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Group or Solo: Which Is The Best Ayahuasca Setting?

You may have heard of ayahuasca – the potent brew from the Amazon jungle that can make you puke/shit/trip for hours on end.


If so, you may envision ayahuasca being drank in group ceremonies – from the Santo Daime Church, to indigenous Amazonian tribes in maloca huts, to gentrified hippies in a yoga studio in a town near you. But have you considered the idea that you could do a solo ayahuasca ceremony? 

What happens at ayahuasca ceremonies? 

Until very recently, I had only ever imbibed ayahuasca in groups, anywhere between 10 and 20 people. We would all drink ayahuasca together in a ceremonial setting, which basically means a candle-lit room with a lovely altar of new-age keepsakes, some prayers and intentions, some live music, and plenty of serious silence.  

The group would normally drink for two or three consecutive nights (or perhaps even four nights spread over seven days). And during the daytimes – and in between crucial naps – the group would engage in all sorts of activities, designed to chip away at your ego and break down your defences. You can imagine ecstatic dance, voice improvisation, gong baths, walks in nature, yoga, guided meditations, trust exercises (i.e. falling backward off chairs).. you get the idea.  

Most crucially, these multi-day retreats featured sharing circles, before each ceremony and the morning after, to try to unpack whatever the fuck you had gone through the night before. As you can probably imagine, these sharing circles were full of tears (of both the good and bad variety), and an endless conveyer belt of truth bombs.  

A private underground ceremony 

Group retreats are powerful AF! I’ve left each and every one with a beaming heart, a clear mind, and eyes full of tears (the good ones). But recently, I was absolutely honoured and privileged to be offered a special private ceremony – just me for just one night, guided by an experienced psychedelic trip-sitter/space-holder (who I already knew well).  

After several hours on a train, I finally arrived at a cosy private address. The ceremony was held in a tweeny little room which was designed to conduct all manner of healing services. My host had laid out a comfy little mattress situation on the floor (compared to camping mats and sleeping bags on hard floors, this was luxury!) Complete with a spooky lava lamp and psychedelic wall art, it was a perfect little hide-out to trip in.  

After a couple hours of chit-chat, my host ‘opened the space’ by sharing a few prayers and blessing ‘the medicine’ with the traditional dousing of mapacho smoke (proper strong jungle tobacco). I chugged down my dose, then my host performed a couple of medicine songs and led a guided meditation. So far, this felt like a regular ceremony, just without the people. 


The 5 star solo treatment 

But the similarities didn’t last long. My host made the rest of the session all about me – in a way that would have been impractical or downright inconsiderate in a group setting. (Interestingly, the fact it was all about me became a profound ‘download’ about how I cannot accept kindness from others.) 

Firstly, my host pulled out a huge gong and positioned it right at the foot of my bed. I laid back and allowed the almighty sonic waves to wash over me. If you ever get the chance to lay down next to a massive gong whilst tripping, I highly recommend it! 

Then, my host performed some much-needed massage on my various injuries and trigger points. As it was just me, my host reaaaallly went to town on me. Imagine tripping whilst being butchered by the most hardcore osteopath you can imagine. was pretty intense, yeah I might have screamed a bit. But apparently DMT is a muscle relaxant, meaning it’s a great opportunity to get into all the deep tension. Painful but super powerful!  

Speaking my process out loud 

My host then invited me to speak out loud. If you’ve ever heard of ‘Family Constellations’ Therapy, this won’t sound so weird...My host invited in the souls of specific loved ones (living and dead), so I could talk to them as if they were in the room. I spent a solid hour having a full-blown conversation with them – crying, shouting, scorning, joking, and releasing everything I ever wanted to say to them.  

Once my verbal tap was opened though, it was hard to shut it off. So, the rest of the ceremony was full of chit-chat and singing. I shared several personal stories, and I even found the energy to play a few songs on guitar – and I now know what playing guitar while tripping feels like! (Hello jelly fingers!) 

You see, during group ceremonies you are strictly instructed to remain quiet. And if you’re lucky, you’re permitted to chat with your neighbours once the ceremony has officially closed. As a naturally verbal person, being able to speak my process out loud felt liberating and valuable.  

People power 

As you can see, a solo ceremony has loads of plus points. But I must admit that I missed having people around me. For those who have not done a group plant medicine retreat, this may sound strange. But the presence of other people is powerful, and the air becomes electric.  

I love hearing people puking, howling with laughter, screaming, singing, crying, or totally freaking out. Even just one other person to share the trip with makes all the difference (I was granted this privilege with a hero’s dose of mushrooms a while ago).  

Not only do you share the psychedelic journey together, but you also integrate it together. You have people to talk with “who were there, maannnn!” 


Important message on personal safety 

I must discuss an important point. I am a woman, and my host was a man. In my case, I knew and trusted this man, and didn’t think twice about my safety or dignity.  

However, I did have rather vivid and horrifying vision of what it would feel like for a woman to be assaulted or raped mid-ceremony. And I thought of all the women who have experienced this, at the hands of dodgy shamans in the jungle, as well as dodgy western space-holders.  

So, please, please, please do not drink ayahuasca with just anyone. Please do your research, and only sit solo with people that you trust and know well.  

Losing your grip on reality 

Group retreats are often rather uncomfortable. You’re laying on camping gear, you often have to shit in a portaloo, and of course you may have to puke in front of people too. And retreats are either in the middle of nowhere or in a surreal European suburb. But that’s kinda all part of the magic.

There’s something symbolically sacrificial about the discomfort and strangeness. You are far removed from the realities of everyday life, therefore it is easier to detach from everyday life. And you're seriously humbled when you enter hyperspace.

However, when said solo ceremony was a short walk from a supermarket and a train station, and I could hear traffic whizzing by, I couldn’t quite let go of my grip on reality. Within hours I went from city trains to jungle hyperspace. It was too big of a jump in not enough time.  

Ayahuasca needs time 

My solo ceremony was just for one night. But I’m sure many members of the ayahuasca fan club will agree, ayahuasca is at least a two-night journey. For me, night one and night two (or three) at any retreat tell a very different story.  

Usually, night one is all about knocking down my barriers. It’s a struggle, I feel blocked up, and I'm shrouded in fear. Night two is full of beauty, grace and healing. I'm fully beaten into submission, I’m absolutely shattered, and I’m ready to do ‘the work’. 

I will never know what my solo night two could have had in store. But I definitely went home feeling incomplete, like there was plenty more digging to do.

But as a fully-fledged plant medicine psychonaut, I understand the need of ‘integration’. I am now trying to continue to do ‘the work’ by myself (and maybe with a few cheeky microdoses!) 

So, what is your preferred setting for ayahuasca? Or any plant medicines or psychedelics for that matter? Do you vibe off of other people? Or do you prefer to indulge in your own process? What feels safer? What feels more profound? And what brings greater healing?  

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