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5 Tips for Navigating a Difficult Ayahuasca Experience

Facing Challenging Moments

Ayahuasca can be beautiful but it also has a dark side that can make for some very difficult and uncomfortable experiences. When this happens, it is normal to feel fear or anxiety and begin wishing the whole thing would just end. But don’t worry, many times these difficult experiences are the ones we can learn the most from if we are able to release into the experience and surrender to the medicine. Here we offer some tools you can use to help you through some difficult ayahuasca moments.


Breathing is one of the simplest and most effective ways to re-center and ground yourself when an ayahuasca experience becomes challenging. Breathing is the body’s natural way of responding to pain and emotion. When we experience fear and our fight/flight response is activated we become tense and our breath becomes shallow, rapid and erratic or we forget to breathe altogether. If we are able to bring our awareness to our breath and practice conscious breathing, we can induce a sense of calm and control. Try taking full deep even breaths in and out of the nose inhaling for a count of 3 and exhaling for a count of 3. Keep the breath level and consistent. Controlled breathing can help steady the rhythm of the heart and calm the emotional center of the brain allowing us to relax in an otherwise stressful moment.


The music of the ceremony is specifically designed to help guide the experience and reflect the energy of the ceremony space. If you begin to feel lost or consumed in the visions and emotions of the experience, try paying attention to each and every sound. The music will help you move on from a difficult moment. The Icaros, or medicine songs, call to the spirit of ayahuasca and other plants to bring teachings to each participant. During an ayahuasca ceremony it can be easy to lose awareness of the music and get stuck in your own head, letting your thoughts get focused elsewhere. Reminding yourself of the importance of the songs and letting them guide you forward can be a valuable tool when things seem particularly challenging.


The act of expressing gratitude can often shift an experience from a moment of darkness to a moment of light. We often lack gratitude for the things we have and the moments we experience, especially when they seem to be going in a direction that we are unhappy or uncomfortable with. Often times, just the act of saying thank you to the medicine can drastically change the direction of the experience. Perspective is extremely powerful, if all of our energy is focused on being unhappy or uncomfortable, it is likely we will stay unhappy and uncomfortable. If we shift our awareness to gratitude, even if it is only for being able to partake in ayahuasca ceremonies, something that many people in this world will never get to experience, then we invite a fresh perspective with love and humility. This powerful shift can dramatically change the experience in a positive direction.


Having an intention going into the ayahuasca experience is extremely important. You should always have a purpose for drinking ayahuasca, even if its something as simple as ‘I want to better understand myself’. Having a clearly defined intention can be a valuable tool in challenging moments because you can remind yourself that there is a reason that you are in the space you are in. If you can recall your intention and draw strength from your purpose you may have an easier time overcoming difficult or dark moments. Your intention can help you refocus, recommit and release into the experience. Many difficult moments come from our resistance to let go and surrender to the medicine. Reminding yourself of your intention, you reason for being at an ayahuasca retreat or in ceremony can help you release control to receive the wisdom of the medicine.


If all else fails, open your eyes. Most of the visions with ayahuasca come with the eyes closed. When you open your eyes, you invite back the awareness of this world, where you are and who you are with. This can be sobering, pulling you back into reality, even if only briefly. This respite can give you the opportunity to practice any of the above-mentioned tools in a less intense setting. Once you have realigned with your purpose, close your eyes and release into the experience once again.


Please remember that this medicine gives us exactly what we need. We must have darkness to appreciate the light so try embrace every moment, even the ones that are the most challenging because if you fight it, it will only get worse. Always look for what you can learn and if you need to use any of the tools we mentioned, always use them while trying to work with the medicine, not against it. We hope that these 5 tools can be helpful for you during your next ayahuasca ceremony.


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