I’m welcoming you to the hundredth episode of this podcast! In this episode, I finally get around to talking about my experience that I had a few months ago, where I went on two different retreats to experience Ayahuasca medicine in South America.
I can’t quite believe I’ve carried on for so long. It’s been an amazing experience for me to do this podcast. I started this podcast because it was actually a bit of a mission for me to overcome those last little bits of social anxiety and fears about speaking to people. Especially people I really look up to.
I share about:
- Why I went to the Amazon jungle and what it was like (spoiler: it was intense!)
- What I learned from the plant medicine and what you can learn from it too
- The risks involved and how I overcame my fears
Hello, and welcome to the Calmer You podcast. This is Chloe Brotheridge your host. I’m a coach, hypnotherapist and author of the Anxiety Solution and Brave New Girl. And I’m welcoming you to the hundredth episode of this podcast. I can’t quite believe I’ve carried on for so long. It’s been an amazing experience for me to do this podcast. I started this podcast because it was actually a bit of a mission for me to overcome those last little bits of social anxiety and fears about speaking to people. Especially people I really look up to.
What it’s meant doing this podcast
It’s been such a great learning experience for that. Not only do I get to speak to people that I really admire and look up to, but, I’m also growing my own confidence by putting myself out there. It’s been really valuable on so many levels. Thank you so much.
Whether you’re joining and listening to my podcast for the first time, or whether you’ve listened since day one, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate all of your messages and all the times that you let me know that you’re listening that it’s that it’s helped you. It really makes a difference to me. So thank you for that.
Yes, it was a powerful experience
So in this episode, I’m finally getting around to talking about my experience that I had back in December and January of 2019/20. Where I went on two different retreats to experience Ayahuasca medicine from South America.
I have to say I’ve been putting this conversation off. I am feeling a certain amount of trepidation to even be talking about it because of the fact that it is not legal in the UK. It is legal in a lot of South American countries. There is definitely an aspect to it, which is pretty scary, a bit dangerous. And yet, it was such a powerful experience for me, and really did help me in lots of interesting ways.
What you can expect from this episode
I’m going to describe a lot of things about the experience from why I decided to do it, what it was like being in the jungle, the things that I was afraid of, and the insights that I gained.
I also want to share a disclaimer that I’m not suggesting that anyone else go out and have this experience. There are risks involved. If you’re considering this, please do a lot of research. You hear horror stories about people who go to Peru and find someone at the airport to take them to a shaman to take Ayahuasca. Those are the sorts of situations where we could be getting ourselves into really unpleasant or dangerous experiences. So please do your own research.
Before me and Aiden went on the retreats Aiden conducted research for about nine months. He was in a lot of Facebook groups and getting recommendations from people. He also talked to people that we knew also doing a lot of research into this. We feel really happy with the people that we chose to do the retreat with. I’ll share that in a moment.
Do your research
Please do your research. Don’t commit to the first person that you find on Google. If someone comes up to you in the street in Lima, Peru and offers you something, it’s probably not going to be the best situation. Unfortunately, you do hear about people who experience, particularly women, sexual assaults at the hands of shamans who are not on the right path. You also hear about people that are just doing it for the money and it’s really not well run or not well organised or out of integrity in some other way. So yeah, it’s really important to do research. I’m not encouraging anyone to do this. I’m just sharing my experience.
Why did I chose to do this?
So why did I choose to have this experience? So I would say I am a consciousness Explorer. I have for many years been interested in things like meditation, yoga, breathwork, different practices that help us to explore what’s possible for us to experience in terms of our consciousness or what we can feel in our bodies. That’s something that’s been really interesting for me for a long time.
Over the course of about a week of my life, I heard from three different people, three totally separate conversations with three different people about Ayahuasca. It’s often said that when it’s your time to partake in this experience that you will experience serendipity or coincidences. I just thought that it was a really big coincidence that three different people have brought it up in conversations without me bringing it up. I took it as a sign.
Cross-over between Ayahuasca and hypnotherapy
I’m also really interested in healing and healing past trauma. There seems to be quite a lot of crossover between Ayahuasca and hypnotherapy.
A lot of what I’m doing with my clients is helping them to heal things from the past and get to the root of their issues and heal the traumas that they’ve taken on board in their lives. I’d also heard the thing that is often said about Ayahuasca, which is, it’s like 10 years of therapy in one night. That was somewhat intriguing to me as someone that has had a lot of therapy.
The experience is different for everyone
I was really interested in how that would work and if it was true. I would say probably, that’s kind of an exaggeration for lots of people. There are certainly people that I’ve met who have had incredibly life changing experiences after drinking it. From my own experience, it has been a little bit more subtle and not necessarily like 10 years of therapy in one night, but still really valuable.
