Ana is a Peyote and Ayahuasca Ceremonial Leader. She also holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and has over 20 years of experience and training in the healing arts. Her integrative approach to healing is grounded in the Indigenous Ways of Knowing (IWOK) framework. It is her passion to understand holistic and natural paths toward healing and to activate the unique and innate healing abilities that we each carry inside of us.
WOOP’s third Amplify interview takes you along Ana’s personal journey on learning about the traditional ceremonial practices around Peyote.
This interview was conducted and transcribed by Jessika Lagarde and condensed for clarity.
WOOP: Could you tell us a bit more about your personal journey and what led you to do this type of advocacy work?
Ana: I was born in California, USA. My mother came from Mexico and my father is U.S. born Mexican. My whole family is from a region in Mexico where the Chichimecas, Indigenous nomadic and semi-nomadic people, used to live. It was only in 2008 when I started my Ph.D. program in Counseling Psychology in New Mexico that I came into Indigenous practices, and my own awakening journey began.
A year later, I started going to sweat lodges, ayahuasca, and peyote ceremonies - and with that, I started the process of healing historical and intergenerational trauma. Since then, I've undergone several dietas in Peru and Colombia and became much more involved with Plant Medicines.
While working at the university as a mental health specialist for students with disabilities a few years ago, I got laid off from work. This was the universe’s gift to me so that I could have the time and energy to provide holistic services in the way I am passionate about and made sense to me - through an Indigenous lens.
For the last 10 years, I have been working especially with peyote through my participation in the Native American Church in the US. We are able to legally access this medicine because it is protected under the religious amendment.
WOOP: Can you share more with our readers on the work that you have been doing so far with Luna y Sol Sanctuary, the NGO you founded?
Ana: Luna y Sol Sanctuary is a nonprofit organization to serve Indigenous women and youth who have undergone trauma as a result of historical, and socio-economic oppression. Our vision is to see a world where women from all walks of life have agency over their mind, body, spirit, and soul.
We hope to provide educational presentations, classes, and workshops in the near future on important topics such as decolonizing mental health, identifying and coping with the trauma response, traditional healing, mindfulness practices, and resilience stories.
WOOP: You contributed a chapter in the recently published book, “Indigenous Ways of Knowing in Counseling: Theory, Research and Practice”. Please tell us a bit more about this book and your work on it.
Ana: The book is based on universal principles/truths that promote ways to think about how humans live in the world and in relationship with one another, extending beyond the scope of Western European thought. It exposes how individual health and wellness is connected with the multiple levels of relationships we establish in our lives - the ones we establish with ourselves, with others, and with the external environments where we live.
I worked on this book when I was in New Mexico, during which I connected more to my inherent self. One of the chapters that I authored was a reflective piece in which I explained my process of reclaiming my Indigenous heritage using Mestiza Consciousness Theory by a Chicana author, Gloria Anzaldúa. I identified the stages of identity using myself as an example to describe this Tribal Theory. Mexican people had always migrated freely between North and South America, but the process of colonization forced us to stay on one side of the border.
Being a US-born Mexican person myself, I grappled with being in-between countries, cultures, identities, languages, and this is what I wrote about it in the chapter. It is a very personal and powerful piece of writing that took 10 years to complete. I poured my heart and soul into it and still cry when I read it. I was so thrilled when it was finally published.
WOOP: How would you say your background in Psychology influences or contributes to your work with Plant Medicine?
Ana: I always thought I was going to be able to help people with psychology, but once I was introduced to Plant Medicine, I realized that psychology only scratches the surface. Traditional psychology that consists of just talking doesn't heal trauma.
But coming to work with Plant Medicine with a background in Psychology definitely helps me to understand people better, and to be open at a very deep level. I am more discerning about who to work with, and this is also for my own experience when it comes to choosing a guide.
Knowledge in both these areas helps me have a more holistic approach to understanding what a person needs.
WOOP: What are Plant Medicines for you?
Ana: My teachers. They are guides that help us balance the Earth and ourselves. They help us understand the role we play in taking care of the planet, in supporting it and each other. Plant medicine holds that lamp of love and light to help us remember who we really are.
These medicines allow me to continue on my path to healing myself, and to deeply understand who I am so I can serve others better. Besides that, they offer us the holistic approach of looking into the mind, body, emotions, and spirit. You can use plant medicines if you really want to help someone heal from deep trauma. But I also know that these medicines are not for everybody, so having that understanding is also important.
WOOP: We are curious to know a bit more about how it is to work with Peyote.
Ana: Peyote has the energy of a grandfather. In peyote ceremonies, we sit around a fire all night long. We start at sunset and stay till sunrise. In Mexico, the traditional ceremonies can last for several days. These ceremonies usually happen around the time corn is harvested, which symbolizes life. There are three elements that come together to represent peyote - the corn, the peyote itself, and the deer - and there is a beautiful story about that.
