Dr. Anja Loizaga-Velder, Co-Founder of Nierika, joins Paul F. Austin to discuss the therapeutic nature of ayahuasca & other plant medicines.
Topics covered include: mental health from an indigenous perspective, Dr. Anja’s journey bridging Western medicine with traditional healing practices, and the current environmental and political struggles of indigenous healers in Mexico.
Dr. Anja Loizaga-Velder received her master’s degree in psychology (Dipl.-Psych.) from Koblenz-Landau University, Germany, and her doctorate in medical psychology (Dr.sc.hum.) from Heidelberg University, Germany. She is a psychotherapist specializing in humanistic and transpersonal psychology, the study of consciousness, music therapy, and ethnopsychotherapy.
Anja wrote both her master’s thesis and her doctoral thesis on the use of Ayahuasca for the treatment of addictions. She has published several articles in international academic journals and contributed book chapters on the topics of traditional medicine and mental health. She has been invited to exhibit her work in multiple international conferences. She is the Co-Founder of Nierika A.C. and director of psychotherapy and research at the Institute of Intercultural Medicine Nierika A.C. In addition, she is a professor and researcher in the postgraduate course in Medical and Health Sciences at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
This episode is brought to you by Numinus, a mental health company bringing safe, evidence-based psychedelic-assisted therapies to people in need. They have clinics in the US and Canada, providing mental health treatments such as: ketamine-assisted therapy, talk therapy and virtual mindfulness programs and practitioner training. Numinus is a leader in psychedelic-assisted therapy, both through research and in practice where approved by governing bodies. Learn more at www.numinus.com.
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0:00:00.5 Paul Austin: Welcome back to the Psychedelic Podcast by Third Wave. Today I'm speaking with Dr. Anja Loizaga-Velder who is a psychotherapist and the co-founder of Nierika.
0:00:11.6 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Indigenous healers don't regard their plant medicines as psychedelic because they say it's not all about your psyche, not all about you. We are all interconnected. In Western mental health, sometimes we conceive the therapeutic process to be only about us. And indigenous traditions are very much aware of this relational aspect of healing, of the community aspect of healing, and that is something that is very alive also in the ceremonial use.
0:00:50.0 Paul Austin: Welcome to the Psychedelic Podcast by Third Wave. Audio mycelium connecting you to the luminaries and thought leaders of the psychedelic renaissance. We bring you illuminating conversations with scientists, therapists, entrepreneurs, coaches, doctors, and shamanic practitioners exploring how we can best use psychedelic medicine to accelerate personal healing, peak performance, and collective transformation.
0:01:27.2 Paul Austin: Third Wave is grateful to Numinus a mental health company, bringing safe evidence-based psychedelic-assisted therapies to people in need. Numinus, has joined us as a partner. They have clinics in the US and Canada where they provide mental health treatments such as Ketamine-assisted therapy, talk therapy, as well as virtual mindfulness programs and practitioner training. Numinus is a leader in psychedelic-assisted therapy, both through research and in practice where approved by governing bodies. They’ve also created a music as medicine program where they partner with leading ambient musicians to foster a community of individuals seeking mindfulness and alignment. Numinus has been advocating for greater access to psychedelic therapy for years, and we’re proud to partner with them as they continue to push the envelope. You can learn more at Numinus.com.
0:02:18.5 Paul Austin: Hey, listeners, I am so excited to have Dr. Anja Loizaga-Velder on the podcast today. We recorded this podcast in person while I was down at Nierika in early April. Anja and her husband Armando co-founded Nierika, which is a center that's about two and a half hours southwest of Mexico City. And at Nierika, they do a lot of outpatient treatment to help with certain addictions, and they also have a clinic where they're actually working with these sacred plant medicines to help heal the Yaqui tribe who have experienced untold amounts of trauma from colonialism. And so in our episode today, we talk a lot about Nierika.
0:03:00.2 Paul Austin: We talk about the research that Anja and her husband Armando are carrying out. We go deep into the therapeutic mechanisms of ayahuasca and why it's such a potent healing medicine. And we hear a lot about Anja's story, what led her to getting her doctorate and why she ended up founding Nierika over 25 years ago with Armando. It really is a beautiful conversation. It's a little bit longer than normal. Anja and I had an opportunity to drop into a really connected and heartfelt space, and I really think that you'll enjoy this conversation. Okay, without further ado, I bring you Dr. Anja Loizaga-Velder.
0:03:40.6 Paul Austin: Hey, listeners, welcome back to the Psychedelic podcast. Today I'm on the land in Mexico at Nierika, and I'm sitting here with Dr. Anja Loizaga-Velder, who has founded Nierika. We just finished up a retreat. It ended up being a six-day retreat. We added an extra day at the end, and it was a really beautiful moving experience. The land here is really powerful, and the ceremonial space was incredibly well held. So I'm honored to have this conversation with you, Anja, and and I'm looking forward to exploring Nierika and your work and everything that you've been up to here. So I'd love, just as an opener for the audience, if you could just tell us the story of the land that we're on maybe it's history and sort of how it's come about, the work you've done here over the last 20 years and what that story has been like.
