these psychedelic retreat centers, but it is important to keep in mind that due to the complex and deep nature of this work, there is a high degree of variability in the quality.
What's important here is that each psychedelic retreat serves as a foundation for improvement to quality of life. You should look for a retreat center that offers support before and after the retreat. Otherwise, you run the risk of going in under-prepared and then not being able to effectively integrate the experience when you return home. The overwhelming majority of retreat participants are skipping the necessary mental and emotional work to achieve the benefits. Ayahuasca makes it relatively easy to have a transcendent experience, but it is more difficult to sustainably elevate your consciousness. Due to this, it is common for participants to go back to square one a month or two after their retreat, and seek out another experience. Plant medicine is a powerful tool, but it's by no means the answer.
Retreats can be 1-3 days to one week, sometimes two weeks, depending upon your preferences. You are usually entirely immersed in the experience. It is recommended to “switch off” and skip Skype, calendar meetings, work, etc. For first timers, we would not recommend a 3 day weekend retreat or a silent retreat.
Retreats can be private, in a small group, or a large group. You often meet for a 1:1 consultation with a healer before the ceremony, and are given plenty of time for reflection. Whether you are in the Amazon Jungle or rainforest by the ocean, you will usually be immersed in nature and stillness. The food is typically locally sourced, organic, and vegan. Many centers are a sort of holistic sanctuary, and have a variety of healing modalities you might expect at mindful yoga retreats like body work, yoga sessions, silent meditation, spa amenities, nature walks, and sharing circles. There are usually between 2-4 ceremonies during the retreat, with days off in between for rest and integration workshops. So, a lot in common with a yoga retreat, but quite different. Some retreats also work with peyote and other plant medicines.
Depending on the retreat and the location of the retreat there are usually activities such as yoga, meditation, integration workshops (such as art therapy), body work (such as massage), energy work (such as Tai Chi), medicinal flower baths, somatic therapy, sound healing, trauma informed work, and rainforest or ethno botanical walks.
Behold Retreats offers a 7-week guided life-accelerator, including 3 weeks of remote preparation ahead of a retreat, a 1 week retreat, and 3 weeks of integration work post-retreat, an approach that has been refined through guiding 1,500+ clients over the past decade.
Our program brings together the necessary diverse elements for customers to get the most out of working with plant medicine. Guided self-inquiry and meta-cognition to understand thought patterns and limiting beliefs, coaching/therapy for mental and emotional work, and of course, a best-in-class plant medicine retreat.
Each participant’s experience can be curated based on individual needs and preferences, including for example, the therapist and coach they work with, the location and property of the retreat, the healers and facilitators leading the ceremonies, and whether it is a group or private retreat.
Behold Retreats go above and beyond to ensure safety and maintain 100% client satisfaction, refunding any clients who don’t benefit.
There are two major aspects of retreat preparation. The first being the diet and energetic detox leading up to the retreat. The second is mental and emotional preparation.
The diet and detox will vary depending on the medicine and tradition, but most commonly the diet prohibits red meat, dairy, alcohol, processed foods, and food that is high in sugar, fat, spice and salt. You will be encouraged to eat many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Certain medications and drugs which could interact with Ayahuasca are strictly prohibited for a minimum of 6 weeks in advance, which should be advised by the retreat center. Energetically you may be asked to avoid sexual activity, media use, and adrenaline inducing activities.
The second aspect includes mental and emotional work, which is often missed as most retreat centers do not have the capacity to advise in this regard. By working with a psychedelic coach or therapist, you can become aware of negative thought patterns, release lower level emotions, and address past traumas. They will help you manage your expectations, set clear intentions, and define and align yourself with your future self.
The most important thing is to take time to process the experience and allow the medicine to continue to provide insights in the weeks to come. The retreat center should advise you to continue to avoid certain foods, medications, drugs, and behaviours. Remember and honor the fact that the people and circumstances in your life are still in the same place you left them in. It is advisable to not make any important decisions in the first couple of weeks returning home. Often people have massive revelations and want to share with their parents, partners, etc., or make big decisions. Taking the time to reflect, process, and take care of yourself in a gentle way is crucial.
Set some boundaries with yourself and others, and ensure that you have support to return to. Whether that is a loved one, friends, or a therapist/coach. There is no need to explain your experience to anyone if you do not feel that you want to. Often by putting these experiences into words right away, you might preemptively define the meaning and limit the potential of its messages.
