I had been away from home all day, and there I was, stuck in an unexpected Saturday rush-hour, tired, hungry, and restless. The infrastructure criss-crossed all around me like a gray forest blooming everywhere with red brake light berries, and that’s when it really hit me – for the past several weeks, I had been feeling so good. My mind, body, and soul had been feeling so good.
I had made a pact with myself to get as fit as I could, especially since I wasn’t too far from my goal: a few little lifestyle change and I would be there. To work towards my goal, I had been keeping a journal of my exercise and food, and I had become one of the frequent visitors of a local park, where I jogged on looping, paved paths amongst the other regulars and their dogs. Over this time, I had grown so accustomed to the serenity of my daily ritual – going for a run in the morning, working from home during the day, and then returning during the golden hour of the evening for a long walk – that I didn’t even realize how good it was making me feel until I was plopped into the jam-packed interstate jungle.
The mind-body-spirit connection that people are always talking about is real. It’s easy to agree that the mind and spirit are connected and interrelated, but the body seems to get forgotten about or ignored. So many of us have conflicted emotions, pain, shame, and feelings of disconnection surrounding our bodies, so the topic is much less pleasant or exciting than exploring spiritual realms or practices. Nowhere is this more true than with LSD, mushrooms, DMT or other psychedelics, which can rocket us into the blissful cosmic depths of inner and outer space. Problems can arise, though, when we use psychedelics as a way to escape the reality of life in the three-dimensional, material world. Eventually, what was once psychedelic bliss may turn into the world’s biggest slap in the face – since you’re here, chances are that’s happened to you.
A traumatic psychedelic trip has the power to open up the can of worms you’ve spent your whole life trying to keep contained, often leaving you sitting there completely dumbfounded with the worms of anxiety, pain, and confusion teeming around you. Putting your life back together or at least making sense of what the hell happened to you is a daunting task, but you can ease the discomfort and shorten the distance of the journey by truly acknowledging the mind-body-spirit connection and working to get it balanced.
My experience in traffic the other day inspired me to talk in depth about ways to get your body on your side during the recovery process, so everything below is part of my own, highly personal experience and perspective on the mind-body-spirit.
Exercise, exercise, and more exercise
I’ll admit, I always had trouble getting myself to exercise in really any capacity – I was never one for sports as a kid, and the heat and sweat were regularly major deterrents. But that was before I started exercising consistently; now, I know that I need it. I crave it, and I can tell a true difference in my mood, body, and anxiety levels on days that I exercise vs. days that I don’t. You’ve probably heard time and time again that exercise is a powerful way to increase your health, self-confidence, mood, and so much more, and (while I resisted the idea for a long time) I can’t deny how true it really is. When you’re struggling with feeling completely out of whack, not yourself, and anxious following a bad trip, exercise is one of the best things you can possibly do to start getting back on track.
Psychedelics have a certain way of launching us into mental and emotional outer-space, often causing people to lose part of their connection to the immediate reality they’re existing in. Yes, these substances can open our eyes to the utter unity of mankind and the beauty of the physical world, but they often lead us to spending a lot of time thinking about the spiritual, metaphysical, unseen, or dreamy aspects of that unity rather than the immediate, everyday side of it.
A huge part of what psychedelics teach us is that after we learn these profound, cosmic lessons, we need to take them back and find a way to truly integrate them into our day-to-day lives. From my own experience, spending time in this floating, flowing state of mind is much easier and more pleasant than the reality of the material world, but trying to escape life on Earth is not doing anyone any favors – especially if you’re dealing with anxiety. In order to start recovering from a frightening or negative psychedelic experience, it’s vital to pull yourself out of the dreamscape and back into your immediate reality.
This is where exercise comes in. It not only forces you to get out of your head and into your body, but it helps you regulate hormones, mood, emotions, and even your brain chemistry. It helps you feel more balanced, remove toxins from your body, and become more grounded. This isn’t just science or research – I can truly tell a difference on days when I don’t exercise. I’m more anxious, tired, easily upset, and even less wise or mature. I tend to get hung up on the little things and have more conflicts with my loved ones. Above all, I feel less connected to myself and who I want to be. It’s true that, in the beginning, you may not notice this. Exercising may be a difficult thing to get yourself to do, but after just two weeks of consistently exercising, I promise you will feel a positive difference.
The type of exercise you do depends on you, your personality, and where you’re at with your health, so I definitely recommend talking to a doctor first if you have any concerns. For a relatively fit, healthy person who just doesn’t exercise much, here’s what I recommend:
- Jogging is an all-around great way to get exercise, and this is coming from someone who used to avoid running like the plague. Start with C25K, which is a running program that takes you from “sitting on the Couch” “2” being able to run a 5K – it’s perfect for people who don’t run. The program gets you running and walking on and off for various intervals until you’re eventually running for 30 minutes straight, and while it’s not easy, it’s definitely doable.
- Jog outside. The first time I did C25K was on the treadmill, and when I got up to running for 30 min, I decided to go run outside. I found that I could hardly even run outside for 10 minutes! I was so disappointed because I had always wanted to be one of those people who jogs outside. A year or two later, I did the program again, but this time it was outside. While it’s definitely harder, it’s better, especially because you get to experience the fresh air and connection to nature while you run.