A lot of insights, a lot of growth, a lot of learning. However, I would say don’t get too carried away by this idea that it’s gonna fix all your problems or cure you overnight. Like anything, there’s usually a little bit more work involved and a lot of the shamans and people that know a lot about this will tell you that when we take it.
The most important aspect of it is actually the integration, you know, how do we put what we’ve learned into practice? How do we then integrate that into our lives. I have to also say that I wasn’t in a bad place when I went. It seems as though it attracts a lot of people who are experiencing depression, anxiety, lots of other, you know, negative states. They will often be drawn to having this experience. For me. I was in a really good place. I’m always looking to deepen my experience and take it to the next level.
It’s classed as a psychedelic substance. It’s referred to as a drug in the UK. However, in South America, it has been used as a medicine for thousands of years in the Amazon. That’s where it originated. They refer to it as a medicine. It is legal. It is something that has been taken in tribes for years and years and years. They really don’t think of it as a drug in their culture. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that it can help us to be more mindful, healing past trauma, calming anxiety, freeing us from depression.
In the last decade, a number of research groups in Europe and the Americas have conducted studies into the safety and effectiveness of psychedelics for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. A small number of studies have found them to be effective, and they are doing more and more research into this area. We’re going to be, I believe, hearing a lot more about psychedelics and their potential to help us with psychological issues in the coming years.
There was a study in the early 2000s at John Hopkins University in the US, and they found that psilocybin, which is the active compound in magic mushrooms, reduced depression in 80% of patients with life-threatening cancer. Separately, they were much more effective at getting people to quit smoking than current treatments when combined with cognitive behavioural therapy. Please, obviously do your own research into it.
It does seem as though particularly a lot of studies are centred around people with terminal illnesses where they are experiencing anxiety about dying. Basically, they are finding that psychedelic drugs or medicines are able to really make an impact on how they feel and how they feel about facing their death. I just think this has got to be one of the most important things that we can be giving to people, you know, to be able to have less anxiety about death. That is huge.
Death and anxiety
You can think about how much anxiety we have about death, even when we’re not dying. A lot of our anxiety to deal with uncertainty is actually, I believe, a fear of death because death is the ultimate uncertainty. We don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s gonna be really interesting to see in the coming years if psychedelics become legal in the UK to treat people for things like anxiety and depression. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. In the UK, as we speak, research is centred around this.
Clinical studies do not suggest that psychedelics cause long term mental health problems. I think that is something that people quite often worry about. They worry about losing their minds or going mad when they take psychedelics.
Do your research
And yet, the evidence is that they are safe in this regard. There are definitely contraindications. Again, please do your research. If you have experienced schizophrenia, or you have bipolar disorder, it’s generally not recommended for you to go and take psychedelics. It’s also quite dangerous if you are on antidepressant medication, serotonin reuptake inhibitors. That’s because some compounds in Ayahuasca interacts with your serotonin levels and so it can cause your serotonin levels to go too high and be dangerous.
Another thing that made me want to try this is gonna sound a bit weird. I’ve been doing quite a lot of breathwork classes lately. And you might remember I did an episode with Rebecca Dennis all about transformational breath, and in breathwork.
Well, I’ll leave that for another episode. But in breathwork, you quite often get insights and answers. You can almost hear your inner wisdom giving you a message. In a breathwork class I had this message that I had to go to the jungle had to do something that was outside of my comfort zone.
That was going to be a really good thing for me. Of course last year, my book Brave New Girl came out. Writing the book was a time when I was focused on doing things that are a little bit scary but probably going to be good for me. And even if it feels uncomfortable, trying to walk towards that instead of hiding away or running away from that.
All of this led up to me and my partner Aiden, heading to Peru in November 2019. We flew to Lima, and then travelled to a part of Peru in the Amazon jungle called a key toss. The place that we chose to do the retreat is called Aya Healing Retreats and the person running it is called Elio. He’s a lovely Italian guy. Ann assisted as well. They were so kind and caring. That made such a difference. The person who’s facilitating your workshop, whatever kind of workshop that is, makes a massive difference. Elio and Anna were so kind and so patient. We all had so many questions that came up over the course of the 12 days.
The shaman who was facilitating the retreat was called Maestra Juanita. I think she must have in her 60s. She’s a tiny amazing woman and incredibly powerful. She was leading the Ayahuasca ceremonies and administering the medicine. She was also singing echoes. Echoes are the songs that they sing in the Shipibo tradition. The songs themselves are very healing, They hold a certain intention with their song and are sang during the ceremony. They’re really singing the song into you with an intention of helping you to heal.
