Integration with Yoga Therapy & Fasting
Psychedelics, Yoga Therapy & Trauma – Integration of the Shamanic Journey: After the trauma of loss I had been through when leaving Spain, as I described in part III of this blog, and the resulting deep subconscious work that I had done in the Yucatán with psychedelics, I could tell that I was reaching saturation point and needed space and time to integrate these experiences of trauma and psychedelics with yoga therapy.
After finishing the last Ayahuasca ceremony, I had originally planned on exploring the effects and benefits of Peyote in an overnight ceremony in the desert near Real de Catorce in San Luis Potosí. I was intrigued by this cactus for three reasons:
- It´s use dates back 6000 years
- It´s main hallucinogenic agent is mescaline rather than DMT
- Its cultivation and consumption is deeply associated with the pre-Hispanic culture of the Huichol.
The Huichol is a culture that still exists outside of the main stream Mexican culture. Though dwindling in number, they continue to maintain their original language, art, beliefs and ceremonies that have been in existence long before the Spanish arrived and the Catholic faith took over.
One of the rituals central to their belief system is a pilgrimage taken into the desert where, under the guidance of a mara’a kame – the huichol term for shaman which can also be translated to mean singer – they gather and ´hunt´ peyote. The fruits of this hunt are consumed in the desert as part of a healing ceremony and the surplus is then packed up and taken back to their village. You can learn more in the video below:
It is through the ritualistic consumption of peyote that the Huichol believe that they can both heal and commune with the Gods – a divine pantheon that consists of 120 gods with Tatemari, grandfather fire, at the head. This moment of divine contact via the vehicle of peyote allows them to perceive for themselves a parallel world of colors and pulsating connection which is represented and illustrated in their beautiful fantastically intricate, spiritually significant and brilliantly colourful bead and string art known as Nierikas.
In the process of this pilgrimage, offerings are left for the Huichol Gods and spirits. These offerings can be seen along the path to the desert and if you do decide to take this journey, please leave them in their place. They are sacred gifts left for another world, not for the density of three dimensional humanoids.
After completing my own self-imposed fasting retreat of Yoga therapy to integrate the previously described traumas and psychedelic experiences, I had the chance to walk through the cerro (mountain) and visit one of these sacred Huichol spaces as well as speak with a Huichol family that lived there guarding the area. However, the plans for the peyote ceremony fell apart at the last minute – and probably for the best. First of all, I learned in this trip to the cerro that the Peyote Cactus is an endangered species and and Mescaline can be found in other non-endangered species such as the fast growing San Pedro Cactus. Secondly, I do think it was the universe, or if you like, my own organizing source energy, that decided that after the integrating my psychedelic experience with my self-invented, private Yoga therapy retreat, it was time to rest and just enjoy my new grounded sense of peace and clarity.
Fasting is an integral and long standing practice within the discipline of Yoga as well as its medicinal counterpart of Ayurveda. I have fasted many times throughout my Yoga trainings and use it often when I have felt low on energy, my digestion is not cooperating with me or I perceive that a cold or flu are coming on. Modern science confirms the great benefits of fasting as a way to increase resistance to stress, improve longevity and decrease the incidence of disease. It´s practice, often termed intermittent fasting, has recently become greatly popularized in the western world.
Nonetheless, in all my experiences of fasting I have never exceeded more than three days. This is because the focus of these fasts was mainly to improve the functioning of the Annamaya Kosha (Physical Body), Pranamaya (Energetic Body) and Manomaya Kosha (Mind Body). In fact, Ayurveda discourages pro-longed fasting as its primary focus is living day to day life with greater ease and energy, rather than delving deep into the wisdom and bliss bodies of the Vijananmaya Kosha and Anandamaya Kosha. This is where the more austere practices of Yoga (such as long-term fasting) start to play a part. Consequently, since I wanted to explore these more subtle Koshas, especially after my previous experiences, I decided to undertake the task of a 7 day water fast. The practice of fasting to integrate and delve deeper into other worlds of perception is not exclusive to Yoga and is practiced by Muslims during Ramadan, the Jews during Passover, by various Christian sects and is a intricate part of the cleansing practices of the Peruvian Shipibo.
Before undertaking this water fast I consulted with my friend Ian who had years of experience in the healing art of fasting. Ian discussed how on average, every third day I would probably experience some unpleasant detoxifying effects. To reduce these symptoms and make the fasting process more enjoyable I prepared myself for the 7 day water fast with three days of eating just fruit. More citric, watery fruits such as grapefruit and red grapes were recommended. Red grapes were a bit hard to come by where I was so I opted to substitute them for prickly pears.
The Experience – Integrating the experience of Psychedelics, Trauma and Yoga Therapy
The first two days of the water fast were fantastic.