- One of most difficult things for me to figure out when starting was how to get the timing right: running, showering, eating, and doing my daily activities. You definitely don’t want to eat for at least 2 hours before you run, or else you’ll feel really uncomfortable. I’ve found two ways to work it in. One avenue is to wake up early and run before eating breakfast – I think this is easiest for people who have a lot going on in the evening or who have a hard time getting themselves to go exercise to begin with. The other avenue is to run in the evening. Because I live in a place that gets extremely hot during the summer, I like to wait until about 7:00 or 7:30 to run, so I eat my last, hardy meal at about 4:30, run around 7, and then eat dinner after I’m done. Both are good options, and it all depends on your schedule.
- Supplement jogging with toning exercises or lifting weights. I personally like to find videos on YouTube that I can follow along to for abs exercises, etc.
- I strongly recommend keeping a Food & Exercise log in a particular notebook, because this really helps you stay accountable.
Getting grounded in your body
For a long time, I didn’t really understand what “being grounded” meant – that’s probably because I was about as ungrounded as one could possibly get. I was all over the place, constantly changing my identity and changing my mind, having wild mood swings, spiraling into crippling anxiety, and so much more.
I began to understand grounding when I started studying the chakra system, which places the glowing, red Root Chakra at the very base or foundation of the human subtle body. From a secular perspective, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs says the exact same thing: in order to move on to love, communication, identity, spirituality, and self-actualization, a person must first meet the basic physiological needs (food, shelter, water, sleep, etc.) and safety needs. At its core, being grounded is all about developing a strong foundation for yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually – without it, you can’t build a lasting, structurally sound house.
For people who don’t have strong personal foundations, psychedelics can be an absolute nightmare, leading to terribly bad trips – trust me, I know from experience. Psychedelics can be used as an initiation into a state of enlightenment and awareness of maya – the veil of illusion that prevents us from realizing that absolutely everything is pure cosmic energy emanating from one central core. I think this notion was described beautifully in the Beatles song Within You Without You:
We were talking about the space between us all
And the people, who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion
Never glimpse the truth, then it’s far too late when they pass away
We were talking, about the love we all could share
When we find it, to try our best to hold it there, with our love
With our love we could save the world, if they only knew
Try to realize it’s all within yourself, no-one else can make you change
And to see you’re really only very small
And life flows on within you and without you
We were talking, about the love that’s gone so cold
And the people who gain the world and lose their soul
They don’t know, they can’t see, are you one of them?
When you’ve seen beyond yourself
Then you may find peace of mind is waiting there
And the time will come when you see we’re all one
And life flows on within you and without you
In traditional spiritual orders and secret societies, initiation is closely guarded, and the first step is to become disciplined and get the physical body into its own enlightened state – to get the root chakra flowing properly/to master the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Doing so is like spiritual or mental kindergarten, which prepares you for grade school, which prepares you for high school, which prepares you for college, which prepares you for grad school. The masters and shamans knew that there was no use in sending someone to college if they hadn’t gotten past kindergarten, yet this is often how psychedelics are used in common, unguided contexts – we seek the third eye or crown chakras before even beginning to master the root. It’s no surprise that the experience is terrifying or negative, or at least highly underused.
If you had one of these ungrounded psychedelic experiences, just as I did, one of the best things you can do is to direct your focus towards the root chakra and work on getting grounded now. This is a long journey, but it’s so worth it. Here are some ideas for how to start:
- Get the basic, practical elements of your life in order. Start working on eating right, drinking enough water, getting about nine hours of sleep per night, keeping yourself and your surroundings clean and tidy, and getting your finances in order. Do a self-inventory, writing down where you’re at with each of these aspects of your life and develop a plan for improving them. If you’re terribly out of shape or in debt, just start working to improve it – the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and (to add my own bit) is simply comprised of steps. Take things one day at a time until you’re where you want to be.
- Start spending more time in nature. I find that I feel the absolute best when I spend at least an hour outside everyday, especially when I walk barefoot on the ground. Doing this allows you to “tune yourself” to the frequency of the earth and soak up its energy. Find a local park or even a nice backyard and make habit of visiting it as frequently as you can.
- Work on clearing your mind of all your thoughts. This will be incredibly difficult at first, but it gets easier with consistent practice. Simply sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and focus on the darkness behind your eyelids or on your breathing. If thoughts arise, simply let them go – remind yourself that you can think about them later. Try to keep your mind empty for an increasingly long period of time as this will help you feel less frantic and more in touch with your inner voice.
- Find a grounding meditation. One option is to find a word that resonates with you and focus on it, such as foundation or core. As you go throughout your day, take brief moments to center yourself on the word you chose. Another option which I’ve found particularly helpful is to imagine that there is a glowing red cord attached to your feet or your Mula Bundha, connecting you to the center of the Earth. I like to imagine that everyone has one of these glowing red cords and that they all meet and blend together at the Earth’s core.
