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Our Ayahuasca Ceremonies- Their Structure and Flow

Our Beloved Mesa or Altar

One of our goals at La Familia Ayahuasca is to inform and educate. This is such that those of you who are considering joining one of our Ayahuasca retreats in Guatemala, you can prepare yourselves for the experience as much as possible.

Over the many years leading Ayahuasca retreats we have found that westerners find comfort in knowing as much as possible what they are getting into ahead of time. When you, the potential guest, can be informed and prepared. This then can open space for relaxation as you go into your first set of Ayahuasca ceremonies.

In our experience, the more relaxed and comfortable you are entering the Ayahuasca experience, the deeper you go and the more productive the work can be.

So, it is with this intention that we are writing this post about the structure and format of our Ayahuasca ceremonies.

Our ceremonies have a solid foundation and structure based on the format Zach learned in Peru over his 4.5 year intensive training period in the Amazon jungle (link to lineage/training page).

That said, over the past 5 years leading ceremonies for westerners, Zach and Jess have added some practices or components to that traditional mestizo Ayahuasca ceremony structure.

These additions are designed to create a deep sense of relaxation such that you, the guest, can really drop in to the medicine space in the smoothest, most productive manner possible.

So, with that pre-amble, let’s jump in….

First and foremost our retreats and ceremonies are kept small. Our goal is to provide a high level of service and personal attention. The maximum number of guests on our retreats is 15 guests.

Our ceremonies are done in complete darkness. Therefore, we wait until the sun has set completely. This means we start circling you up for ceremony at around 7:30PM.

Everyone has their own “nest” and we provide the following for you:

  • Soft cushy mat to sit/lay on.

  • A meditation bolster or pillow.

  • Blankets and regular pillows.

  • Vomit buckets.

  • Tissue for your nose and wiping your mouth post purging.

Once everyone is circled up and settled in, Jess conducts a guided somatic meditation (link to video on somatic meditation).

The guided somatic meditation is one of our additions to the traditional Ayahuasca ceremony format. The reason we added it is that we westerners tend to be very much “in our heads” and when we are in our heads it tends to create unnecessary anxiety or what might be described as a lack of grounding. Conversely, when we connect and go into to our bodies, it is quite noticeable how relaxed and grounded we can feel in very short order.

In addition, this guided meditation at the beginning of our Ayahuasca ceremonies has three functions. The first is to help you relax deeply as you enter ceremony. Then, it is also a technique that you can use on your own during ceremony to help yourself through challenging moments and to re-ground into your body. Finally, you can take this practice home if you would like to continue your own personal work through a meditation practice of your own.

Over the course of the retreat, Jess will take you through a progression of these embodiment or somatic meditation techniques such that you can play with several different types of meditation. This way you can discover through direct experience which techniques suit you for future personal practice if you feel so compelled.

Jess’s guided meditation lasts 15-20 minutes. Once that is complete, we sing icaros (sacred medicine songs) into the jar of Ayahuasca. Singing icaros into the Ayahuasca before it is served has two functions. Singing icaros cleans out any unwanted energies that may have accumulated in the Ayahuasca and the icaros also infuse the Ayahuasca with even more healing or medicine energy. (Click here to read more about icaros and how they work)

Once Jess and I have finished singing into the sacrament, it is time for us to serve it up to each of you, the guests.

There is an altar at the front of the ceremony space behind which Jess and I will be sitting. We will call each you up one by one to the altar to receive your cup of Ayahuasca.

When you receive your cup of Ayahuasca, it is a good opportunity to sit with the cup at your heart, maybe say a prayer and silently put forth your intention for Ayahuasca. Then, once you are ready, you raise the glass and say “salud”. The rest of the room will say “salud” back to you and it is time to drink the Ayahuasca quickly, like a shot. Very few people are able to “sip” Ayahuasca and enjoy it. LOL.

When we serve the medicine we are looking for a “sweet spot” in terms of dosage. That is, we have found that the most productive ceremonies are those where in you are definitely in the medicine space and at the same time still conscious and are able to work with that which is coming up in your experience.

This is in contrast to not feeling much (link to "No Experience" post) or at the other end of the spectrum “going into the washing machine”. While we recognize both extremes of the spectrum can be valuable to experiences, we have found the “middle way” to be the most productive.

We have a standard dose of about 1oz and at the same time we check in with guests in order to aim for that “sweet spot” dosage.

For those who have past experience with Ayahuasca, but are new to us, we talk a bit about dose sizes in previous ceremonies. For those who have worked with us extensively in the past, we allow them the opportunity to direct us as to how deep they want to go in any given ceremony. Of course, there is always a “dealers choice” option, leaving it up to Jess and I to intuit the dosage.

