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Plant Medicine and Yoga

I am writing today, as usual, from a place of creative inspiration as part of my morning routine. After I finish my daily ritual of yoga sadhana upon waking, I usually find myself sitting with my studies. Reading, writing, contemplating, reflecting ... the birds begin to chirp and the sun rises as I engage in the activity of pondering the mysteries life. This has my daily morning flow since around 2015 when I began meditating and practicing asanas, pranayama & mantra every morning. These practices of yoga open up my mind and heart to allow energy to flow to "higher" subjects". I try not to concern myself with business or social activities for the first couple hours of the day so that I can be open to receive information that was previously unavailable to me. This sort of morning seems to be working for me. The other needs of the day can wait --- right now I think, and write, and inspire.

The subject today that I feel called to write about is how I came into a merging of the paths of plant medicine and yoga. I will give the back story of my personal experiences on these topics.

My first experiences interacting with the supreme intelligence embedded in plant medicine began relatively young. I started experimenting with cannabis as early as 12 years of age and shortly after that began my experimentation with psilocybin mushrooms. These early experiences revealed a lot to my young self. Mostly, that there was a whole world beyond my common perception and default operating system. I used these substances recreationally but I also had a proclivity to engage whilst alone. I would spend hours by myself -- either in nature or in my room -- riding the waves of the "highs" that I was experiencing under the influence of these plant teachers. I had no spiritual framework to navigate the mystical realms that were opening up and it is very likely that my developing brain and nervous system needed more maturation before the teachings of the plants would come through. However, this was my past and this was what happened, and I can only no reflect retroactively. Do I recommend this to everyone? No. But this was my reality and karma so I embrace it.

Much later in life -- at the age of 24 -- I found myself walking into a yoga studio. I had given up drugs and alcohol at this stage. Not even cannabis. It had been years since I consumed mushrooms but in my early twenties I partied a lot. University was good, in that I succeeded in graduating with honors and a bachelor's degree, somehow -- but I drank a lot of alcohol and took many substances that I'd rather not name. Plant medicine had all but fallen away to be replaced by my youthful (& ignorant) desire to fit in with my crowd and "have fun". I was seeking myself but I was lost. LSD offered spiritual experiences to me but again I had no context for what was being revealed. Eventually my health declined due to an excessively ambitious weightlifting regimen and work schedule. This health decline is what prompted my discovery of yoga. So, as mentioned in the opening sentence in this paragraph -- I found myself walking into a yoga studio.

From 2014 to 2015 I went every day to the studio -- oftentimes twice a day. The slow and steady movement and connection to my breath started to re-integrate my spirit back into my body. I hadn't even realized how far away from my body and true health I'd gotten, but the health crises I was going through made it imperative that I learned how to re-align myself. Yoga was helping. As I practiced, less and less did the severity of weight-training appeal to me. My old lifestyle as a partier, staying up late on weekends, began to be replaced by a more natural way. I found myself taking walks, finding more time in nature, watching the sunrise.... and praying. I had no tangible connection to God before this but in my pursuit of restoring balance in myself, prayer emerged naturally. My job as a mortgage banker became less interesting even though the money was great. But I was starting to see that there was a "higher goal" for me than the images of success I was conditioned to believe in.

By mid 2015, at age 25, I left my job and took my first international trip -- to Costa Rica. I attended a Yoga Teacher Training program. This 21-day immersion was my first significant deep dive into spirituality, into myself, and into Nature. I had no intention to become a yoga teacher -- I was pursuing health in my body and mind, and a connection to spirit. I needed it. The misalignment in my life had become so loud that there was a necessity to retreat and undergo serious transformation. So I did.

When I returned from this teacher training program -- The Tantric Alchemy Institute, a 200 hour YTT based out of the Sanctuary, led by Naga and Liz -- my life had turned upside down. No longer possessing a job with a regular income and no longer interested in my old way of living, I had to forge an entirely new path for myself. Guided only by my intuition, an unfamiliar sense that was newly awakening, I engaged in my yoga practices with renewed vigor. Fortunately I had learned enough from my training and studies that I could guide myself in my practices each morning and so I did. This opened up whole new doors for me. My diet changed, my lifestyle and sleep and everything. Who I spent time with... how I spent time... what I read and watched and did with my time. My entire life was morphing. Still no plant medicine and not a drop of alcohol. My life had naturally evolved into a pursuit of purity and simplicity.