0:04:38.4 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Well, we don't know the whole story of this land because it's a very ancient land. And we've been here since 20 years. This started off the vision to create a space for healing and for retreat in a organic farm environment that prepared space for healing and the healing field is nature, actually. And yeah, after searching, we just discovered this, this beautiful piece of land. So since we have been building this space for retreat and healing, each time we dig there we find a piece of history. So there have been people long, long, long before us and doing ceremonial work in this land. And yeah, Nierika is, a Huichol word, and it means they're in a mural or a family or the portal between this world and the other. And we named our center in this way. But we also named our non-profit organization in this way.
0:06:06.2 Anja Loizaga-Velder: And, so the center is a physical space for retreat and therapeutic work, intercultural bridge, in between the indigenous plant medicine tradition and modern psychotherapy and personal growth work. And the Nierika NGO is a non-profit, supporting different indigenous people in the preservation of the plant medicine tradition and supporting the Yaqui tribe in a intercultural clinic where plant medicine is supplied to treat mental health challenges among Yaqui tribe members. And, we are also, doing research into psilocybin here in Mexico, in combination with National Institute of Psychiatry and, also an observational study, just like understanding the uses of mushrooms for mental health or approaching, better said, like approaching to an better understanding of the use of mushrooms for the treatment of mental health challenges. Yeah. And, we also supporting regulatory changes here in Mexico as part of the work we do as an NGO.
0:07:39.7 Paul Austin: And the land here is healing. There's something about plant medicine and psychedelics have really taken off these last few years. There's a lot happening in the United States and in urban areas, and yet to come to a center that's has such a rich history and a lineage to be on the land, which is beautiful here. We're about two hours southwest of Mexico City. And that nature connectedness, I find to always be so healing in the therapeutic process to come back to our deep connection. So, thank you for telling us a little bit. We'd also, I'd also love to hear a little bit about your personal background in terms of, how you came to plant medicine and sort of over the last 20 years, how your work has developed, what you find yourself really motivated by and inspired by and doing this work? I'd love to hear a little bit more about just your path and your story.
0:08:48.3 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Yeah, thank you for asking. I grew up in Germany being a daughter of a Mexican mom, German dad, and my grandmother was very much into natural healing. So since childhood, like we had this approach to natural medicine as an option for healing. And growing up, my neighbors, dad, studied with Stanislav Grof and he shared about what he had studied, and he shared some of his books, which very much inspired me. At the same time, we had interest learning more from indigenous traditions also and their wisdom. And I think this is something that has to do with my Mexican roots, trying to understand the indigenous roots of healing and the connection with plants for healing. Yeah. In this process, a dear friend of mine, went through a deep, deep spiritual emergency that led him to a suicidal attempt, and I brought him into a psychiatric hospital. So accompanying him, I was confronted with the limitation of Western mental health's knowledge and really supporting such a delicate process of such a dear, dear friend. And, this led me after, finishing school to take a sabbatical to start to learn of what indigenous practitioners knew about mental healths and healing.
0:10:48.9 Anja Loizaga-Velder: And, I had through... Yeah, through Grace, the opportunity to live in the Amazon and be among the Shipibo for six months who introduced me to the practices with ayahuasca and had some really life transforming experiences there in this time, quite intensive introduction into this plant medicine kingdom. And after sabbatical, I returned to Germany, studied psychology, always driven by this vision to build a bridge in between the wisdom that is there in indigenous plant medicine practices and modern mental healths approaches. And that's what I've been doing since... Trying to compliment what we know in the western approaches to mental health through learning from indigenous practitioners and collaborating with them. And that keeps inspiring me in this field where, each time I dive in, I discover so much I still have to learn also in this area. So, very inspiring, very humbling also, and yeah, this is the work that continues to drive me, I think, in the next decades. So, yeah.
0:12:50.6 Paul Austin: And, I'd love for you to expand a little bit on these principles of indigenous healing. What do indigenous healers or indigenous sort of lineage around plant medicine, what do they have to teach us? What wisdom is there to share from those traditions? How can they help to inform a new paradigm of mental health and a new paradigm of care for those who are struggling or those who are facing challenges in life?
0:13:18.7 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Yeah. I think, and one important thing, it's the paradigm. Indigenous healers don't regard their plant medicines as psychedelic because they say it's not all about your psyche, not all about you. We are all interconnected. So, actually they're the tools, or plant teach us like to allow us to realign all the different dimensions of connectivity in the web of life itself. And I think that's an interesting approach because in Western mental health, sometimes we conceive... Like the therapeutic process to be only about us. And indigenous traditions are very much aware of this relational aspect of healing, of the community aspect of healing. And that is something that is very alive also in the ceremonial use, the group process as such. I think, bares a very important dimension for therapeutic work that in current psychedelic research has not been explored in its new depths.
0:14:44.9 Anja Loizaga-Velder: I think there's a lot of potentiality for some people, not for all of course, only if it's indicated, but to conduce therapeutic work in a group process. And then there is many aspects of ritual that touch archetypal aspects of our soul, that speak to us in a very, deep level. Difficult to put in words, but Carl Gustav Jung explored this alchemical aspect of rituals. And I think that there's still a lot that can be learned from these technologies, really. They're quite elaborate technologies to maximize therapeutic effect, minimize side effects in the use, making the navigation in the world very intentional and very well contained. Ceremonial music, I think is a very very important aspect of indigenous healing tools, that has been called, evolutionized with the immersion in plant medicine with experiential apprenticeship.