After your retreat you will want to do the work to integrate your experience, and having a therapist or a coach can be instrumental for your growth. During your journey, you may have received incomprehensible messages, downloads of vast information, new insights and perspective shifts, or perhaps you may have even re-visited repressed traumas. In order to make sense of this phenomenon and create space for healing and transformation, energy should be put into establishing integration practices. These may include things like meditation, journaling, rituals, dreamwork, artwork, and breathwork.
Many people assume that you can attend a retreat or consume Ayahuasca and immediately change your life. Plant medicine is not a quick fix - the work is deep, complex, and requires energetic commitment. With proper guidance and commitment, it is possible to make tremendous progress in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, most retreat participants are reverting back to old habits, thinking patterns, and behaviours shortly after a retreat, because they are not taking the time and energy to prepare and integrate.
It is possible to have breakthroughs on these retreats, but without integration, you might return home, and a month later life returns back to normal. The dynamics in your life haven’t changed; you’re still driving to work in traffic, you’re still dealing with friends and family, and whatever problems you had before are still, waiting for new action.
There are a few factors at play here.
Universally all of us have past trauma and limiting beliefs, even small incidents can have quite a profound impact. We also have intergenerational trauma and patterns passed down through our lineage; our parents were traumatized, and their parents are traumatized, and so forth. It's very common through working with Ayahuasca for people to uncover these locked unconscious memories that have been suppressed or repressed, which are now manifesting in our character through emotions such as envy or greed. Ayahuasca can help us to discover these things, unlock the memories, reconcile the past and accept what has happened.
Then there is the fact that modern life is exponentially becoming more complex. Many people have extremely busy personal and professional lives and struggle to manage everyday complexity. As a result, our brains begin to take shortcuts in order to deal with this complexity as an energy efficient mechanism. This may seem like a positive adaptive response, but what is actually happening is that we begin to use a very limited subset of neural pathways, resulting in deterministic and overly patterned thinking.
Returning back to retreat participants having breakthroughs and not maintaining long-term benefits, it can be said that this is a cause of lack of guidance to release certain emotions, process trauma and overcome limiting beliefs. To come into your spiritual healing retreat with the right context, doing high-quality mental and emotional work is strongly recommended. Integration practices will then help you to rewire your brain and to strengthen the new neural pathways that have been created during your experience, so that you don’t revert back to the short-cuts your brain was once taking.
A retreat participant should be advised by the retreat center as to their specific Dieta, as it depends on the medicine and the tradition. Typically it involves a diet without red meat, dairy, processed foods, fermented foods, over-ripe fruits, pickled foods, onions and garlic, oils and fats, cacao, yeast, and food that is high in sugar, fat, spice and salt. It will include many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Energetically you may be asked to avoid sexual activity, media use, and adrenaline inducing activities.
Alcohol, caffeine, marijana, SSRIs, MDMA, and other stimulants are to be avoided. It is also important that you stop taking certain medications and drugs a minimum of 6 weeks in advance that could interact with the medicine, which should be advised by the retreat center.
Mistake: Hearing good things from a few friends, so you want to try it too. Not really sure about your own motivations, but you’ve heard it has benefits.
Recommendation: Spend the time and energy to research the subject ahead of making a decision. You are rewiring your neural pathways - this is very very serious work.
Mistake: Participating in a retreat or a ceremony outside of the law.
Recommendation: Ayahuasca is a psychedelic substance, and while it is rapidly gaining social and legal acceptance, there are still too many crackdowns. Ask yourself if it’s worth it.
Mistake: Hoping that everything will be fine.
Recommendation: Ensure you go through a high quality medical screening. If in doubt, ask to speak to the people you’ll be supported by.
Mistake: Book a retreat, read the emails they send you, and jump on a flight for the retreat.
Recommendation: You’ll get out what you put in. We recommend preparing for weeks ahead, and to do the necessary mental and emotional work to get the most out of the retreat experience. Be sure to pay attention to the required Ayahuasca diet
Mistake: Doing it alone, without a coach or therapist.
Recommendation: Work with experts who have coached hundreds or thousands of people. They’ll guide you to break through and integrate the lessons. As the saying goes "choose your shaman like you would choose your neurosurgeon"
Choosing an Ayahuasca Center
Mistake: Check out a few websites, read a few reviews, and book a retreat centre.
Recommendation: It’s really difficult to know what good looks like. Find an expert who does know, and can guide you towards a high quality spiritual retreat.
Mistake: Underestimating the challenges that can arise when working with plant medicine.