I felt a great surge of energy and clarity in both mind and body for the first couple days of the fast. I was amazed by the sense of great strength and space I observed in all three aspects of my Yoga practice (Asana, Pranayama, Meditation). I had already been noticing all kinds of new sensations in my Asana practice after participating in the previously described ceremonies. However, with this added dimension of fasting, I found myself enjoying immensely a new sense of awareness, lightness and clarity.
For these first couple days I felt like a kid in a candy store. I felt I had free access to try all kinds of different flavors – only the store was my own body and the flavors were the sensations that each Yoga posture (Asana) offered. I lost track of time and looked in surprise at my watch when I discovered that three hours had passed. My pranayama practice resulted in an echo of the psychedelic experience. During the kumbak (breath retentions), the separation between the internal and external world disappeared. I only sensed vibration. I even heard that pulsating, low, flying hummingbird hum often associated with the psychedelic experiences. Seated meditation was a breeze and I enjoyed a great sense of simply existing. The activity of my mind was much quieter and I felt with a greater sense of clarity that ´everything was okay´.
The Third and Fourth Day
By the third and fourth day I started to experience some unpleasant detoxifying effects and a greater sense of fatigue. However, despite these unpleasant physical sensations, something magical happened. All the angst and frustration that I had been holding onto physically and emotionally, all of the sudden, dissolved. I know it sounds bizarre, but it literally was like all of this muck that had come to the surface during the previous ceremonies of Ayahuasca and Bufos Alverius, just burned up and disappeared. I even reached out to those whom I had perceived had hurt me deeply during my transition process from Spain to the Americas, and let them know that I was no longer angry. Bridges were mended and I felt in every sense of my being, that everything was and is exactly as it should be.
The Final Fasting Days
I continued with my Yoga Asana, Pranamaya and Meditation practice all the way to the end of the fast. However, I did have to adapt it in response to the reduction in energy levels and strength. Then another curious thing happened. As I reduced the physical intensity of my Asana practice, the intensity of my both my pranayama and meditative practice increased – despite spending less time in both.
In fact, when I went into the practice of purak kumbak (breath retention of the inhale), the aforementioned echo of the psychedelic experience, intensified, so much that it kind of frightened me. When the intensity of the purak kumbak got to be too much, I found that the practice of rechak kumbak (breath retention of the exhale) seemed to ground me back into reality – though I still retained a great sense of lightness and expansion throughout my entire being. You can listen to a brief day by day summary of this experience in the video above.
Ian had already warned me that coming out of the fast was the most dangerous part of the process. Often times, as soon as you give the body permission to eat, there is a great urge to consume everything in sight. This can result in even more unpleasant side effects than the detoxifying process such as gastroenteritis, vomiting, acute stomach pain, acute inflammation of the stomach and diarrhoea.
To ease into eating normal food once again I did the following:
- Only coconut water for the first two days
- The next three days papaya, mango and avocados were introduced.
- By the sixth day I added some corn tortillas.
- Finally, by the 7th day I was enjoying once again (albeit in less quantity than previously) vegetarian gorditas. Yum!
Post-Integration of Trauma & Psychedelics with Yoga Therapy
In my opinion, DMT and 5-MeO-DMT are powerful keys that unlock psychic doors that perhaps otherwise might never be explored. However, ´cuidado´ (careful) these doors most likely have been locked for a reason. According to many psychological theories and Yoga therapy, these psychic locks are considered defense mechanisms and if they are not opened and released, often manifest as either psychological and/or physical pathologies. Evidence seems to support my own experience that psychedelics, when used with wisdom and proper guidance, appear to offer a quicker, albeit, more intense way of unlocking and releasing these psychological locks.
It takes time and space to be able to truly confront and integrate what lies behind these locked doors of the psyche. In my opinion, it was the integrated embodied practice of a complete Yoga therapy approach that allowed me to clean out this hidden muck so swiftly made manifest during the Yoga and the Shamanic Journeys I, II, and III. I base this opinion not only on my own experience, but also that of other researchers who have documented the fundamental importance of connecting mind and body to overcome trauma.
Risks & Benefits
Is it necessary to attend a traditional, indigenous, shamanic ceremony in order to experience the benefits of psychedelics?
Probably not. In fact, the psilocybin research trials conducted by Dr. Rolland Griffith take place in a much more western therapeutic setting. However, there are basic and repeated principals that are being studied surrounding ´set´ (the psychological state of a person) and ´setting´ (the environment of the experience) that are proving to be significant to the healing process.