0:16:28.0 Anja Loizaga-Velder: And I think there's a lot to learn still. We cannot really learn these technologies of navigating the inner world through a book or through an online course And like this deep experiential training that does not only include knowledge about psychedelic, but is a comprehensive contemplative practice that implicates the whole person. I think this is also an important dimension in all plant medicine tradition, in the initiatory practices, there is so much more than only the work with plants. There's spiritual discipline, right? There's a lot of retreat and personal work also. And this attitude of service and of humility and walking behind the medicine and not in front of the medicine. So many aspects actually to be learned, like difficult to put them all in words, right? But I think this humility aspect knowing that there is a power greater than ourselves that can manifest through these medicines and walking behind this greater power, I think is a very important aspect.
0:18:18.1 Paul Austin: It's very healing to have that connection to something greater. They may call it source or God or the mystery or oneness, but there seems to be a healing in the spiritual connection. And even a lot of the research that's been done on psychedelics, like what they did, what Roland Griffiths did at Johns Hopkins many years ago with the psilocybin, occasioning these mystical type experiences there's this continual, I think, seeking in the plant medicine and in the psychedelic space to bridge those worlds, right? To have that integrative approach that both honors as we've been talking about the ancient wisdom, but also recognizes the utility of sort of a modern approach. There's no either or it really is a both and coming together for those. And that's, you talked a little bit about your background and you have a doctorate, PhD. Could you just tell us a little bit about your academic training and what you discovered in that process of going through the more Western academic system and what knowledge and wisdom from that are you bringing into the work here at Nierika and with the Yaqui and on this land.
0:19:41.0 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Thank you for asking this. I hold a PhD in medical psychology from the University of Heidelberg. I'm also a clinical psychologist and a psychotherapist also trained in this western model of mental health. And 32 years also of postdoctoral research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. So my academic work, my doctoral and postdoctoral research was centered in exploring therapeutic potential of ayahuasca in the treatment of addiction, eating disorders and other mental health challenges. And trying to understand the mechanisms of change, like what are those mechanisms in a well-guided and well-contained plant medicine ceremony that bring about therapeutic change and why does it not happen in some cases? How can it be supported optimally by western psychotherapeutic processes in terms of preparation and integration. This is what my academic work was mainly focused on. Qualitative studies, observational studies.
0:21:16.2 Paul Austin: Was that with the Shipibo when you were there on sabbatical, did that inform some of then the post-doctoral work that you went into?
0:21:23.8 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Yeah, that was before I even studied psychology, my sabbatical, that was personal experiences that of course informed my approach towards plant medicines. If I would've not had those personal in depth of experience, I would've approached them in another way. And this personal experience also inspired me of exploring the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca in a scientific way. But that was much later, where I interviewed people and all kinds of different ceremonial contexts.
0:22:09.1 Paul Austin: Not just Shipibo, but other ones as well.
0:22:10.2 Anja Loizaga-Velder: No, not only Shipibo. The different ceremonial contexts that had brought upon healing. And that was an important question also, like which container is more conducive to bring about therapeutic change.
0:22:32.8 Paul Austin:
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0:24:18.7 Paul Austin: One thing we've talked a little bit about is the research that you're doing and we've started to touch on that a little bit here in this interview, but just to further flesh that out, I've heard you talk about two studies in particular. One is with psilocybin mushrooms, the whole mushroom and the other is with, I believe at the the clinic you have here with the Yaqui and doing research on, not just psilocybin mushrooms, but plant medicine, sacred plant medicine and how that helps the process. And I'd love if you could just flesh that out a little bit. What questions are you exploring through your research? What observations have come through that research? What are some of the hypotheses that you're exploring in that research? Yeah, would love to hear more about that.
0:25:07.6 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Yeah. Thank you. About the first research project around psilocybin mushroom this forms part of a multidisciplinary larger research group, aiming at exploring the therapeutic potential of the mushrooms from different perspective. And in the clinical part of this project, we are working towards the implementation of a group trial with the whole mushrooms for the treatment of treatment-resistant major depression at the National Institute of Psychiatry here in Mexico. In a context that includes element of traditional indigenous medicine and modern psychiatry or psychedelic medicine also. So this is a clinical trial we're measuring outcomes, therapeutic outcomes and safety of a group intervention with the whole mushroom. And they are supporting also the Yaqui tribe and the other research project that you asked me about in the implementation of intercultural clinic for the treatment of diverse mental health challenges and addiction. And in this clinic, there are indigenous ceremonies with ayahuasca, with the Bufo, with Peyote.
0:27:02.8 Anja Loizaga-Velder: There's also group psychotherapy, there's individual psychotherapy, there's sweat lodge, and there's just community work. So the research project that we are doing collaboration of with the therapeutic team, the Yohada therapeutic team is measuring the efficacy and safety of those interventions. And also in this preliminary state of this pilot therapeutic project, the research aims to improve the therapeutic interventions complementary to the plant medicines.
