What Is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca is an ancient entheogen and Amazonian plant medicine that has been used for centuries, possibly thousands of years, by indigenous healers and shamans across the upper Amazon throughout Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil.
In ceremonial settings, Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew or ‘tea’ most commonly derived from 2 plants found in the Amazon basin – the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the chacruna leaf (Psychotria viridis).
Both plants are collected from the jungle to create a potent mixture that offers access to the realm of spirits and an energetic world that we are typically unable to perceive in our ordinary state of consciousness.
The ayahuasca vine contains alkaloids that act as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs commonly used in antidepressants). This allows the human bloodstreams to absorb the dimethyltryptamine (DMT – known as the “death molecule”) from the chacruna leaves. DMT also occurs naturally in the brain, and is associated with dreaming and the visions that accompany near-death experiences (NDEs).
The MAOIs in the caapi vine are what stops our bodies’ natural mechanisms from preventing the psychoactive harmines and DMT in the chacruna, allowing us to enter into altered states of consciousness.
It is a mystery how the Amazonian shamans learned to combine these two ayahuasca vine plants. Individually, both plants are more or less inert. In the Amazon Rainforest there are approximately 80,000 catalogued leafy plant species, of which as many as 10,000 are vines. Neither the vine nor the leaf is especially distinguished in appearance. Yet the healers of the Amazon, acting as archaic psycho-pharmacologists, somehow knew how to use one particular species of vine and one particular species of leaf to make a psychoactive brew. The tribes who work with Ayahuasca claim that the plants themselves revealed their power to humans more than two thousand years ago.
The name ayahuasca comes from the Quechua language, a language thought to originate from the Incan Empire and still spoken in some South American regions today. The word “aya” can be interpreted to mean soul, or death, while “huasca” means rope, or vine. The most common translation of ayahuasca is thus “vine of the soul” or “vine of death.”
A Brief History of Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca is regarded by many indigenous populations as both a sacred religious element and powerful medicine. For centuries, it has been used medicinally in these cultures for both physical and mental ailments.
With no written records from the Amazon until the Spanish conquistadors invaded in the 16th Century, the history of ayahuasca is relatively unknown. However, a ceremonial cup containing traces of ayahuasca was found in Ecuador and is believed to be well over 2500 years old.
There are many different stories among indigenous tribes of the Amazon about how they initially came to work with this medicine. In an indigenous context, ayahuasca was used by the shamans of the Amazon region for healing and divinatory purposes. Complex rituals surround the preparation and use of ayahuasca that have been passed down through generations of healers. By holding healing ceremonies, they use the medicine as a diagnostic tool to discover the roots of illnesses in their patients.
Today, it is the foundation for the traditional medicine systems of over 75 different cultures in the Amazon, and has spread to various regions across the globe, offering healing for many illnesses and dis-ease where modern medicine has failed.
Ayahuasca as a Healing Medicine
Working with Ayahuasca is a life changing process, facilitating deep healing and opening door ways to the inner self and otherwise unseen layers of reality.
In the west, Ayahuasca is seen as a hallucinogenic plant; however, in the Shipibo jungle traditions, Ayahuasca offers us a chance to treat the emotional, energetic, and spiritual roots of dis-ease by opening channels of communication to our subconscious inner landscapes.
From a shamanistic point of view, most illnesses and diseases are manifestations of blockages or “knots” in the energy of a person, or where excess or insufficient energy creates imbalance in the overall system. This often happens throughout our life from trauma in its various forms.
To experience peace, equanimity, and truth we must work toward unblocking and freeing our system to once again bring ourselves back to our true nature and in harmony with all living things. Ayahuasca serves as a guide in this journey, revealing what needs to be healed and integrated. Often during these moments, a purging process will take place removing some of these un-serving energies and imprints. Yet, it will still be necessary to work towards living in harmony with the mind, body and spirit afterwards as additional processing and integration will likely surface to remove more layers of these energies, assisting the person to become a more whole embodied version of the higher self.
Historically, ayahuasca has been used to heal all manner of physical, mental, and psycho-spiritual illnesses. A multitude of findings show that users of ayahuasca report:
- An improvement in psychological well-being, mindfulness, emotional regulation, and mood
- Elimination of depressive, anxious, and addictive symptoms
- Treatment of PTSD symptoms
- Higher social and emotional functioning
- Increased self-awareness, creativity, and empathy
- Spiritual insights
- Deeper connection to the self, other beings, nature, and the universe
The Ayahuasca Experience
The ayahuasca experience varies widely from person to person, but often includes heightened senses, changes to perception and vision, deep emotional insights, and an uncovering of repressed traumas, latent fears, and various elements that have been suppressed in your subconscious or unconscious mind for a very long time.
The psychological effects of ayahuasca consumption normally begins within 30-40 minutes after ingestion, although it could take up to 2 hours before it reaches maximum intensity. This intense trance state of altered consciousness typically lasts about 2 hours, but for some may be as long as 4-6 hours.
Ayahuasca functions as a powerful purgative. One of the most distinctive attributes of the brew is the “purge” effect on the body, which can manifest in a range of ways for different people, including vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, crying, laughing, or shaking. Although the purge is most often associated with physical purging and vomiting, there are many different kinds of purges, including emotional purges and energetic purges that bring you tremendous catharsis, relief, and deep healing.
After the purge, the mind can become more clean, and this is often when the deep teachings and insights of ayahuasca tend to manifest.
The psychological effects of ayahuasca are wide-ranging, but can include colorful visual effects, elaborate visions, encounters with animals and/or otherworldly “entities,” and a deep state of self-reflection and heightened awareness. Users seldom lose consciousness but do experience an altered state of consciousness while under the influence of ayahuasca.
It is not uncommon to experience a regression back to the situation or source of a problem or trauma. To relive the experience is to gain new understanding and insights enabling resolution or closure. Dream-like scenes where personal messages from spirits are received cause ceremony participants to re-evaluate their life course with a deeper understanding of why they are here, and what it is they need to do to fulfill their purpose.
Many people who experience Ayahuasca also report some sort of spiritual experience.
While this is a general description of what people experience with ayahuasca, in truth anything can happen and there is no way to predict what kind of journey one will have. It is different for each individual, and each time one drinks. The same quantity of the same medicine can bring a completely different type of experience from one ceremony to the next. In your time at our ayahuasca retreat, you will clearly see that ayahuasca works with each person in a very individualized way. Ayahuasca seems to know what each person needs, and takes each person through a different process such that they get what they have come for in the time they have available.
Anything is possible. The key to getting the most out of your time with this medicine is to trust it and surrender to the experience, with no expectations.
Icaros – Medicine Songs
Another major aspect of Ayahuasca rituals is the music. The shaman sings icaros, or healing songs. These songs may be sacred chants or melodies that are sung or whistled. The shamans will traditionally whisper an icaro into the bottle of ayahuasca before ceremony to call in the spirit of Ayahuasca & Chacruna as well as other plant spirits and doctors. During their apprenticeships and dietas working with various plants in solitude, the healers are taught specific icaros from the plants spirits directly. They may also learn icaros from their maestros/teachers. These songs carry a vibration which is used to help heal the patients by altering their energetic frequencies to be more harmonically aligned. Often times after a guest is sung to directly by the shaman they will experience a purge or they may delve more deeply into their journey with Ayahuasca. It is common during the ceremonial visions to see patterns of the icaros. These consist of distinct geometrical shapes which are seen throughout the artwork of the traditional Shipibo culture. Most participants confirm that the icaros sung during the ceremony had a pivotal influence on their experience. The music is said to have a wondrous power which may carry those who listen into other worlds.