I deeply respect the power of the psychedelic journey – and like anything powerful – its effects can depend greatly upon how those power currents are directed. For example, electricity can light up a room and enable you to see things once unseen – much like the psychedelic experience. However, if uncontrolled, or poorly directed, can result in harmful shocks and even death. It is for this reason that knowledgeable guides who provide safe spaces, form part of the process. These guides and healers act as bridges between the seen world and the unseen (psychological/spiritual). Their role is to help make sure that you come back from the journey a more independent, integrated and joyful being.
Therefore, I will reiterate what I stated in very first blog of the series. In a world plagued with an ever increasing epidemic of drug addiction, as well as a rise in various mental health issues (even BEFORE the Covid 19 crisis), the taboo and harsh penal punishments surrounding psychedelics should be reevaluated – especially as the evidence continues to prove its low risk factor and great healing potential.
Furthermore, both Yoga and guided experiences of psychedelics demonstrate statistically significant efficacy of reducing pathological states of being without the highly addictive and negative side effects often experienced with illicit drugs and prescribed psycho-pharmaceuticals.
Effective, Evidence based Therapies for Healing Trauma and Joyful Living
According to the book Healing Trauma by Dr. Peter Levine, trauma was once perceived as incurable because it appeared to result from parts of the brain, specifically the amygdala. When a person suffered a trauma it appeared to result in a fear based feedback loop between the brain and body. This response was viewed as irreversible because it appeared to be based in biology rather than the psyche.
However, more recent research has shown that certain stimulation to the body can actually turn off this fear circuit. This is why Levine, who has researched deeply both biological and psychological processes in humans and animals, asserts that trauma is a biological process not a psychological one. He goes so far as to claim that successful healing methods must connect people to their bodies – without inclusion of the body success is limited or non-existent.
In my own opinion, I would elaborate upon this assertion and state that the biological and psychological processes are one and the same. It is a western perception that separates these two. I understand that there is merit it separating and focusing in on certain causal aspects of behavior. However, as Dr. Ian McGilchrist eloquently outlines in his book on brain functionality, The Master and his Emissary, this focused investigation should not lose sight of the whole. The science of Yoga and Yoga therapy (by the very definition of the word Yoga, which means to Yoke), has always recognized the necessity of uniting both mind and body. Separating one from the other limits both our perception of the whole experience of being human as well as providing effective healing solutions.
According to the evidence outlined within these blogs , Karmuka Yoga YouTube videos, and peer reviewed research demonstrates that the practice of Yoga is equally if not more beneficial than the best psycho-pharmaceutical drugs on the market and more effective than talk therapy alone. Neuroimagining proves the positive and healing effects for both Yoga and psychedelics. In fact, researcher Dr. Griffith has shown that it increases one’s sense of openness to life by one standard deviation. In psycho-babble that is a significant change and is correlated with experiencing the extremely positive and life affirming emotion of awe. An emotion that stands in direct opposition to, and perhaps even eclipses, feelings of depression, anxiety and trauma.
I would assert that the psychedelic elements of shamanic medicines act as tools that help to unite the mind and body. Furthermore, I can’t help but speculate that the somatic expressions experienced during these psychedelic experiences are an attempt for the body and mind to reconnect and release the biological process of fight or flight that has been broken or locked up due to trauma.
The meditative breath and posture work of Yoga offers a similar, albeit less intense, process of this somatic connection. Based upon my own personal experience, I would assert that yoga trauma therapy with psychedelics might offer a very effective path to health and wholeness. The combination of both psychedelics and mindful somatic movement as practiced in Yoga, might provide greater healing benefits than either one of these approaches do alone. And I am not alone in this sentiment. As mentioned in the first blog of the series, it is speculated that Yoga was practiced in ancient India in combination with a psychedelic substance called Soma. It would be fascinating to take the tools of modern technology and test with western scientific methods, the efficacy of combining both psychedelics with the therapeutic somatic approach of Yoga for healing trauma.
I undertook this shamanic journey of psychedelics and plant medicine because my passion and aim in life and with Karmuka Yoga has always been figuring out the most effective, evidence based therapies and life habits that guide the individual and society to greater joy. I simply do not see the point of pursuing any thought or activity if the end result is misery. Our time on this earth is limited, and to quote a scripture from my youth, ´men (and women) are that they might have joy ´ .
The integration of yoga therapy with psychedelics for the tream could prove to be extremely healing for those suffering from trauma. The evidence seems to show that both Yoga and the facilitated psychedelic experience offers us a way to break out of limiting thought and behavior patterns that would keep us from living joyfully. My own personal experience supports it while the incoming science and research, is proving it.
Michelle Goodrick, founder of Karmuka Yoga, is a Yoga instructor, trainer and therapist who is passionate about helping others release trauma and heal themselves. You can set up your first free consultation with her here.