0:27:49.9 Anja Loizaga-Velder: So to support in a better way the patients each time in their healing process. We have quite impressive preliminary outcomes so far, and really learning so much of the power of community as a very important therapeutic factor. And as this is not a clinical trial, but an observational study of a therapeutic project that is actually taking place. We are learning a lot also about the processes of healing and of recovery. Sometimes it's not one single application that brings transformation. Some participants need two, three, or four ceremonies in order to complete the process. Right?
0:28:49.3 Anja Loizaga-Velder: And we are learning about spacing in between those interventions about how to support the integration processes in a more sensitive way. Sometimes it's through structured group work, but also compliment and compliment with individual therapeutic application. So it is a very, very inspiring project that Yaqui community brought into life there, and we feel honored to support them with this research part.
0:29:32.7 Paul Austin: What are some of the challenges that the... Is it the Yaqui? Is that the correct pronunciation?
0:29:36.4 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Mm-hmm.
0:29:37.6 Paul Austin: What are some of the challenges that they faced around, not only mental health and healing, but also water rights? What are some of the challenges that they face just being indigenous people on this land in this time and place? Yeah, bring us a little bit deeper into what's going on with the Yaqui here in Mexico and how the plant medicine is helping to heal the community.
0:30:06.2 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Yeah. Thank you for asking this. Sadly, many indigenous communities on this planet, also the Yaqui are suffering intergenerational trauma as a consequence of colonialism and stepping on their rights and stepping on their origin. So there's centuries actually of injustice. They have suffered as a people and recently their, the river was deviated and then the river forms very, very important part of the culture, which was a fishing culture. So they did not only lose a vital resource for their survival, but also a vital part of their history and their culture as a people. And recent very tragic history is their war on drugs and the introduction of methamphetamine in the territory, which had a huge, huge, huge toll on the youth and drug and cartel-related crime with terrible consequences on very, very difficult grief and posttraumatic stress. Some heartbreaking stories in this communities.
0:32:08.3 Paul Austin: And how... Are their fortunes shifting? Or is there hope for or reason for optimism or are things improving? Or what's the current status in terms of their relationship to their water, in terms of their relationship to the government? What's your intuitive sense of how and if things are shifting for the Yaqui?
0:32:36.3 Anja Loizaga-Velder: On a way of personal suffering of people who have approached the clinic, there seems to be hope because people had quite impressive therapeutic processes, through the plant medicine, through community, through the restoration of the culture. And seems that this clinic contributes also of a revitalization of the cultural memory of the tribe in this way. And people are regaining their strengths and their identity to defend their rights, to make their voices heard. So, hopefully this will eventually also lead to political changes that will contribute to a greater safety in the tribe and the recovery of the water and the water rights and the restoration of the health in the tribe. But I think it's a longer process.
0:33:56.3 Paul Austin: Or maybe more of a beginning of a journey rather than the middle or the close. In some ways, right, in some ways this has been going on for generations and in other ways, maybe, I think this is what inspires a lot of people who work with plant medicine, sacred plant medicine in psychedelics is they seem to be a tool, a technology that offers hope for a better future. A future that is more in touch with the land, in touch with nature, in touch with community, so much of what we've talked about today and even, here on the land is... As you mentioned, the importance of relating. And that we as beings are relational and restoring that relationship to self, to nature, to community, to our lineage, there's a lot of healing in that restoration of our relationship.
0:34:48.6 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Yeah. And I think, psychedelics have been also a tool for creative management of crisis to find new solutions and in this way also, collective new solutions. And what is really beautiful on this clinic is that many of the elders of the tribe participate in the ceremony and are there to support the young people. And I think there's just hope when things like this happen.
0:35:25.9 Paul Austin: It takes generations sometimes. I had a conversation with Paul Stamets on the podcast, maybe six months ago or so, and he mentioned, that it's not just a single generation, but sometimes it takes three generations or sometimes it takes seven generations, for the recall, for the remembrance. And, one, I guess silver lining if there is a silver lining, is the indigenous people have been cut off for many generations from this medicine. And we as even a western culture, it's been... I go back to ancient Greece, it's been maybe 50 generations, 60 generations since the more Western model has been really in touch with these medicines. So, this process is slow, this process is emergent.
0:36:22.6 Paul Austin: And there's certainly an urgency to it. It feels like there's a the time is now, there's a reason that these medicines are coming back and like we've talked about, they offer a glimpse of hope for a future that's more connected, that's more relational. We've talked in the podcast a lot about, let's say the legal landscape in the United States, so our listeners have a lot of context in that. I'd love for you to tell us a little bit about here in Mexico politically, what's happening with sacred plant medicine? What's happening with psilocybin mushrooms? I saw a recent story, I think a couple weeks ago, that was an Ayahuasquero, Don Jose Campos, who was... I believe released from prison. I believe that was through the ADF, the ayahuasca Defense Fund, as well as if I'm not mistaken, here there was some support from Nierika as well, from you and Armando. What is the current situation in Mexico around the legalization of plant medicines or the use of plant medicines? Is it still broadly illegal? Is it decriminalized? What does that look like? I suppose federally or on a state-by-state basis here in Mexico?