The ceremonies were really quite something. The singing could go on for seven hours straight and all through the night. The ceremonies took place at night, which is an interesting experience in itself.
I was scared about being in the jungle. We had to walk for about an hour and a half with our rucksacks into the jungle to get to the retreat centre. It really felt like we were in the middle nowhere. There was no phone reception. There were just trees, as far as the eye can see.
I had the sense that if something goes wrong, you can’t really escape. That is not entirely true. I think if something had gone wrong, that they would have been able to support us or get us out of there. It just kind of feels like that when you’re in the middle of the jungle. We were staying in a Tambo, a wooden hut with no windows to keep the mosquitoes out. It was amazingly beautiful. We were showering in a stream.
Sounds and sights
There were these giant blue butterflies, floating around everywhere. Now and again you’d hear some kind of rustling in the bushes and wonder what it was. Sometimes we heard the sound of a tree crashing to the ground in the forest. In my experience that was pretty terrifying not knowing where it was going to fall. That was pretty scary. Every night they shot a gun to ward away the jag heroes. I’m pretty sure they do stay away from humans because they know that they might get shot basically, so they steer clear.
We’re also taught about what to do if you see a snake. Apparently, if anyone sees a snake on their daily walk or run, what you’re supposed to do is actually take off your T-shirt and throw it at the snake. The snake will think that it’s being attacked. It will stay with the T shirt and you can run away. This is a little top tip for anyone that happens to encounter a snake.
I have to say the whole experience of being in the jungle was pretty challenging for me.
We also had to go on a very strict diet beforehand. This is typical for when you take Ayahuasca. The shamans recommend that you cut out sugar, dairy, meat, anything with Salt. You are also not allowed to have sex for a couple of weeks beforehand, either.
I mean, most of it’s okay, the hardest bit is not eating salt. It’s very hard to find food that doesn’t have salt in our modern world. We were told was that you are making a sacrifice and an offering to the spirit of Ayahuasca. It is considered a female spirit in shamanic traditions. You are showing your commitment, your willingness and your readiness to take part in this experience.
The first night
On the night of the first retreat, we got settled in our spaces. We were all in what is called a moloca. A wooden structure with a roof and mesh for windows. We’re also in a circle in complete darkness. Everyone has a little red light they use to get around but otherwise it’s completely dark.
In turns, we talk about our intentions. That’s something that’s very important. It’s really important to think about that in advance. I think that’s just a good practice for everyday life. Set an intention before we go into an experience. I had put in a lot of thought about what I wanted to get out of it. I wanted to heal things from the past things about overcoming resistance and letting go of control. Those were some of the intentions that I had.
Then you drink a small shot glass of the medicine. The medicine itself is a combination of two plants mixed together. When you mix these plants together that akuna bush contains something called an enzyme inhibitor, which inhibits an enzyme that we have in our stomachs.
If we were to just have the Ayahuasca on its own, we would digest the DMT, which is the active psychedelic component, and it wouldn’t have any effect on us. So somehow they figured out without knowing anything about organic chemistry, that mixing this mind with this leaf caused the enzyme to be inhibited, and so that we can absorb the DMT. And it can have an impact. And I think it’s quite amazing when you think about how they would have known that considering the Amazon contains more plants than anywhere else in the world.
There are hundreds of thousands of different plant species found in the Amazon and they somehow knew how to mix these two plants together. That’s quite incredible. It shows their connection to nature and wisdom. You drink a shot of this medicine. It’s not delicious, and it’s usually just a good idea to get it down as fast as possible. Then you wait. It usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour to take effect. During that time, Maestra Juanita was singing her Ikaros and we focused on our intentions.
There are so many different experiences that a person can have Ayahuasa. It can be different every single time. Something that is very common is that you are sick. A lot of people, myself included, do not enjoy being sick. This is a part of the experience. The shamans say that when the medicine makes us purge, it’s a way of helping us to process and get rid of negative energies in the body things from the past traumas. It really can feel like that. I’ve had experiences where I’ve been being sick and it almost seems as though I am expelling a certain negative emotion or a belief.
Purging and healing
During one experience I felt like I was getting rid of my disgust for myself. It sounds kind of weird, but as I was being sick, I felt like this. A lot of stuff, a lot of programming about not being good enough a lot of stuff about being critical of the way I look or critical of my body. I felt a lot of that stuff was coming out as I was purging. I think this is a common experience and the purging is part of the process.