Taking a break from substances
After the most terrible acid trip of my life, I blindly drove myself into a nicotine addiction as a way to cope with my severe, post-trip anxiety. Vaping made me feel sane and normal and that everything would be just fine, but as soon as I decided to quit, I realized that nicotine was never worth it. After going through the intense anguish of quitting, the anxiety was still there and I was right back and square one. While many people use other substances to help them through anxiety issues after a bad trip, it’s my personal belief that you can get through this on your own if you’re willing to work hard and be highly disciplined. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide the best way to handle your anxiety – it is a truly personal decision, and you know what’s best for you – but my approach will always veer away from using other, outside substances.
A terrible psychedelic trip can put your brain through the wringer, causing you to feel like a totally different person. After my most difficult experience, I felt insane. I felt like there was a “before-me” and an “after me,” and all I wanted to do was find my way back to the before-me who didn’t have all these awful issues. Now, I can see that the before-me was an extremely sheltered and inauthentic girl who hardly knew herself at all.
This is ultimately one of the most important things psychedelics try to teach us: to be our most authentic selves, to take a good hard look in the mirror, to face our problems head on without fear, and to evolve as souls. By quitting or taking a long break from any outside substances such as weed, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, acid, DMT, mushrooms, and any other psychedelics or drugs, we can begin to strip away any barriers to this difficult but so incredibly powerful psychedelic lesson.
I know that what I’m talking about is immensely difficult – quitting nicotine was one of, if not the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I did it. Doing so made me a stronger, wiser, and more compassionate person, and I’m so thankful that I went through that experience. Quitting recreational substances comes down to the decision that you are going to give your body a much-needed break. Oftentimes, use of these substances is attached to a certain friend-group or activity, so it may be time to take a break from those habits as well. Remember that, by giving your brain chemistry a break, you are also getting the chance to take a long, hard look at yourself in the mirror and do some real, serious self-work. When it comes to getting past addictions, the decision must come from you. You must be ready, feel ready, and want to be free. At that point, there are many online guides for how to quit practically any substance. I quit nicotine by gradually decreasing the amount I was taking in. I first tried going cold turkey, but it quickly became clear that that method was not going to work for me personally.
Getting your eating on track
I always struggled with emotional eating. It stemmed from deeply repressed childhood trauma, the result of continuous sexual abuse, and as I pulled the trauma out of repression and shed the baggage, I noticed that my ability to resist the foods I had craved and binged on was growing stronger and stronger. Emotional eating is very real. A general rule of thumb is that if you’re carrying more than about 25 extra pounds, that weight is playing the emotional role of body armor that you’ve put on as protection from a subconscious trauma. Excess weight less than this is usually the result of lifestyle issues – not getting enough exercise or not eating the right foods. In order to start mastering that root chakra or base of Maslow’s hierarchy, it’s so vitally important to start getting your eating sorted out so that you’re in a healthy, maintainable balance.
The Amazonian shamans who conduct Ayahuasca ceremonies prescribe a bland preparation diet that is similar to an alkaline diet. This is based on the belief that, in order for mental and spiritual toxins to shed easily, you must first shed physical toxins. Yogis who seek psychedelic-type encounters with the Divine also eat strict, pure diets, often vegan or vegetarian. Around the world, any spiritual tradition that seeks to experience or unite with the Divine while on Earth will likely have a somewhat strict, largely plant-based diet as a prerequisite. This clearly goes back to mastering the root chakra (kindergarten) before going to college, and many people who have communed with Ayahuasca say that that particular consciousness seems to know when you haven’t been taking care of your body correctly.
I have tried a lot of different diet plans, and I’ve come to a few conclusions along the way:
- If you’re having weight management issues, problems with binge eating, or you feel somewhat out of control when it comes to food, then the best thing you can do for yourself is to get to the bottom of those emotional issues instead of just trying to lose weight.
- The best diet is the one you are able to stick to for the rest of your life. I believe that if you find the right diet for your body, your weight will normalize in a healthy range and stay there. This method will likely result in losing weight more slowly, but it will truly stay off.
- There is no single “right” way to eat, despite how many people tell you there are. You have to find what works for your body from a weight management perspective as well as a nutritional, emotional, and financial perspective. This involves a good amount of trial and error, but it’s worth spending the time experimenting with.
- While everyone has nuances in the way of eating that’s best for them, I am a strong believer that you can’t go wrong by eating a lot of vegetables, especially dark leafy greens.
One resource that’s really helped me with my eating is Dr. Walter Willet’s book Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, in which he presents the food pyramid below. This is the “diet” that I follow, and it always helps me normalize my weight and feel good in a way that I know is sustainable over the long term.
There’s no single quick-fix for recovering from a traumatic trip – a wholistic, personal, and disciplined approach is truly required. The mind-body connection is a perfect starting place because its something that you can take hold of and directly affect, and the tools you learn in doing so will give you an excellent foundation for working on the more complicated, longterm emotional factors relating to your bad trip.
In a society often lacking shamans and qualified guides, we tend to end up as kindergarteners in a PhD program. I believe one of the best things we can do is head back to kindergarten and work our way up – that’s what will truly allow us to flourish in spiritual “graduate school.”