0:37:41.0 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Yeah. Sadly, plant medicines don't have the status they would merit to have in a country with the richest flora and fauna and cultural traditions of medical knowledge, around the plant medicines. So, the legal situation of plant medicines is a little tricky because psychedelics are schedule 1 substances, throughout Mexico. However, there is an exemption for the indigenous use of some of those plant medicine within their territories and with indigenous healing traditions. And ayahuasca is not scheduled in Mexico as Ibogaine and Iboga is not scheduled.
0:38:50.0 Anja Loizaga-Velder: However, in the last year, nine people were imprisoned for bringing ayahuasca into the country without a clear legal basis for imprisoning them, because as ayahuasca is technically not illegal in Mexico, there was technical no reason to imprison them. Although DMT is on the list of scheduled substances.
0:39:22.5 Paul Austin: Without the rationale, yeah, I know.
0:39:25.1 Anja Loizaga-Velder: But ayahuasca is not DMT, it only contains DMT as myself contain DMT and many other mammals...
0:39:33.4 Paul Austin: All of life, right, really.
0:39:34.3 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Contain DMT...
0:39:36.5 Paul Austin: Yeah. It's in everything.
0:39:37.6 Anja Loizaga-Velder: And many plants that are used in a Mexican traditional medicine contain. So, it has been tricky. It has been very arbitrary sadly, of those eight people, only Jose Campos has been released. There's other people still in prison, some of them indigenous healers...
0:40:05.9 Paul Austin: Wow.
0:40:08.1 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Authentic, indigenous healers that is very, very sad. And we are supporting the ayahuasca Defense fund, as the Nierika in the defense of those other people also. And, hopefully this can bring to our regularization process about plant and fungi medicine in Mexico. So we were also supporting this process on a more federal level. There's a center in Mexico proposing a legislative bill for the rescheduling of plant and fungi medicine to make them available for therapeutic use and for research. And hopefully, this is something that could be achieved and really putting in the right dimension to what this medicine means in Mexico, because it's actually a patrimony, a cultural patrimony of this nation also and the merits to be used in a regulated way that appreciates the therapeutic potential.
0:41:38.7 Paul Austin: What... Can you tell us a little bit more about what happened in the case of Don Jose Campos in terms of, I mean, he was arrested for bringing ayahuasca into the country. What was the argument made? And why was he released? What sort of precedent might that set for potentially the others that still find themselves in prison? Is there hope that this will be a precedent that is set that will lead to greater freedom? Or is it too early to tell at this point in terms of what it could mean?
0:42:10.6 Anja Loizaga-Velder: It is a little too early. He was released on the base that he believed that ayahuasca was not illegal in Mexico, as in Peru, it's a cultural patrimony of indigenous people. And on this space, he was relieved. But the judge stated that ayahuasca was illegal, which is kind of arbitrary from the perspective of the lawyers who are specialists in this matter here in Mexico. So we have this situation now where there needs to be a regulation established. It seems that, there is and maybe also a justified fear of the government that there is too widespread use of ayahuasca not always in the best containers. And that could lead to harm in people.
0:43:23.3 Anja Loizaga-Velder: And that's a fact, there is a widespread to use and not all of the people offering ayahuasca ceremonies have the preparation of doing this in a safe way or not all of them are ethical and not all of them really support also the sustainable growth of ayahuasca in the cultures of origin. So in this way, there is a justified concern. But definitely prohibition would not be an answer. I think it would make things much, much worse in the sense because people are in a legitimate search for healing. For conditions, they have not found relieve from and invest in therapeutic approaches. Right. And people are in a legitimate quest of personal growth and of spiritual development, which is all the necessary aspects of the human beings. So we very, very much hope that this legislative bill, which is way well thought through, has been really got good advice that it found open ears to elaborate this advice. So we really very much hope that this legislative bill will find support.
0:44:56.9 Paul Austin: And in Mexico does that... Is it a similar setup as in the states in terms of executive judicial and legislative? So if this bill is passed in the legislature, must it then be approved by the Supreme Court or the executive? How does that kind of political process work of, I suppose, legitimizing or regulating the use of the sacred plant medicine? Or is.
0:45:24.6 Anja Loizaga-Velder: I would very much like to refer you to my dear colleague Natalia Rebollo with this question.
0:45:32.2 Paul Austin: Yeah.
0:45:32.7 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Because she can give you a much more precise answer and a more useful answer for those like, interested in the legal sphere, because that's not my area of speciality, I'm sorry.
0:45:45.4 Paul Austin: Okay. It's okay. Yeah, I couldn't help but ask. So and one other thing I'd love to touch on is your work at CIIS, as a faculty at CIIS. We were sitting at lunch yesterday and talking a little bit. And yeah, just a little bit about, what's your role in that program? What has... What brought you in to becoming a faculty at CIIS? What are those contributions? And what gives you hope about that program? Why is it that you're choosing to spend time and energy and invest as a faculty in the... And I believe it's the psychedelic assisted psychotherapy program that CIIS has? Yeah.