It seems very surreal at first being sick in a room full of people. You can hear other people being sick. It sounds really weird, but it’s amazing how soon it just starts to feel quite normal once you’ve done it for a while. It’s actually quite liberating. Once you get over your fear of being sick, it can almost feel quite good because you know that you’re getting rid of something. Another experience I had is called a ‘process’ where I felt huge amounts of energy moving in my body. I almost lost touch with what was happening.
I almost didn’t know where I was or what was going on. I just had this sense of this energy moving through me, though I can’t really describe it. It’s almost like I was lifting really heavy items on my back or, you know, carrying something really heavy and kind of pushing it off me in a sense. It was really quite unpleasant and very, very hard. I would say it’s almost one of the hardest things I’ve experienced. I mean, I haven’t given birth to a baby, or anything like that, and I almost imagine it might be slightly like that, that sense of exhaustion and difficulty.
Every now and again, I’d get the sense of, oh my god, I can’t do this, I can’t do this. Then moments later, I would have the sense that my ancestors or something, were giving me strength and energy as I was processing all this stuff. And it’s often said that we can be processing stuff for our ancestor’s. All the trauma, all the negative energy that can get stuck in our lineage, that can get stuck in our bodies or even our DNA.
How I felt
That’s really what it felt like for me, it was really hard, really unpleasant, but I felt afterwards as if something had really shifted. I’d let go of a lot of stuff, even though I wasn’t entirely sure what that stuff was. I also had other experiences where I felt like I was in a dream and all of my worst fears were coming true.
Obviously, that was really, really scary. It was very visual, like the most real dream I’ve ever had. It seemed to go on for hours and hours. I was exhausted at the end of it. I had this sense afterward that I had this strength within me to be able to get through hard experiences. That’s what the medicine can quite often do. It can show us our fears, it can show us the parts of ourselves that we’ve been suppressing or keeping inside and we don’t want to look at and it brings all of that stuff up to the surface.
It brings it to the light and shines a light on it. Suddenly when we shine a light on these things, they start to dissolve and they start to not be such a problem for us anymore. In essence, it was a good experience. It brought stuff up to the surface to be healed, to have that light shone on it, so that it’s no longer holding you back anymore.
It wasn’t all scary
There were other times when I had incredibly beautiful experiences seeing amazing colours and geometric shapes and had wonderful feelings of love for everything. During one experience, I felt like I exploded, and my consciousness was everywhere, in every atom in the whole of the universe, and every star, my consciousness was there. That’s as hard to imagine, outside of that experience.
It’s interesting because sometimes just saying it now it can seem a bit odd. I don’t know if that even makes sense to anyone or means anything. When you’re in the medicine you have these very meaningful, visceral experiences. It’s as though you can have a concept of knowing that you’re loved and knowing that you’re lovable and worthy, but to actually truly know it, and feel it and believe it in every cell of your body.
That is quite a different experience. I think that’s what the medicine can give us. A very visceral realisation of ourselves or patterns and where things come from and what we need to do in life. Looking back on this experience, I can really notice that I have become more connected to my body more accepting of myself. I’ve noticed that I’ve got a greater awareness of thought patterns. I 100% feel more connected to nature to animals. I feel like my love for animals has just gone off the charts.
It’s quite scary. Being in the jungle, taking a psychedelic and going into the unknown. There’s this strength in me that is reminding me that I have been able to do something that scares me.
It has given mre more confidence. I’ve also learned, I think, to feel my feelings a lot more. The experience of the medicine going deeper and deeper into feelings from the past about my childhood and allowing it to unfold. I could see how I avoid discomfort. I don’t want to feel uncomfortable feelings so I stay busy or I change the subject or I think about something else.
Ayahuasca forces you to go into the feelings. When we put our attention on the emotion and the feelings, we allow that energy to move through the nerves and move through our nervous system and flow. We’re actually able to feel those feelings and let them flow through and be processed.
The second part of the trip
The second part of this trip was a trip to visit a tribe called the x, who live in at Cray in Brazil. That was another long journey of travelling through the jungle. We had to get on a little plane and fly into that village. There were no roads leading into a lot of these tribal villages. You cannot just drive out. You have to get a plane then a boat from the airport to the village. It really is incredibly remote.
Living with a remote tribe
There are miles and miles and nothing but trees. That was quite incredible to see. It felt kind of scary to somewhat trapped or completely cut off. Certainly no internet connection. No doctors apart from the shamans. We had the incredible privilege of getting to live with this tribe for two weeks.
There were about 12 Westerners, and maybe 100 members of the tribe in this village. And they were constantly singing, playing music dancing. One of their festivals is called sugar shack away, which means eternal life, apparently. We were invited to join them for their festival.
