Commonly Asked Questions
Ayahuasca plant medicine can serve as a powerful tool for healing, as well as spiritual and emotional growth. It can be described in simple terms as a very big, very shiny mirror, and with the right set and setting, this can allow us to understand the true roots of the fear, trauma, and other emotional sources that manifest in various ways in our life. From a place of compassion and love, this can offer us deep insight into our own psyche and provide us with the tools and understanding to let go of the patterns that are no longer supporting us. However, it’s important to have the right time, space, and highly skilled healers and facilitators to help you make sense of what comes up and surrender to the process fully.
With the proper screening, preparation, container, and integration support, it is very rare that negative psychological effects result from partaking in ayahuasca ceremony. However, there are certain medical conditions that are contraindicated with plant medicine, including (but not limited to) schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychosis. Additionally, certain medications are contraindicated and should be discussed with your doctor to determine if an ayahuasca retreat is right for you and if it is possible to change or taper any medications. Beyond medical contraindications, an ayahuasca experience can be considered unsafe due to inexperienced healers who are unable to hold the energetic space during ceremony; admixtures to the ayahuasca brew that can negatively react with the guest; lack of support or an unsafe container throughout the process; or ‘medicine stacking’, wherein numerous different plant medicines are taken within a short period of time which can overload the system and potentially cause someone to become ungrounded.
At Soltara, safety, well-being, and healing is of utmost importance to us, and our main goal is to ensure each person gets the most out of an experience with us. Our aim is to create a safe and supportive environment encompassing all aspects of the healing process.
We only work with highly experienced indigenous Shipibo healers from the Amazon region of Peru. We are connected with several powerful family lineages who have generations and decades of experience working and training with this medicine, such that they are able to safely and effectively hold space for our guests during ceremony. Our facilitation team also has combined decades of experience working with ayahuasca and facilitating ceremony for thousands of guests. Our ayahuasca brew is made with only the two main ingredients, ayahuasca vine and chacruna leaf, and is cooked in the village of one of our healers in Peru. We also create a strong container to work specifically with ayahuasca only, as we believe it is important to create the space for this medicine and tradition to do its best work.
Beyond our on-site team of highly skilled healers and facilitators, we consult with qualified professionals during the screening and preparation for your journey, and our stringent medical protocol and intake process (including a detailed medical questionnaire during registration) ensures each guest a safe and fulfilling experience, mitigating any risk of potential contraindications with our medicines. In addition, we have a facilitator trained in Wilderness First Response (WFR) and a fully stocked medical kit on-site. During your stay, our safety protocols allow you to rest easy and comfortably, while our staff provides a sanctuary for your emotional and spiritual well-being.
In line with this, our focus on integration takes the same approach of a strong and supportive container. We understand that while a powerful experience and initial cleansing are crucial catalysts towards healing, really that’s just the first step in the much longer (truly lifelong) process. In order to create lasting healing, we feel it’s necessary to empower the person with the tools needed to enact the benefits of such a catalyst into their day-to-day life. And beyond that, provide a supportive container over the long-term to help inspire lasting change. Much of our team has come from working at previous plant medicine retreat centers, and within our communities we saw the need people had for a longer-term relationship with their process, whatever form that may take. You can read more about our integration program here and our safety protocols here.
We only work with highly experienced indigenous Shipibo healers from the Amazon region of Peru. We are connected with several powerful family lineages who have generations and decades of experience working and training with this medicine, such that they are able to safely and effectively hold space for our guests during ceremony. We work with healers on a rotational basis, so that they are able to balance time with their families and communities in Peru, with holding ceremony at our beautiful location in Costa Rica. We always work with a female and a male healer for every ceremony, and we work with the same healers throughout your entire retreat. You can read more about the healers that we work with and their individual stories and experiences on our team page.
We hold ceremonies in a large circular hut called a maloca, which is the traditional ceremonial space used by the Shipibo people for ceremony.
During ceremony, guests have their own mattresses in a circle around the outer rim of the maloca space, with their own pillows, blanket, and buckets in case the need to purge arises during ceremony. There are bathrooms just outside of the maloca, and our facilitators are on call to help guests should they need any assistance. The healers and facilitators are in the center of the maloca, and during ceremony the healers will come to sit in front of each guest’s mat and sing a personal icaro (healing song) based on their intention and what the healers feel is needed. The Shipibo do not employ instruments or any other tools besides song, mapacho (sacred tobacco), and flower water. We work with one female and one male indigenous Peruvian Shipibo healer during ceremony, as well as three facilitators, for a group size of 18 – 21 guests.
As one can probably guess, the medicine works in different ways in different people. Visual imagery, while it can be part of some people’s experience, is often less common than one might think from reading or hearing experiential accounts of others. Oftentimes ayahuasca works on a much more energetic level than we may consciously be able to perceive. The experience itself can take many forms, such as physical/energetic work – bodily sensations, physical purging through yawning, laughing, crying, sweating, vomiting, or shaking, to name a few – or deep thought, emotions coming to the surface, mental imagery, reliving past experiences, or a feeling of oneness and connectedness. It can be different not just for every person but for every individual experience. We are careful to mitigate expectations of visions in the guests that we welcome to Soltara, as while this can happen for some people, it is often not necessarily the bulk of the work being done, which happens in much deeper layers and oftentimes in the body. In some cases, the visions can simply be a distraction. In others, they can be a helpful way for the mind to understand the narrative of the healing being done. We encourage guests to surrender to the healing work, let go of expectations, and trust that they will get what they need, even if it isn’t in the way they expected.