In late 2015 a mentor of mine, and a friend, someone whom I trusted and spent time training with -- the first person to introduce me to ice-baths and breathwork in a very transformative way -- invited me to participate in an Ayahuasca ceremony. He sent me the dates of the two-night ceremony (December 2015) and a document of information to help with preparation. The "dieta", or required eating to prepare for drinking Ayahuasca, was something I had already been doing naturally, so I didn't have to change much. It felt right, so I said yes and off I went to New Mexico to drink Ayahuasca for the first time with a Peruvian Shipibo shaman in the mountains.

Despite all that I'd heard about this powerful plant teacher, my experience was ... uneventful. In the ceremonies, people around me were vomiting and making all sorts of noises as they went through the powerful journey that Ayahuasca can invoke and I sat quietly in the dark room meditating. I was given no major visions or psychedelic experience whatsoever. By the end of the two nights, She, the grandmother spirit of Ayahuasca, conveyed the message quite clearly that I was to focus on the path of yoga and not concern myself with Her. So that's what I did -- from 2015 until early 2021.

These were very formative years for me as a yoga practitioner. I can share more another time but needless to say, it was a deep and profound journey that took me all over the world. I studied and practiced with some extraordinary yogis and learned a great deal. My practices grew and evolved and I began teaching yoga as my full-time occupation. During this time, I was shown the complementary power of cannabis as an accompaniment to yoga practice. I experimented with this plant medicine off-and-on, in small amounts (oftentimes as little as one small toke off a pipe) to go into deeper states of concentration and embodiment to enhance my yoga practice experience. This plant teacher helped feel deeper into myself, into my body and into my breath. It was and is a great tool for this, when used wisely and with discernment. Much gratitude for the wisdom and aid of the cannabis.

During this time I was also began to chant more regularly and engage in certain rituals & ceremonies centered around mantra and sound. One in particular was the ritual of the Dhuni -- a fire ceremony that I practice and is central to my spiritual development. The Dhuni was first revealed to me in my YTT in 2015 at the Sanctuary in Costa Rica as a practice of the Nath Order (Naga, my teacher, was an initiate in this lineage). Essentially the Dhuni practitioner works with the technologies of fire, mantra, and posture to produce alchemical affects in the brain, nervous and endocrine systems. This practice has a profound affect on consciousness. I practiced a format of this, without fire, for years until moving to Costa Rica in 2020 and having a fire pit of my own whereby which I could perform the ceremony. So when I started living in Costa Rica in October 2020 the Dhuni and working with the fire became a regular part of my personal practice. I started doing them weekly, sometimes more often. Cannabis was used as a sacrament in this ritual process and it was a very compatible plant medicine for this particular ceremony.

I still hadn't thought about Ayahuasca since those first ceremonies in 2015, but then over New Years something shifted. I spent 3 or 4 days with my roommates at the end of December and beginning of January from 2020 to 2021 in silence, fasting on coconut water, doing loads of yoga sadhana, and practicing Dhuni every night. The Dhuni on New Year's Eve sent me a message -- oftentimes the fire gives you messages, as you are concentrating intently at the fire for 2.5 hours without breaking focus -- and the message was simple: "Ayahuasca". I tend to listen to this messages as they seem to be guidance from a higher place.

I forgot all about the message, or maybe I just filed it away for later... and months go by. Then in February 2021 a friend of mine approached me and asked "Grant, what are you doing for Mahashivaratri?" (Mahashivaratri is "the Great Night of Shiva" -- a powerful time of ritual and ceremony in the yogic calendar. This night falls on the new moon just before the spring equinox in March). I figured I'd be doing a Dhuni and my own magick, so I told him so, but then he invited me to an Ayahuasca ceremony at a temple that was not far from where I was living. He said they would be chanting mantras all night around the fire in a temple dedicated to Shiva. To me, it sounded too good to be true, and felt perfectly aligned. Obviously the messaged from my Dhuni over New Year's about "Ayahuasca" was present and so I agreed to come.