0:46:25.5 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Yeah. The CPTR I serve as a mentor there and also as a guest faculty. I enjoy both roles a lot. And as a guest faculty I teach a class on the therapeutic aspects of ayahuasca from a psychotherapeutic perspective. Trying to understand those mechanisms of change and supporting them with psychotherapeutic practices. As a mentor, I'm mentoring trainees through their training process in the program to help them to gain better benefit of all they learn in there, to integrate it in their professional practice to support it like in individualized personal and professional development. And yeah, share some of my experiences in this fields from a more practical aspect also. And for me, it's very rewarding, very enriching to support young professionals who wanna really in a very dedicated and serious way trained to become a integral whole, well prepared psychedelic psychotherapists, like to contribute to this.
0:48:14.5 Anja Loizaga-Velder: This is very inspiring because this field is growing so fast, and I believe that a lot of well prepared therapists will be needed. And yeah, I appreciate the people entering in the program and in the CIIS specialty especially I have had the experience of really committed professionals with a very authentic interest in learning and serving in this field. And I very much appreciate the program director Janis Phelps, her maturity, her wisdom, her depths of vision also with which she carries this program, brings the team together. So.
0:49:10.5 Paul Austin: And maybe a few words of advice or perspective from you. There are a lot of people who listen to this podcast who are, they're medical doctors, they're psychotherapists, they're psychiatrists, they're psychologists. There's also a lot of coaches and facilitators, not in plant medicine, but broadly just facilitators. So for those who are wanting to maybe deepen their practice and deepen their work in this field, what perspectives would you provide on sort of starting that journey and what do you think are sort of key aspects of that learning process to either facilitate for, it could be MDMA, MAPS is on the verge of medicalizing MDMA for PTSD, or it could be a psilocybin, or it could be other sacred plant medicines. What perspectives would you give on those who wanna start that path? What are some of the key components of that transformative journey?
0:50:12.3 Anja Loizaga-Velder: I believe you need a good solid base in personal work, like having done your personal work, having had also training in mental health, being able to accompany other people in their therapeutic process, have this like as a basis, as a skill set, those basic areas of a professional health space for transformation. Then there's different trainings for the work of different substances that are excellent training, such as the MAPS training such as the CIIS training and supporting people to gain all these different aspects of knowledge on one hand. And then also maturities, like psychedelic maturity. I call it, I think it, takes personal integrity, like awareness about ethics.
0:51:28.9 Anja Loizaga-Velder: That seems to me as such an important aspect of the training also. And a very practical things of how to handle emergency situations in a centered way, in a professional way. And how to support people in integration more easy sometimes to open process than to conclude them and to close them. And sadly, what many programs are not yet able to offer is the immersion part, which is so important in indigenous wisdom tradition and by legal restrictions, so, complicated in Western psychedelic training, like really knowing the non-altered states of consciousness from within. So, well, there's just other legal practices for navigating non-altered states of consciousness, such as.
0:52:32.9 Paul Austin: It's not the same and like breathwork.
0:52:36.5 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Exactly. It's not the same, but they are approaches.
0:52:41.1 Paul Austin: Right. They are approaches.
0:52:41.7 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Approaches. It's better than not having any experiential training.
0:52:45.2 Paul Austin: Absolutely. Absolutely.
0:52:46.0 Anja Loizaga-Velder: And then I feel another aspect that all those programs still need to develop is, well, health, supervision, inter-vision, and continuous education, because you never end to learn in this field. It is something that is continuous, and continue demanding from you and always checking in about your integrity, about your ethics, about personal developing challenges that this work may open up for you. And I think in a continued circles of inter-vision and supervision, this could be contained in a... You are welcome, well structured way.
0:53:37.7 Paul Austin: It really is the start of a journey. I remember I had my first experience with psychedelics when I was 19 with LSD, and it was really like before LSD and after LSD type of shift. And of course at that time I thought, "Oh, this is, it's a new beginning," And 13 years later, it continues to unfold. And there's no endpoint, there's no destination with this. There's a continued deepening, there's a continued sort of awareness, there's a way that the world in general it's rich, it's alive, it's emergent. It never stops. And so being practitioners in this space, there's always the sense of adapting to the new while rooting in the ancient. Like having that as an anchor. We have a training program ourselves, and so as part of that, we do a six day intensive in Costa Rica. So we go down and we work with psilocybin mushrooms at a place called Brave Earth in Costa Rica.
0:54:49.2 Paul Austin: And what I always tell our students is the process of inner transformation, that sort of sense of cultivating depth, integrity, gnosis through these experiences allows for us as facilitators, as coaches, as guides, whatever sort of label we put in it to show up with more the capacity to hold more complexity. The capacity to hold paradox, the capacity to be with all of the sort of richness and uncertainty of life in a way. And that I think precedents that's cultivated through the medicine work is so essential to this sort of emergent field of space holding and facilitation and coaching and all these sorts of things.
0:55:37.9 Anja Loizaga-Velder: I completely agree with what you just said.
0:55:41.9 Paul Austin: So one element we didn't touch on is the therapeutic mechanisms of ayahuasca in this work, in the healing work. And I'd love for you to just explore that with us. Tell us a little bit about what are those therapeutic mechanisms? Why is ayahuasca such a healing medicine? What sort of healing and transformation occurs in that space with ayahuasca?
0:56:01.0 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Yeah, in a nutshell, ayahuasca is one of this big medicines because it works on the physical level, on the emotional level, on the relational level, on a cognitive restructuring level and on the spiritual level. So it really touches those different dimensions of the human beings that go sometimes out of alignment in disease or not wellbeing. And that can contribute to an integral personal growth if they're realigned. So.