The word peyote means a shimmering heart. It is a heart medicine and helps you feel the love in a deep way. When consumed in a ceremony, peyote is like a mirror. The medicine works as if a mirror is being held inside you and starts to show who you are. The medicine has eyes, so when you take it in, those eyes go inside and examine you: who you are, your life, and how you live it. But it is up to you to decide what you are going to do with that information afterward. Are you going to choose to change, or are you going to keep making the same mistakes again and again?
Peyote has been used to treat alcoholism and help people stay sober. When I was younger, I abused alcohol to help cope with my pain. Peyote helped clear some of the damage I did to my mind, spirit, and body - but it took many years to clear all of it. I understood that alcohol, as a medicine, also has a spirit. But my own relationship with alcohol shifted after partaking in the sacred sacrament of peyote, and I just didn’t want it anymore.
WOOP: Could you describe to us what happens during a Peyote ceremony?
Ana: During a peyote ceremony, we sit around the fire all night. The fire and the medicine work together. After consuming the peyote, it begins to talk to us in its own way. It is up to you to listen to what the peyote says. This takes time, but not all can hear or understand the messages clearly. This is why we often depend on the shaman or guide, who is able to communicate with the medicine and elements, to express or translate what is happening.
In the Native American Church, there is a patient who requests the ceremony for the Ceremonial Guide. Other people can participate in the ceremony if they are invited, or as being members of that community. They can use this ceremonial space to pray but the focus of the ceremony is the patient.
I have been myself a patient in four ceremonies with peyote. The Ceremonial Guide sits behind the medicine as the navigator and takes us through the prayer overnight. You go through a journey with the medicine, through your life and your ancestors. Through the night we partake in the medicine, we pray with sacred elements: water, tobacco, cedar, and the fire. We ask and pray for the healing that we need and the medicine helps with this.
WOOP: What about the current trend of psychedelics most excites you, and what about it most worries you?
Ana: What worries me most is how some people are taking advantage of others. There are many people who have access to the medicine but don't actually know what they are doing. It is so dangerous that anybody can just claim the title of a shaman. Unfortunately, this is something I've seen a lot of in the past 10 years that I've been working with the plants and likely has been a condition of humans. Some people take advantage of nature for ego purposes, rather than for the betterment of humanity or future generations, which is the original Indigenous concept.
What excites me the most is the opportunity for this awakening that is happening, and that we can build a world where humans really take care of each other and the Earth. Even with everything that has been happening this year, I believe that we have been moving in that direction.
WOOP: What would you say was your most transformative experience with psychedelics?
Ana: This is a very difficult question to answer. In my 10 years of practice with plant medicines, I have experienced many deeply healing and transformative experiences.
One of the most significant things I’ve learned so far is how to give myself the space to remember. The medicine calls me to remember who I am and open up to my roots. Due to colonization, I am of mixed blood. The medicine helped me remember all the parts of my heritage that had been erased through genocide, colonization, racism, and hatred. It helped me acknowledge my indigenous roots, as well as my European ones, which I’ve had a harder time accepting.
I can give you another example. During the first dieta that I did with ayahuasca in South America, I healed from my birth trauma. It was a very significant experience, and as a psychologist, it showed me how deep the medicine can heal. As I said earlier, I don’t believe that trauma can be healed through talk therapy, but with these medicines, traumas can be healed in an instant. However, I again caution that this is not the way for everyone, nor do I recommend it for everyone. There are other ways/paths to healing trauma as well. This is just one way that I resonate with, and that has helped me grow and heal tremendously.
WOOP: What are the most common difficulties that women face when they come to look for Plant Medicine ceremonies with you?
Ana: Many women have experienced abuse in some way shape or form. Women all over the world may face the impact of patriarchy and oppression which results in violence against women. Most of the women I work with, be it with plant medicines or other ceremonies that I hold, are struggling with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, or just need support in remembering who they are. A ceremony is a pathway to remembering. It helps us to be present, to learn to be present, and through this, we can be with ourselves and heal those issues.
WOOP: What advice would you give to a woman looking to work with altered states of consciousness for the first time?
Ana: Have a clear intention of what you are looking for, and what you want from it. Many of these plants have been used for centuries by the Indigenous as medicine, and we need to show a lot of respect for them. Having an intention will also help the medicine guide you through the experience of your place of healing.
WOOP: Any final words?
Ana: I’m sending you a lot of love and a lot of blessings to help guide you with this work and bringing voice to more and more women in this field.
Ana’s specialty is working with women trauma survivors and resiliency. She is a Holy Fire Karuna ®Reiki Master Teacher, 500 HR certified yoga teacher, and a Munay-Ki Shamanic Healer. She practices Native and Indigenous ceremonies as a way of life and is continually discovering and rediscovering her path as a Native woman of mixed blood, Xicana, Chichimeca. She has recently founded a 501c3 non-profit, Luna y Sol Sanctuary in order to educate & provide accessible healing services for underserved groups.