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Ayahuasca painting mermaids

What You May Experience in an Ayahuasca Ceremony

“Yes, your transformation will be hard. Yes, you will feel frightened, messed up and knocked down. Yes, you’ll want to stop. Yes, it’s the best work you’ll ever do.” Robin Sharma

Tips for a Great Ayahuasca Retreat

Going to an ayahuasca retreat is a big commitment of time and money. Most people come looking for real and lasting positive change in their lives. Here are some tips that will help you get the most from your time with this mystical teacher plant.

Good Preparation

Ajo Sacha Flowers A successful ayahuasca retreat begins with good preparation. Preparing the body, mind and spirit are important. Developing skill in mindfulness and managing difficult emotions will make coping with the challenging aspects of the ayahuasca experience much easier. We recommend you follow all of the recommendations on our Preparing for Ayahuasca page.

Keep Your Phone Turned Off

A retreat is an opportunity to leave behind the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life. To step out of the stream of constant information. We do not need to know about current events. We can quickly catch up later. We do not need to know about problems back home of which we can do nothing about. It can be a source of unnecessary worry and distraction, and an impediment to the process of growth and change.

Allow yourself to experience the peace that comes with stillness in nature, of a quiet mind, of the joy that can arise when connecting with your heart.

Clear Intentions

Have a clear intention for what you want to get from your time with ayahuasca. It should be simple and specific. Some good examples for retreat intentions are:

  • To be free from depression and anxiety
  • To fully accept and love myself as I am”
  • To have a direct experience of my true spiritual nature
  • To remove the false beliefs that have kept me limited

It is also important to have a clear intention for each ceremony. It may be the same as the retreat intention, but it could also be addressing something more specific. We are happy to coach people in forming intentions for their ceremonies. It begins with the simple question, “What do I want?”

Trust the Medicine

Key to getting the most from ayahuasca is to trust the medicine and surrender to the experience. Surrender is not an issue when the journey is joyful, fascinating, beautiful and fun. Surrender comes into play when we do not like what is happening. That is the time to trust that ayahuasca and the doctor spirits are on your side, want to heal you, and know what they are doing. We experience what is being healed in a magnified way, often much stronger than we feel it in day to day life. If it gets unpleasant, go to gratitude for the healing, not to fear.

Experience the Journey, Don’t Analyze It

Our minds have a natural tendency to put meaning on our experience, to analyze it, think about how we will tell our friends about it. We want to not forget, and try to imprint it in our memory. While we are thinking we cannot be fully present to what is happening NOW. We are missing out on much of the experience.

Give yourself permission to experience now, and analyze and document it later. This is a part of surrendering to the experience, trusting that what is important will “stick”. The subconscious retains much more than our conscious mind. We can also move into trust that the information will naturally arise when it is needed in the future, even if we have no conscious memory of it.

If you find yourself thinking about what has just happened, gently move your attention back to the experience itself.

Commit to Your Growth and Transformation

Commit to achieving the change you are looking for. A true commitment means we become willing to do what ever it takes. When we make a commitment, the Universe responds and things begin to happen. With ayahuasca, that often means being willing to step into an unpleasant experience if that is what is necessary.

Don’t come expecting it to be hard. We tend to encounter what we expect to happen, so do not come “looking” for a struggle. An attitude of willingness is all that is needed. If a difficult experience comes, simply say in your mind “I am willing”.

The Ayahuasca Ceremony Experience

Ayahuasca healing curanderoThe ayahuasca phenomena has swept the world and there are hundreds of places one can go to experience this medicine. There are a variety of approaches to holding retreats, from staying with simple, traditional practices, incorporating the teachings and practices of Buddhism and Hinduism, to 5 star health spas that include ayahuasca ceremonies in their offerings. These all have value, and the Hummingbird has its own approach to running an ayahuasca retreat.

With this wide variety, the retreat experience from one place to another can be quite different. Yet at most places, the ayahuasca ceremony itself will have some consistent patterns. The subjective experiences people have fall into a similar, yet broad range of possibilities.

The Ceremony Itself

People usually feels a sense of apprehension or nervousness before drinking ayahuasca. This is normal as we cannot predict what will happen when we drink ayahuasca. It will be different each time.