Recommendation: These experiences can be incredibly powerful and challenging. Every experience is unique, so it’s best not to have any expectations, and to be mentally prepared for anything, and that you have the right support around you.
Working Towards Goals
Mistake: During an Ayahuasca journey, it’s common to forget about your intentions and goals and get carried away by the experience itself.
Recommendation: Finding the right balance between surrender and working towards your goals.
Mistake: I saw some crazy stuff - I don’t quite know how to make sense of it, so I guess I’ll just ignore it and move on.
Recommendation: Remain curious, humble, and open, and take ownership for the experience. Work with a coach or therapist to unpack potential significance. Experiencing a spiritual awakening is powerful, and you will want the help.
Keeping Track of the Lessons
Mistake: A bunch of really important things happened, but I don’t really remember much.
Recommendation: Find the right balance between allowing the experience to unfold, and remembering the significant lessons (e.g. maybe writing in a notebook)
Integrating the Lessons
Mistake: Feeling like a million dollars at the end of a retreat, and then feeling like you’re back to square 1 a month later.
Recommendation: Focus on integration, integration, integration. When back home, set time aside each day to review the commitments you made to yourself, and how you are tracking against them. Rewiring decades of ingrained thinking patterns and behaviors is not easy work.
Mistake: Life has returned to normal, I think it’s time for another retreat.
Recommendation: If the last retreat didn’t substantially improve your life, think about why that might be the case, and adjust ahead of attending another. Work with experts.
Over the past decade, Ayahuasca tourism has grown around the amazonian countries like Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru (Sacred Valley, Cusco, and Iquitos), and also Mexico retreats (especially Tulum).
For those who do visit, it's also a great opportunity to extend your stay and explore the Amazon rainforest, historical sites, and immerse yourself in the local food and culture.
While psychedelic drug are not generally legal in the USA, there are specific permissions that have been granted to retreat centers.
The Sanctuary - Shamanic Healing Center
Yes, the science has evidenced many examples of Ayahuasca healing anxiety, depression, and addictions. Ayahuasca has been shown to lower the activity in the default mode network (DMN) of the brain, which is active whenever a person is daydreaming, thinking about the past or future, themselves, others, and memories. Studies show that a person with higher DMN activity is more prone to be affected by depression and anxiety. You can read more here about this on our blog post here (insert link), and further research here:
Yes, recent research has been shown to have a positive impact on healing trauma and PTSD. You can read more here:
Yes, it can be. Depends on how you use it. Do your research and ask all of the questions. Find people who are experienced and educated in this field to help guide you in your preparation, ceremony, and integration work. You can read more about this on our blog post here (insert link). When you are in good hands and respect the medicine, the benefits are countless and the risks are very low. At Behold Retreats we take the utmost duty of care with our clients, ensuring top-class medical and psychological screening, expert practitioners with decades of experience, and a world-class program to ensure you are supported along the way.
There are no reported or studied negative long-term effects of Ayahuasca on the body. Current research indicates that long-term use of Ayahuasca is not associated with a loss of cognitive functioning or negative mental health outcomes.
There have been reports of psychosis, frequent flashbacks, and hallucinations in some individuals with a history of psychological problems, which is why it is important to be screened by a professional before using Ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca is legal to consume in Peru, Costa Rica, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Spain, and Portugal.
In the U.S. Ayahuasca can be drinken legally in centers that have a religious exemption. They are able to use psychedelic sacraments as part of the free exercise of their religion under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
With the rise in popularity of Ayahuasca in the mainstream, it is no surprise to see more and more retreat centers open without proper qualifications. We suggest that you seek expert guidance from a company like Behold Retreats, who has many advisors involved in the selection of quality retreats and practitioners.
Retreats can cost as little as $600 for 3 days, $1500 -$15,000 for a week, and go upwards to $50,000 for private, high-quality work. You get what you pay for. We advise you to be skeptical, and take into consideration the quality of the practitioners involved, as well as the depth of the pre and post ceremony support.
This depends on the retreat center, as well as your preference. Behold Retreats tailors the experience to the individual, and therefore offers private retreats, small group retreats and large group retreats. Most retreat centers typically have 12-18 participants, with some hosting 25+. We do not recommend attending a retreat with more than 25 participants.
We recommend asking retreat centers for previous references to contact personally, and to find out if they have made substantial changes in their lives in the long-term. We advise you to reach out to therapists and coaches who are experts in psychedelic plant medicine, as they may be knowledgeable about specific retreat centers and able to help you spot red flags.
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