This experience was even more remote. The first one was in a retreat centre. This one was literally in a village, we were sleeping in hammocks, we were going to the toilet in holes in the ground, there was very intermittent running water, it would run out very, very frequently.
I can’t tell you how much I appreciate running water since having this experience. It’s a totally amazing experience. There was, however, a lot about it that made me really massively appreciate our Western lifestyle. Running toilets and running water was definitely high up on that list.
Learning to let go
I think for me, a lot of this experience was, was teaching me to try to learn to let go. I thought going into this experience that I was pretty chilled. This just took it to another level. I was really quite challenged at certain points. They had these giant ants called bullet ants which about as long as half a finger length. If you get bitten by one of these ants it’s one of the most painful insect bites that there is. All of the glands in your body swell up. It’s incredibly painful. Thankfully, no one got bitten by a bullet ant over there.
You know, when you’re imbibing in a psychedelic, and you are feeling at times quite out of control, and not in touch with reality and then there are a lot of bugs and ants. We saw tarantulas. There was seven-inch spider in our room that Aiden had to get rid of. Those added challenges.
What I’m saying is, there were definitely challenges and although this is an incredible experience, I think one needs to be prepared for the jungle. The jungle is alive in every sense, and the jungle comes more and more alive when you take Ayahuasca. It can sometimes feel as though the trees are breached.
The jungle felt alive
We had to walk to the toilet which was down a jungle path. On the first night, we were told we weren’t allowed to speak to each other in the ceremony. So I was going to the toilet on my own, walking through the jungle for maybe, I don’t know, three or four minutes, and it just felt like the whole jungle was alive. The floor was moving. The trees are reaching out to me. I saw what seemed like jungle beings everywhere.
Me and Aiden stuck together like glue and went to the toilet together. Every single time and I tell you what, we’ve been together 10 years but there’s nothing quite so bonding as being each other’s toilet buddy. It was very, very bonding.
What else I learned
Suffice to say, I think one of the things that this really taught me and certainly what the medicine taught me was that there is a part of me inside that just wants to be in control of things. The medicine put a magnifying glass up to this. I could see all the ways that I try to be in control. I noticed all the tiny ways I do this without even being conscious of it and in very subtle ways.
That’s happening all the time. I was hearing someone drumming and I noticed my thought going into Oh, I hope they’re okay drumming. That was on some level my way of trying to control something that is completely none of my business. It really showed me all the ways that I’m doing this all the time. I had this sense of really trying to relax that part of myself that was trying to take control. When trying to relax those controlling parts, I felt that I could start to connect to something that was bigger than me.
Not sure if you would call it God or the universe or life but I had this sense that there is this force that is taking care of things that actually I don’t need to try and micromanage. That was a relaxing awareness to realise. I’m not going to die.
This is something that is often talked about in different religious teachings or spiritual teachings about the ego part of us. The part that’s trying to keep us safe, the part that is trying to control things, and the ego is really scared that if it lets go, that it’s going to die, and it’s going to be obliterated, or that we won’t be safe. I just noticed this experience of inviting this sense of control to relax and try to let go. And that was just another kind of insight I had, that I want to share with you.
Yeah, how much better would our lives be if we could let go and trust that the universe has our back. That there is a force of life that is taking care of things. We don’t have to always be in control, we can trust that things are taking care of themselves.
Finally, I shared my experience
That is quite a long episode, but also quite a condensed version of the experience that I had. There are so many things I could have spoken about. I just wanted to share with you the ups and downs of it.
It definitely wasn’t an easy experience, but it was incredibly valuable. I learned a lot about myself. I faced a lot of fears and feel like a stronger person on the other side of it.
Obviously, if you’re considering doing something like this, please do your own research. I wish he loads of luck in your journey and at whatever you’re pursuing and whatever ways you’re looking to heal or grow. There are lots of different things we can do to help ourselves that don’t involve taking psychedelics like breathwork or hypnotherapy.
You don’t have to go to Peru
There are lots of different shamanic workshops available that don’t involve taking something that is not legal in this country. If you google different shamanic workshops, whether that’s a drum journey, whether that’s a happy face, there are many. Whether that’s even singing circles, all these sorts of things can give us similar experiences and insights without having to go off to Peru.
I’d love to know what you think about this episode. I’m really curious, please do let me know. Send me a message on Instagram.
I’m at Chloe Brotheridge. And if you think there’s anyone in your life that might benefit from hearing this experience and the insights that I gained, please do share it with them as well. So I’m just sending you loads of love, and you’re taking care of yourself. Thank you so much for listening.