Mind-altering… yoga?


Enjoy your journey!
Enjoy your journey. I’ll have mine right here, thank you.

Recently, one of my friends participated in an ayahuasca ceremony. We went to dinner the other day and I got to hear all about it. The ceremony was set in nature with a shaman guide and a small group of participants. Over the three days, the group drank varied amounts of the hallucinatory potion and for my friend, who has a deep spiritual practice, the experience was intense, difficult and profound.  I have a scientific curiosity about these things. I was very interested in hearing all about it and intrigued by my friend’s experience, but my interest is not a personal one. Forever, I’ve just known that this isn’t my thing. I don’t fully understand why I feel this way, so since our conversation, I’ve been wondering why am I so sure I’m not interested in a mind-altering and potentially expanding journey?  After all, I’m all for expanding consciousness and having an experience that helps change our perspective to more clearly see who, how and what we are. This is part of why I practice yoga. I don’t have any moral objections and I wouldn’t qualify as highly risk averse, so what’s the deal?

Then I saw this video:

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 7.54.56 AM
Click image for science buzz article and video…if you aren’t too grossed out already.


This has been circulating around the interwebs this week. In the video, some man sprays a praying mantis with insecticide and once it’s dead, out slips a Nematomorph or hairworm, a parasite that lives in insect abdomens, does serious damage to the host and grows really long. But that’s not all. The worm can also take over parts of an insect’s brain so that it jumps into water where the host will die, but the adult hairworm can slide out of the carcass and happily swim out the remainder of it’s little parasite life. Sick. Sick. Sick.

I can’t get into it. I think a lot of things that happen in the natural world are amazing. I like creatures and life cycles , and I’ve even enjoyed a trip to a parasite museum in Tokyo, Japan. But this? This mind-controlling abdomen-dwelling hairworm really upsets me. I feel queasy thinking about it. It was while watching this video that I realized this queasy nematomorph-feeling is the same one I have when I think of voluntarily signing up to go on some body and mind altering ayahuasca journey where I know something else inside of me will be captaining the Amanda ship. No way would I sign up for that. I wouldn’t take something into my body to feel something beyond myself because I deal with that shit every day already.

Sometimes, I can feel what’s going on in a room or in someone next to me. This happens with strangers but is especially acute with the people I’m close to. I can read a book about the pain or plight someone experienced and have a physical reaction. I can drive by an accident scene and fight-or-flight kicks in and I get all jacked up.  Point is, I already know what it is like for something that isn’t me to come into my awareness, into my body, and then have an impact on how I feel. And feelings are a big deal. How we feel has a huge impact on how we are in the world: How we see things, react, even what we think about and say. Some of this is under our control and some isn’t.  Just consider the physiology of feelings- the slew of chemicals that our body releases when we are happy or sad or angry or threatened. Yoga has helped me to better understand and influence how I feel so that I’m better able to live consciously and intentionally. Part of my ongoing work is learning how to distinguish what I feel, vs. something I’m feeling off of someone else. When it used to seem like it was all “me” I was often out of balance, wondering how I could be just fine in the morning and then feel something really not fine soon after. I’m still learning how to have boundaries that are appropriate, so that I’m not so open to the emotional torrents that are always around, but I’m not closed off either. It’s a delicate balance. I’ve found, I need presence, mindfulness, a mind-altering and clarifying yoga practice, clean diet and lots of rest to maintain it.




8 thoughts on “Mind-altering… yoga?

  1. Amanda – great post. And this is exactly how I feel – no one is captaining the Sara boat except me! I have a friend who goes to Peru and takes ayahuasca, and then comes home telling everyone that we should all take it. It’s not my trip, that’s for sure. Drugs can be useful as a first step mind expansion – but it’s just a first step. They’ll take you to the door – but you have to walk yourself in. you know? We love the idea of quick ride to enlightenment don’t we?

    1. There’s a yoga sutra (can’t recall which one at the moment) that talks about varied paths to enlightenment but only one that leaves no stain… that’s right, it’s yoga. It’s an interesting idea along the same lines as your comment. Drugs (and other stuff) can take us somewhere, but can we integrate it and use it? I’m sure the answer is sometimes, yes… and sometimes not. 🙂

  2. I wish I could remember who tells this story – possibly Krishna Das. But back in the day a group of them were in India before a guru. And it became known that they had acid on them. The guru ordered them to turn it over. They did and he proceeded to eat it – all that they had. And it was a lot. And… it had no effect. I’ve taken acid and the rest of it, and I was always seeking the experience. My mind was looking for a boost. The strong mind doesn’t need a boost and can even deny the effects of the drug at will. I’d like for my mind to be strong enough to be beyond drug alteration. And I don’t think drugs would be the way to get there.

    1. I think it was Krishna Das, and it is a story that made a big impact on me the first time I heard it. Thanks for the reminder, Bharat. This ability for the mind (as in my actual mind and not some guru’s) to be beyond effects of drugs is an interesting thing to ponder. hmmmmmm…..

  3. I’ve been meaning to get back to this post, Amanda… Have you ever read The Cosmic Serpent by Jeremy Narby? I totally recommend it. He talks about how ayahuasca helps one see through a process of de-focalizing one’s gaze. I think you’d dig it. It’s all sciencey, but also a very Yogic story from a western trained anthropologist/author trying to understand how the natives know what they know about the various plants from the Amazon.

    I’m of the opinion that many who seek miss the point of hallucinogens. The vision quest lies in what we are able to see from a different vantage point, not just a trip. In the tradition of Krishnamcharya, Yoga is defined as concentration. However, I’ve often felt part of that ability isn’t just to focus, lazer-like on one thing/object, but to also teach yourself to be neutral or unaffected. The few times I’ve touched that space, (via Yoga/meditation) I’d say it’s as close to my understanding of pure awareness as I’ll get.

    1. I’ve thought a lot about ayahuasca since writing this post and I’m coming to appreciate this point of view you articulate so nicely here. Part of the consideration was a long talk with my friend and a revisiting of The yoga sūtras, Chapter 4. I got to hear Chase teach on Yoga Sūtras IV.1 which says ‘extra-ordinary capabilities may be acquired in 5 ways: you are born into it, plant substances (!!), mantra, tapas, samādhi.”
      IV.2 says that the process of developing extra-ordinary capabilities, this process of change, is a rearranging of the parts that are already there. ‘– we are seeing from a different vantage point, not just a trip’
      And IV.6 says any ways are appropriate if they are coming out of dhyānam.

      so very interesting.

      I just bought The Cosmic Serpent on your recommendation and after reading your comments on the book, so I’ll look forward to that in my mailbox. Thanks for reading, Andre, and for commenting. I appreciate that you take time to share your thoughts here.

      1. Just to be clear to anyone reading, I am neither advocating for or against ayahuasca. Narby only tries it a few times (twice?) in the book. And really, his experience at the time was more about the process of seeing differently and getting out of his rational mind. That’s what makes the book so amazing from a Yoga perspective. (FYI, I was exposed to it by happenstance, but Chase talked about the book in the last class I took from him.) I would be struck dumb, if you didn’t like the book, Amanda. Hope you’ll report back as it percolates. I love reading your observations!

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