March 2021 I drank Ayahuasca (again) for the first time since all those years ago when She told me to focus on my yoga path. After focusing on yoga for six years, I returned to this medicine with an entirely new perspective, an upgraded nervous system and energy body from all the practice I had been doing. It was a two-night ceremony and, as my friend had mentioned, we were in a beautiful fire temple with a fire burning in the middle all night, and we were indeed chanting mantras the entire time. Each night began at sunset and went until sunrise. I drank a lot of medicine, and this time, Ayahuasca said to me something to the effect of -- "now we can work together". She was very clear with me during the span of those two nights. These were very powerful ceremonies for me. When I finished up my work there and returned home, I had some clear instructions and homework. The first instruction was to keep practicing yoga. The second was to get even closer to Nature. The third was to play as much music & sing as much as possible. The fourth instruction was to drink Ayahuasca as often as the opportunity presented itself. I followed all of these instructions -- I moved out of the beautiful house I was living in to get a small cabin even deeper in the jungle, I played tons of music, I practiced even more yoga, and I started drinking Ayahuasca... a lot. A couple times a month, at least. My life became even further simplified and reduced.

From 2021 until now, for me, the path of yoga and working with the plants has been a fascinating and beautiful journey of learning, studying, practicing, growing, transforming, and discovering. I've gone through ups and downs and all-arounds. I took a trip to Peru to do a 10 day master plant diet in isolation with an exceptional curandero. I drank Ayahuasca by myself and to lead myself through my own ceremony experience (I did this with my Dhuni on several occasions). I sat in numerous ceremonies with several different lineages. I spent time in the silence of a mountain cabin with no food or water for four days. Many other initiatory experiences have woven their way into this path for me as I continue to walk and be led by my intuition. It has been quite the immersion and there are many details I've left out, but I wanted to give at least a little background to where I am today. Perhaps there is something here for someone. I don't know. I trust that leaving a trail can sometimes offer insight, inspiration, or reassurance to others who are setting out in their own way on the mysterious spiritual path.

The biggest thing I've learned from all this, as I sit here and reflect in the latter half of 2023, is that we never really know what's ahead. We can only trust and listen to our inner guidance. Sometimes this guidance can lead us places where we never thought we would end up. It certainly has been that way for me. I'm not here advocating to anyone that they do the same thing that I did, but I am suggesting that you find a way to tune in and listen. To yourself. To your heart. To the instructions that come through for you. We all have a unique path and the only way to find it is by listening. There are teachers and guides out there ready to support you as you discover this for yourself. Ultimately, whether through the plants or through our meditation, we are learning to hear and see the things that are hidden from our ordinary reality. Once we receive these instructions the next step is to have the courage to follow.

The path is mysterious and in some ways, unknowable. But having a framework and a grounded spiritual practice, such as what the technologies of yoga offer, can help us grow our energy. As the energy strengthens, we learn to move more courageously and fearlessly through the dark unknown. I credit yoga for giving me this strengthen and the somatic embodiment necessary to come to powerful teachers like Ayahuasca, again and again, and continue to learn and grow from it. My lifestyle is an integration and I am so grateful for that. I couldn't be doing what I'm doing if I wasn't living the way I am now, and it has been a slow and gradual process to arrive here.

Do I know what's ahead? No. I know for certain that I will continue teaching yoga as yoga serves as the basis for all that I do. Music is not only a part of my life -- it IS my life, as I bring melody and harmony into all that I do and all I teach. The plants are here as allies to me and others, for those who feel the call. All of it is woven together and when we see that we are all looking for the same thing, we can use what we have available to come into remembrance of that.

May we learn to follow our hearts, to soften, to let go of the mind's attempt to understand, and may we open to the Great Mystery that is life. May we learn to enjoy this adventure, and all its ups and downs, and grow to be safe in our bodies by cultivating our inherent strength and stability. May each step we take be imbued with grace and ease and sensitivity as we learn to walk on this Earth in a beautiful way, guided by the many great wisdom traditions and teachings that bring us back home to the Heart.

Thank you to the plant teachers. Thank you to the human teachers. Thank you to those walking this path with sincerity and humility, to learn, and grow, and become better humans.


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