0:56:47.0 Anja Loizaga-Velder: One of the important healing properties of ayahuasca is that it is a purge, but a conscious purge also of removing toxins, physical toxins, emotional, relational, spiritual, cognitive toxins that we have put into our system. So ayahuasca, by being so physical, can release those things that are an obstacle to our wellbeing. And like this allowing more this innate healing wisdom to resurge from within. Many people have complementary trudith throwing out. They have other ways of living the purge like in physical shakes, which is known like one of those great therapeutic mechanisms in trauma therapy. Just like trembling as a way to shake off emotions that are stocked in the body of traumatic events or events that just brought us to space of disconnection.
0:58:15.6 Anja Loizaga-Velder: And also emotional catharsis, like being able to release, to cry or experience joy in ecstasy. Something that we may have not allowed ourselves to experience or experience our body in its fullness. So it has this properties, right. And in an emotional level, ayahuasca can also work on a helping people to regulate their emotions. Again, like not only releasing them, but regulate and expanding and their capacity of this emotional level of their being and the cognitive level there is just a very interesting thing that many people report, being able to observe themselves as they were sitting in front of a mirror, being able to see what they were doing to themselves to not be well. And at the same time getting quite clear instructions of things to change in life, to be well again.
0:59:36.7 Paul Austin: There's an objective awareness in confronting the shadow, right? When we I find ayahuasca to be... We talked about some of the medicines, MDMA and psilocybin and even Bufo and ayahuasca has it comes from the deep Amazonian jungle. It has this capacity to go in and intuitively know what needs to be released, what needs to be opened up, what needs to be healed. And it almost feels in experiencing the depths of our shadow, like you said, there's sort of a transcendent light that opens up where people who maybe have suffered for years or decades, they're given a glimpse of what it means to be well and what it means to be whole and what it means to be free sometimes for the first time in maybe their entire lives. And it's very powerful that way, it's very much a master teacher in that way.
1:00:31.7 Anja Loizaga-Velder: That's right. And additionally, also bringing this perspective of self compassion and self love, and being able to forgive oneself or forgive others and then move forward. And I think there, there's a great potentiality for transformation in this process. And then very, very importantly, the spiritual dimension the ayahuasca is also a facilitator of very meaningful spiritual processes. People sometimes reconnecting for the first time in their life with this dimension of something greater than themselves, like connecting them with a restructuring of the value of life itself. And many people perceive they're receiving help from spiritual dimension. It's very powerful and meaningful.
1:01:48.0 Anja Loizaga-Velder: And then another important the dimension of experience is when people are confronted with their own death, that oftentimes really leads into transformation, like being able in the side of their own death, being connected with the value of life. And this is often times a very important turning point. It's not only pleasant cosmic experience, it's integrative visiting of pain and hope at the same time. And people also oftentimes through those experience get this, the sense of self-efficacy like, I can undergo such a painful experience. So they gain a greater resource of confronting maybe a difficult experience in their life.
1:02:55.5 Paul Austin: There's an agency almost. We remember our power as creators and we're put back in that center. It's very vitalizing, enlivening and that agency, that choice, right? Recognizing that there is a choice often is a path of hope and optimism for those who for so long have felt maybe in a cage or constricted or oppressed even that remembrance that these sacred plant medicines bring, that to me has always been the most powerful aspect of them that seen through the veil of death, the illusion of death often opens up this incredible spaciousness species for living.
1:03:45.5 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Yeah, this increased cognitive flexibility, this increased emotional flexibility. And being able to open up a completely new perspective. Now that I mentioned that I touched on briefly, this relational dimension. Many people revisit significant relationships in their life and realize things they can do to shift those relationships coming out of this space of being a victim, of being able to take accountability for things they can help to do to create a significant shift. And I think that that's very, very important and I'm astonished by the preciseness of many of the insights receipts received. Of course, there are not only precise insights, and I think that's the part of the integration is so important. Because sometimes it's good to have all the experience settled before taking important life changing step and being able to understand what this experience was about.
1:05:11.9 Paul Austin: Yeah the contextualization. 'Cause so often there's, when I sit in ceremony, there's a lot of insights, there's a lot of messages. There's a lot of downloads and so often in the integration process, it's sort of a sifting through a process of discernment. And that's where having therapeutic support or having a facilitator or a coach who can help to guide you into that. So then it's not just another experience, but it really is something that becomes embodied and becomes sort of settled in the new psyche or the new way that someone decides to navigate life and existence.
1:05:51.5 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Yeah and also like all those therapeutic contra mentions, they happen ideally when a ceremonial space is well contained, when the dose was adequate when there was a really safe space. But not all people have the opportunity to experience an ideal ayahuasca experience. Some of those experiences are challenging and with the right integration, such a challenging experience can be very therapeutic significant, that it takes a little bit of time and work. And that's therefore I conceive the integration of being so complimentary to the inner exploration happening during the non-altered states of consciousness. It's how are we bringing this back into our life to resettled in a new ordered way and not in a disintegrated way, right?