When we come to the mesa to drink, pick up the cup and mentally state the intention for the night’s ceremony, asking mother ayahuasca to bring the healing and teaching we have come for, then drink. Many are surprised by how pleasant it tastes, a mild sweetness. Our ayahuasca is cooked with Huambisa, and is much easier to drink than that cooked with Chacruna. The taste is often compared to red wine, a dark beer such as porter or stout, even Jägermeister. After drinking we may feel it clearly in our stomach. An unusual sensation and perhaps some mild nausea. This will pass in 5-15 minutes. As the medicine begins to take effect we may experience a glow in the body, a tingling sensation, energy beginning to move.

Ayahuasca visions paintingAs we begin slipping into an alter state of consciousness, we may find the mind drifting, wandering. A lazy feeling may arise as though we could easily sleep. Colors and patterns may be seen in our mind’s eye. There might be an increase of energy flowing through the body. The movement into a different state of consciousness may be accompanied by some very unusual sensations. This may include the body feeling agitated, some nausea, feeling out of sorts. The discomfort often passes as we move deeper into a trance state, but may continue building until the purge comes. What ever the experience, hold the knowledge that all is well and allow the medicine to work.

The peak of the experience usually begins around an hour after drinking. For some it may come sooner, and for others it may take up to two hours before the full effect of ayahuasca takes hold. For most people the peak ayahuasca experience will last roughly 2-3 hours. Some are extra sensitive to ayahuasca, and may have full visionary experiences that last 6-7 hours. The experience may include bright colorful visions, and it is also common for people to not have any visual visionary experience. Sounds and smells and tactile sensations on the body may felt.

Common Experiences on Ayahuasca

There are a number of experiential elements commonly reported, which include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Visual imagery: Visuals won’t appear for everyone. But if they do, imagery can range from mild kaleidoscopic patterns, similar to other psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin, to full dream-like scenarios.
  • Encountering other-worldly beings: Many people report meeting spiritual entities, including “Mother Ayahuasca” herself and the spirits of passed-away ancestors.
  • Mystical experiences: These subjective, spiritual experiences are characterized by a loss of ego, feelings of oneness with the universe, and connection to a higher or divine source.
  • Strong emotions: Intense feelings can range from fear and sadness to bliss and ecstasy and rapidly switch between these extremes.
  • Physical effects: Physical side effects include increased heart rate and blood pressure, nausea and vomiting. Diahrea, trembling and feeling very heavy may also occur.
  • Time distortion: In general, the drug effects of ayahuasca last about four to eight hours and can take between 30-90 minutes to kick in, depending on the medicine. However, the way you experience time will be different from usual. Passage of time may seem slower or faster than normal. In some instances, participants may also experience time as non-existent.

One of the benefits of working with ayahuasca is its ability to unlock the subconscious mind. Memories of early childhood may return, of things we have not thought of for 15 or more years. We may clearly see beliefs and thought patterns that have been shaping our perception of life without our conscious awareness. It is possible repressed memories and emotions arise, and we may feel like we are reliving past traumatic events. These may be powerful and frightening, and it is best if we surrender to the experience and trust the medicine to do its work. Part of healing, is feeling, especially that we often would rather avoid.

There is an incredible variety of ayahausca experience, and the overall character of the journey may, and likely will be, very different from one ceremony to another.

We all arrive to ayahuasca in a different physical, emotional, energetic and spiritual state. While the above scenarios are common, your experience may be very different. It could be you do not have any visions at all, no sense of communication with the spirit, nor of any kind of healing or benefit. For some, the first few ceremonies are mostly about cleansing the body, and that can be unpleasant. Our own fears may be blocking the work of ayahuasca. Some who experience this think ayahuasca is simply not for them, or what they are going through is not worth it. If they persist with the medicine and find a way to trust and surrender to the experience, this does eventually come to an end. The body needs to be at certain level of purification before ayahuasca can give the beautiful, rich teachings available. It is possible the visions are overwhelming for a while, chaotic, where nothing is making any sense. Just breath through it and it will pass.

Deep, old pain and sorrow may arise, and you could find yourself sobbing like a child as heavy emotional energy is released. You may cry for joy, overwhelmed by the magnitude of love you feel. Laughter may bubble up. Perhaps you will sit quietly is a state of profound peace and tranquility. In truth, anything is possible with ayahuasca, and we cannot predict what any given ayahuasca ceremony will bring. That is just the way it is, and the key is to trust the medicine and surrender to the experience. Trust that what ever comes, it is a necessary part of your healing process, and is ultimately for your good.