For those with no Ayahuasca experience we use the combination of the following information to determine the amount we serve:

  • We ask how sensitive you are to other substances such as LSD, fungus, Huachuma, cannabis and even alcohol.

  • We look at the size of the person.

  • We check into how anxious or nervous a person is as they approach for their dosage.

  • We check in with Ayahuasca at an intuitive level as to how much to serve.

All of the above pieces of information are taken into consideration the amount we serve new people. When it comes to serving Ayahuasca we take the approach of “we are not stingy with our Ayahuasca, but we are conservative”. The idea being, you can always drink a bit more later in ceremony, but you can not put the Ayahuasca back in the bottle once you have drunk it.

After everyone has received their cup of Ayahuasca, we turn the lights off. Once the lights are off, we are officially in ceremony and we ask that people refrain from conversation and the only reason to leave their “nest” is to go to the restroom.

We start things off with what is called a “Metta Meditation”. “Metta” means loving kindness. This meditation at the beginning of our ceremonies is to put forth the intention to have loving kindness for ourselves, for Ayahuasca and for all sentient beings.

Again, Jess leads this meditation wherein the guests follow along silently with these statements made by Jess:

  • May I be happy.

  • May I be healthy.

  • May I be free from suffering.

  • May I be from mental anxiety.

  • May I feel safe.

  • May I pass my time in this life with ease.

The Metta Meditation starts with wishing well for ourselves with the idea that before we can truly love others, we must first have love for ourselves.

Then this is followed by:

  • Ayahuasca, may you be happy.

  • May you be healthy.

  • May you be free from suffering.

  • etc…

We wish Ayahuasca well as a sign of respect and gratitude.

Finally we put forth our intention to wish well to all sentient beings:

  • All sentient beings, may you be happy.

  • May you be healthy.

  • May you be free from suffering.

  • etc….

Again, this guided meditation is designed to bring focus and intention towards wishing well and gratitude. This in turn creates a sense of open heartedness and relaxation.

The Metta Meditation takes maybe 10 minutes. Once that is over, the shamanic team starts singing icaros. In fact, the next 5-7 hours of ceremony is filled mostly with us singing icaros and a few mantras mixed in. (click here for icaro post).

About an hour into us singing icaros we make a “call for seconds”. While we only make one official call for seconds, anytime after that call people can come up for more Ayahuasca.

It is important to point out a few things as it relates to making the decision to take a second cup of Ayahuasca during ceremony….

  • The second cup that we serve is a fraction of the first dose. This is because that second cup, albeit much smaller than the first can 2x-3x the experience.

  • If you are fully in the medicine- visions, having somatic experiences etc…. There is no need to take more. In fact it can, in some cases, be counterproductive.

  • If you are feeling nothing at all, by all means go back up for seconds. This can be done immediately after second call, or if you want to wait a bit longer, that is an option too.

  • If you are slightly feeling something, but are unsure you can approach the altar and talk it over with us as to whether to drink more or not.

  • If you go through a very strong Ayahuasca experience, then it suddenly stops and you come up for more….please tell us such that we can adjust the second cup appropriately. The Ayahuasca experience can come in waves, so we need to be careful of “sneaker waves”.

Again, with Ayahuasca, our approach is that we are not stingy but we are conservative. We are shooting for that most productive sweet spot in terms of the amount served.

Like I said above, once the icaros get going, we sing them for 5-7 hours. Then you will know that ceremony is getting close to the end when we light a couple of candles and start what are called “ventiadas”.

A “ventiada”, sometimes called “limpieza” is when we sing an icaro to you specifically for you. We call you up to the mesa (altar) and have you sit directly in front of both the mesa and us such that we can sing directly to you. The purpose of a ventiada is both an energetic cleaning and to “seal you up” energetically before ceremony officially ends. The ventiadas at the end of ceremony are all about you. It is also a time for you to receive focused energy and attention from us, the facilitators.

Once everyone has received their ventiada, we officially end ceremony. This is done by thanking everyone that has come, our teachers and ascended masters that we pay homage to.

Post ceremony, we keep the candles lit and we have snacks brought out. The Bambu House prepares these snacks and they usually include homemade chips, guacamole, fresh fruit and some sort of chocolate.

We hang out post ceremony and informally share about our experiences and munch on snacks. People are welcome to stay in the ceremony space for as long as they like and even sleep there if they feel so called.

We the facilitators stay in the ceremony space after ceremony until everyone is settled in or has gone to bed. We never leave the group or ceremony space before we are sure everyone is “good and settled”.

In closing it is worth noting that while the above is representative of our Ayahuasca ceremonies, not all ceremonies are the same. There are many many different lineages in Ayahuasca shamanism and many have very different approaches to ceremony. The above is simply how ours at La Familia Ayahuasca are structured.