1:07:01.7 Paul Austin: That's very powerful the last thing I'll say about that is the metaphor that comes up is that of like a surgeon who in a lot of ceremonies, people get opened up, but not everyone gets closed up. And so the opening is necessary and important, but what is just as important as the community is the relational is the, like you said, the reassembly of that person into something that is not disordered, but orderly. Something that is coherent integrative. And I think that's one of the biggest challenges right now of there are a lot of ceremonies, there are a lot of facilitators, there's a lot of medicine, but we're still so early in this in some ways that there's not I think a lot of attention or enough attention really paid to that integrative process.
1:07:54.8 Paul Austin: And I think my prayer for this work is that land like this, centers like this, communities like this become more prominent. So the sort of bifurcation between our sacred plant medicine experiences and reality, it's not so black and white. And I think having the capacity to be in the medicine, and I think that is nature in many ways that for me speaks to like the rest of the work, legalizing psychedelics and contextualizing plant medicines is important, but it's okay, now what. Now where do we live? Now how do we exist in community? So it isn't just, I'm in ceremony, I'm this, and when I'm back in reality, I'm that. But the two can, like you said, be a bridge. There has to be a bridge there.
1:08:45.6 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Yeah. And sometimes integration takes time. And after surgery, we all know we need some rest, we need some time to be settle. But not all people are aware that they need to take it a little slow after such a deep and strong experience. And yeah, we're speaking about indigenous medicine traditions. Integration is something that is really inherent in the culture. So people know it's like walking the medicine for others to see their visions in some way and not talking about them. So different way that integration is interwoven in indigenous communities. But I think in our non-indigenous communities, there's something that needs to be recreated because, we don't have the culture yet of including non-altered states of consciousness in our life in an integrated way. And that's where therapy coaches, healers for building those bridges come into play such an important role. Or somebody who has developed their own inherent capacity for integration through the a lot of personal prior work, that also exists.
1:10:14.3 Paul Austin: Beautiful. Well, this is great anything else you wanna say specific to ayahuasca, the healing mechanisms? Anything we haven't touched on yet that you would like to share?
1:10:26.9 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Well, just remembering that ayahuasca itself is not necessarily healing, it's a tool. So as a tool, if it's in the right context with the right preparation, with the right integration it can be a very powerful healing tool, but it's not for everybody and just remembering this not falling into illusion that this is the magic bullet, it's just one tool and it needs a good practice to accompany this tool in order to be beneficial.
1:11:10.1 Paul Austin: So, I'd love to end on a great note. Something we've talked a lot about here on the land is the power of prayer and the importance of prayer. And I'd love for you to just tell us a little bit about, what's your sort of prayer for the land? What's your prayer for this work? What's your prayer for the sacred plant medicine? What intention, what energy are you holding as a sort of space for what's emerging within your work, within the broader supportive field? How does that all come together for you in sort of just an intention I suppose?
1:11:54.2 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Oh, that's a big question. I think the most important part of this prayer is really honoring the indigenous roots of this branch of medicine. And that there'll be always reciprocity as a first thought of giving back and supporting indigenous people of being able to maintain those sacred tradition and being well, for the people, for what they need. And then a spread in a good alignment with those indigenous needs to the non-indigenous cultures making available the healing for people who need this healing in safe ways in respectful ways, in aligned ways, in ethical ways with well-prepared practitioners able to hold spaces in a compassive, in a emphatic way, in a well-grounded way also.
1:13:07.9 Anja Loizaga-Velder: And then a good interdisciplinary communication in between psychiatry, psychology, social work, plant medicine traditions. I think there is so much we can learn listening to each other and complimenting each other. And also the spiritual, the chaplain part of... The part of facilitators that don't have professional training in mental health, but have a authentic vocation and talent of doing this. Then vision for this land is being able, hopefully very soon to offer therapeutic spaces for more people with all the necessarily permits that are required here to do this work in a completely legal aligned way for people to being able to receive the healing they need in a beautiful and safe environment.
1:14:36.0 Paul Austin: So for those who are listening at home, how can they support as an NGO, as a center, I would love for you to just... How can people support your mission? How can people support what it is that you're doing here? What does that look like for the broader world?
1:14:57.0 Anja Loizaga-Velder: On one hand through voluntary work and research, then through strengthening Nierika as an association, there's different skills needed to strengthen the association in itself to be able to continue to do the work. And we need funds also for the legal work and for the work with the Yaqui clinic and the work with research here in Mexico. So people would like to support us, we'd appreciate their support.
1:15:38.7 Paul Austin: Well, thank you. Thank you for rescheduling yesterday, we had a fun evening here, super celebratory and beautiful. And thank you for sitting down and just sharing a little bit of your life and your story and the work you're doing here at Nierika, it really has been... Before coming here, I knew it would be transformative and healing, and now on the other end of it, I am very grateful and humbled by everything that you and Armando have created here. The space that you hold, the love and the compassion that you bring to this work, and just how clean and integrous and integrated it all feels. It's really been an honor to sit with you in ceremony and to be on this land. And anything that I can personally do or be involved with to support what it is that you're doing here, I would absolutely love that. It really is something special, something magical here at Nierika.
1:16:51.9 Anja Loizaga-Velder: Thank you so much. We very much appreciate this.
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