The Shipibo cosmology comes from a deeply-rooted and animistic relationship to plants, animals, and the natural world. They believe in a harmonious energy field that pervades all things. This concept of an all-encompassing reality of oneness can challenge the average Western mind, but it is what informs and shapes the efficacy of their healing practices. There are typical patterns that the Shipibo are known for in their art and textiles, which represent the oneness of creation, and connect our world to the spirit world and the powers of Nature. In the same way, the icaros, or healing songs, sung during ayahuasca ceremonies are the audial representation of these patterns. Thus, during ceremony, the healer is accessing the geometric patterns of energy from the plants, which transform through the vessel of the Maestro/a to a chant or icaro. The icaro is therefore a conduit for the patterns of creation, which permeate the body of the patient, bringing energetic harmony in a way that penetrates the deeper layers of the patient’s system, releasing negative energetic blockages and their emotional counterparts. The healer knows when the healing is complete, as the design is clearly recognizable in the patient’s body. Oftentimes it takes multiple ceremonies to complete this, and when the completed healing designs are embedded in the patient’s body, this is called an arcana. This internal patterning is deemed to be permanent and to protect a person’s spirit going forward.
As a result of this type of work, in some cases, the healing appears intangible to the typical Westerner during the ceremony itself. We let people know that even if they do not receive any direct insight during their ceremony experience, part of the integration of this work is to be open to the idea that insights may unfold in the days, weeks and months following their retreat, after the energetic work has laid the appropriate foundation upon which the body, mind, and spirit can build.
It is true that ayahuasca can involve purging including vomiting and diarrhea. If you need help getting to the bathroom, our facilitators are on call to do so, and they will let you know how to easily signal them should you need assistance. It is important to note that the concept of purging can take many different forms for different people, including crying, yawning, sweating, shaking, and laughing, among other things. Nevertheless, our facilitators are trained to respond should any scenario arise, and you will be well taken care of quickly and lovingly should a challenging physical situation occur. As we like to say, everything is normal on ayahuasca, and whatever happens during ceremony is perfectly fine and nothing to be ashamed of or worried about!
Choosing a place to participate in this sacred experience is an extremely important factor in determining what you will get out of the experience.
Wherever you are considering, our first recommendation is to check in with yourself and see if it feels right for you first, and then make sure you have a clear understanding of the experience of the healers and the strength and safety of the container that will be held for you, both during and after the retreat.
In this work, there are many things to consider – who trained the person who will be running ceremonies, the lineage of their maestro(s), what the experience of their direct teacher was, how long they were an apprentice, where they have trained, what tradition (if any), and how long they have been holding ceremony. This will help give a clearer picture about how they are able to hold and safeguard the energetic container of the space. If they have trained in the Shipibo or mestizo tradition, the number of master plant dietas they have undergone can be a very useful gauge here. Plant dietas are part of the apprenticeship path, wherein the apprentice “diets” with different master plants, each of which can last anywhere from 10 days to over one year, in isolation, following a very strict diet, drinking small amounts of a tea brewed with the master plant, and connecting with it through ayahuasca ceremony. Over time, as their bodies and spirits are cleaned through this process, they will be able to pick up the subtle energies of the plant they are working with. This is how the maestros obtain their icaros, or healing songs – they are channeling the different master plants they have connected with during their diets, and as a result of this connection, the plant works through them and on their patient in the form of the icaros. This is a general overview of this important aspect of training to be a healer and holding ceremony in these traditions. A healer who can hold ceremonies on their own will typically have completed at least 5 years of diets.
You can read more about the healers we work with at Soltara here.
Additional factors to consider are the ratio between healers and group sizes, particularly dependent on the experience of the healers (a very good healer can hold around 10 – 12 people on their own, but beyond that it’s very common to have more than one healer working together to manage the energies), as well as the brew itself – where it comes from, and if there are any admixtures to the brew besides ayahuasca vine and chacruna leaf. If so, it would be very important to know what they are, and why they have been added. Admixtures such as strong trees (chiric sanango, ayahuama) or plants (toé) can be dangerous if not properly dieted by the person who is drinking the brew.
At Soltara, we work with a team of 2 healers (always female and male, within the same lineage), and 2 – 3 facilitators, for a maximum capacity of 21 guests. Our ayahuasca consists of only the 2 main ingredients, ayahuasca vine and chacruna leaf.
Additionally, there are many retreats that also combine other medicines and traditions within a short period of time. This is to be approached with caution, if done at all. We at Soltara feel that it is important to make the space to work with different medicines on their own, both from the perspective of your own body’s system and its ability to work with the energy of that medicine, as well as out of respect to the medicine itself as its own master plant teacher. It is one of the reasons that we recommend refraining from any other psychoactive substances for at least 30 days before and after your retreat.
Finally, it is important to get an idea of what type of follow-up or integration support they offer, both during the retreat (in between/after ceremonies) and after you go home. Are there any experienced integration therapists or coaches on call? Do they offer any resources or ways to stay connected to the group, community, and experience? Do they prepare you for your integration with workshops, sharing circles, or information about what can come up and the different tools available to you should you need them? For some context, you can read more about Soltara’s integration program here.
We hope this helps offer some guidelines for you to make the decision that feels right for you. If you have further questions about the way we work with medicine at Soltara, please reach out to us through our Contact page.