With any psychoactive plant medicine, be it ayahuasca, huachuma, peyote, magic mushrooms or others, working with them can be summed up simply. We take the medicine, then accept what comes.

Love, Gratitude and Willingness

Bringing a positive attitude to ceremony can make a big difference in the experience and healing. Just before ceremony we hold guided meditations to help people enter the work in a higher vibrational state. While waiting for the ayahuasca effect to begin, intentionally take your mind to a place where you feel genuine gratitude and love. Call up memories of good time. Mentally express appreciation and love for those in your life. Let go of any thoughts of the process being fearful or difficult and cultivate a sense of positive expectation that something good is going to occur. Become willing, willing to go through what ever is necessary for you to receive what you have come for. And if it does get challenging, simply trust the medicine and state “I am willing”.

Possible Physical Effects of Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca can have some unpleasant, or simply odd and unusual physical effects. Foreknowledge can help one relax into the experience, accepting it as part of the possibilities of working with ayahuasca. Most people will are aware of the vomiting and diahrea, but there are many other physical side effects, including, but not limited to, the following list.

  • Trembling and shaking of arms and legs. You may find your arms or legs moving in patterns without your conscious control.
  • Very long yawns where your mouth feels a foot wide.
  • Tears falling without feeling sad. You may start sobbing uncontrollably as deep pain and sorrow is release, though you may not know what you are crying about.
  • Feeling very cold.
  • Feeling very hot and dripping in sweat.
  • Feeling completely drained of energy and that you do not have the strength to move.
  • Feeling very heavy, pressed into the floor as if the force of gravity had doubled or tripled.
  • Feeling highly energized, wanting to get up and dance to the singing or music.
  • Very strong surges of energy moving through the body.
  • Feeling dissociated from your body. Many people say they reached out to touch their legs to make sure they were there. Some people feel they have left their body, and a few say they rose above it and could see their body below them.
  • Extreme nausea that may last an hour or more. It is best to not make yourself throw up seeking relief from the nausea and just let the medicine do its work. You will vomit or not in the medicine’s time.
  • Feelings of bliss and euphoria.
  • Feeling physically strong, powerful and completely healthy and whole.
  • Feeling something touching your body, but nothing is there.
  • Feeling like insects are crawling on your body. This is an effect of the healing process and is a positive sign.
  • Hearing humming vibrating sounds

As you can see, this is a very diverse and lengthy list. All of the above are common physical experiences with ayahuasca and you may have physical effects that are not on this list. You may not feel any of these in a given ceremony, and it is possible to experience all of them in a single ceremony. What is more common is to experience just a few in a given ceremony, and that can vary from night to night.

Reviews Showing Our Center

Elin, Sweden

Mar, Mexico

12 Day Ayahuasca Retreats
View of ayahuasca retreat center's main lodge across their pond

Experience the deep healing and teaching of Peru’s two visionary medicine plants on a 12-day retreat that includes 7 ceremonies. Allow these powerful medicine plants to get at to root of your problems, clearing energies, beliefs and thought patterns that keep you limited in your daily life. Let ayahuasca and san pedro clear the blocks that keep you repeating the same unproductive behavior, and find the freedom to express your authentic self!

9 Day Ayahuasca Retreats
maloca where ayahuasca ceremonies are held

Our 9 day retreat is an introduction to the magic of ayahuasca and the san pedro visionary cactus, with 5 total ceremonies. This retreat is a great choice for those looking for clarity of purpose, relief from minor emotional struggles, a deeper understanding of themselves and freedom to live more authentically, or to deepen your spiritual understanding and connection with the divine. It also includes two talks on reprogramming your subconscious mind.

Immersion Ayahuasca Retreats
 Ayahuasca shaman giving an arcana at the retreat center

Immersion retreats are for those looking for extended work with ayahuasca, who desire a master plant dieta, or whose condition needs a longer treatment plan. We offer extended stays of 3 or 4 weeks. Immersion retreats include at least one 8 day dieta with a master medicine plant chosen by the shaman to help with your healing and learning. These longer stays include more ceremonies and personalized coaching from the shaman and facilitators.


Structure of an Ayahuasca Ceremony

Ayahuasca ceremony space at nightBefore the ceremony begins there is usually some form of energetic cleansing of the space. In the Amazon this is often done using tobacco or “smudging” the space with the aromatic wood Palo Santo. White Sage may also be used for smudging.

