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Can group sizes affect the ayahuasca experience?


One of our groups with 8 participants (plus Chopper!)

Ayahuasca retreat group sizes and how they impact the experience


There are many factors that need to be considered when discussing what impacts the overall ayahuasca experience. Some things that are usually at the top of the list are: the facilitator’s experience, the location, the setting, the tradition of the ceremonies etc. While these may seem obvious, there are other more subtle aspects of an ayahuasca retreat that can also greatly affect what kind of experience you have. In our previous blog we discussed the importance of having personal space but our philosophy behind offering private rooms extends beyond just providing a safe space for every guest, it is also so we can ensure that every one of our retreats is an intimate experience and the group sizes stay manageable.


So, what does manageable mean? It means making sure that we are able to provide every guest with personal attention and create an atmosphere where our participants are able to connect on an intimate level with every other member of the group. It also means keeping the energetic space of the ceremony room controlled and protected.

As part of our intentional philosophy at our ayahuasca retreats, we do not offer any kind of group sharing. We understand that ayahuasca draws people going through their own personal struggles and processes, trying to heal from different traumas and that not everyone is comfortable being completely open right away. Because we don’t schedule group sharing, we like to ensure that we are always available to each participant individually should they like to discuss their experience on a private level. Keeping each retreat to under 10 means that we can really connect and get to know each guest on a deeply personal level and take the time for each individual.


Hosting smaller groups also allows for the guests to bond on a level that would be impossible with 15, 20, 50 or even 100 participants (and yes, some centers do host that many people in a single retreat). As we discussed in our previous blog, ayahuasca is first and foremost a personal experience, but it is also a communal experience and our guests end up feeling like family by the end of the week. We are able to learn about each other, support each other and connect to feel comfortable entering into the void with each other because of the intimacy afforded by our small groups. Every participants energy is released and contributed to the ceremony so to be comfortable with each individual that you drink with can help you fully release into the experience.


Most importantly, we keep our retreat groups small to ensure the energetic safety of every ceremony. Our retreats will never exceed 10 participants with 3 staff members to assist: our ayahuascquero Matt who drinks with the group to guide the experience through Icaros and 2 support staff that are available to respond to any participant that needs assistance during the night. In each ceremony, every individual is expelling energy and it is our responsibility as facilitators to manage these energies to keep the room controlled and protected, which is almost impossible to do with groups larger than 10 -20 sitting under a single facilitator. Ayahuasca ceremonies offer a therapeutic environment to release these energies so crying, laughing, moaning and other types of purging are common occurrences throughout the night. If you get 20 – 100 people in a single room all doing this at the same time, it can become chaotic and distracting which can significantly take away from the ability to focus and release into the experience.


Keeping our retreats intimate and really getting to know and connect with every guest has always been a pillar of the foundation on which we have carefully crafted our retreats. Hosting small groups not only offers a way to support each participant through the experience but also feels most rewarding to us as facilitators as we build lasting relationships and true friendships with previous guests. For all these reasons and more, NLA will always choose to offer intimate retreats.

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​© 2019 Jeanae White & New Life Ayahuasca Costa Rica