The ayahuasquero will sing to the ayahuasca medicine, asking the spirit of ayahuasca to come and heal and protect all participants. The medicine is then served and the lights turned off. Ceremonies are held in darkness to enhance the visionary aspect of the experience.

Most ayahuasqueros will wait in silence a period of time for the effect of the medicine to clearly begin. This quite period may range from 30-60 minutes. They then begin to sing icaros, the protection and healing songs of this tradition. These healing songs are calling to the medicine spirits, asking them to come and heal our brothers and sisters in ceremony. These icaros are given by the spirits themselves during the many years of training it takes to learn to be an effective healer.

The ayahuasquero leading the ceremony first calls in spirits of protection so participants are not troubled by outside negative energies. Singing their icaros, they then call in doctor spirits to begin the cleansing and healing process. For most people, the first two ceremonies of a retreat are mostly about purifying the body, preparing it to receive higher vibrational energies.

Towards the end of our ceremonies, the ayahuasquero will do individual healing work on each person in ceremony, addressing their specific needs. Ceremony is then closed with a song of thanks to God, ayahuasca and the medicine spirits for work they have done on our behalf.

Not Just Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca healing curanderoThe Hummingbird Center provides a beautiful safe, and supportive environment for your ayahuasca retreat and ceremony. Located near Iquitos, Peru, we offer retreats of different lengths to meet your personal needs. 9 & 12 Day retreats, and 3 & 4 week Immersion retreats are available. In addition to ceremony, there are a variety of cleansing processes including plant baths, medicinal vapor bath and a mud bath. Additional plant medicines may be prescribed as needed. Those at the center for 3 or 4 week stays will also do a strict dieta process working with medicine plants prescribed by the ayahuasquero.

Also included are guided meditations, a guided walk through the jungle to learn about the various medicine plants growing naturally on our property. There are two talks about how our belief systems influence our experience of life and how to change the negative beliefs to positive ones. There is also a short introduction to shamanic journeying using a drum, without the influence of consciousness altering substances.

Ayahuasca Opens the Subconscious

One of the benefits of working with ayahuasca is its ability to unlock the subconscious mind. Memories of early childhood may return, of things we have not thought of for 15 or more years. We may clearly see beliefs and thought patterns that have been shaping our perception of life without our conscious awareness. It is possible repressed memories and emotions arise, and we may feel like we are reliving past traumatic events. These may be powerful and frightening, and it is best if we surrender to the experience and trust the medicine to do its work. Part of healing, is feeling, especially that we often would rather avoid.

There is an incredible variety of ayahausca experience, and the overall character of the journey may, and likely will be, very different from one ceremony to another.

We all arrive to ayahuasca in a different physical, emotional, energetic and spiritual state. While the above scenarios are common, your experience may be very different. It could be you do not have any visions at all, no sense of communication with the spirit, nor of any kind of healing or benefit. For some, the first few ceremonies are mostly about cleansing the body, and that can be unpleasant. Our own fears may be blocking the work of ayahuasca. Some who experience this think ayahuasca is simply not for them, or what they are going through is not worth it. If they persist with the medicine and find a way to trust and surrender to the experience, this does eventually come to an end. The body needs to be at certain level of purification before ayahuasca can give the beautiful, rich teachings available. It is possible the visions are overwhelming for a while, chaotic, where nothing is making any sense. Just breath through it and it will pass.

Deep, old pain and sorrow may arise, and you could find yourself sobbing like a child as heavy emotional energy is released. You may cry for joy, overwhelmed by the magnitude of love you feel. Laughter may bubble up. Perhaps you will sit quietly is a state of profound peace and tranquility. In truth, anything is possible with ayahuasca, and we cannot predict what any given ayahuasca ceremony will bring. That is just the way it is, and the key is to trust the medicine and surrender to the experience. Trust that what ever comes, it is a necessary part of your healing process, and is ultimately for your good.

With any psychoactive plant medicine, be it ayahuasca, huachuma, peyote, magic mushrooms or others, working with them can be summed up simply. We take the medicine, then accept what comes.

Trust Ayahuasca

The key to getting the most from your time with ayahuasca is to trust it and surrender to the experience. Know that all you are going through is simply the medicine healing you, preparing for a healthier, richer and more authentic life. Have faith and a positive expectation. Be committed to your growth and healing. This is a helpful, and perhaps best attitude to bring when working with ayahuasca.