How to Prepare for an Ayahuasca Ceremony
Why Preparation and Diet Is Important
“There are corporeal, organic things that need to be cleared before you can see the essential,” Jan Kounen says in the book The Psychotropic Mind: The World According to Ayahuasca, Iboga, and Shamanism. His words poetically sum up why it’s important to physically prepare your body for taking ayahuasca. Most of our bodies are cluttered with all kinds of stimulating, sensational foods from our modern diets — foods filled with salt, sugar, and caffeine. To open yourself up to receive the messages of Madre Ayahuasca, you need to first clear yourself of these toxins.
Ayahuasca shaman Alan Shoemaker expanded on this idea in his book Ayahuasca Medicine: The Shamanic World of Amazonian Sacred Plant Healing: “The plant diets are designed to help a person connect with the spirits of the plants, and to develop new healing capabilities, vision, and sight; they require much time in solitude and a strict dietary regimen….When you follow the required diet, the spirit world is more accessible.”
Quieting or cleansing the body in order to reach a spiritual state will be a familiar idea to anyone who has practiced yoga. Yoga asanas — the physical positions like downward facing dog or child’s pose — were originally designed with the purpose of preparing your body to meditate. Like the asanas’ effect on meditation, the physical preparation of the ayahuasca pre-diet goes hand in hand with being able to prepare yourself psychologically for the healing experience.
Clearing yourself of toxins also gives you a jumpstart in the ayahuasca experience because, as Vincent Ravalee explains in The Psychotropic Mind, “All the toxins we collect during our everyday life are the first things that ayahuasca will attack.” When you clear those toxins ahead of time, it’s easier for ayahuasca to work in your body because there’s less “static” to cut through. By following the diet, you ensure your ability to make the most of the experience and reach deeper levels of psychospiritual understanding.
Guidelines of the Ayahuasca Pre-Diet
While different shamans and retreat centers vary on the specific restriction, most places advise that you start eliminating certain foods and drugs from your diet 2-4 weeks before a ceremony The suggestions listed below are compiled from The Way Inn and the Temple of the Way of Light, two shamanic ayahuasca retreats in central and northern Peru, which equip all participants with guidelines for proper dietary preparation.
Foods Containing Tyramine
Ayahuasca (specifically, Caapi vine, one of two principal ingredients in the ayahuasca brew) is a MAO-inhibitor, meaning it temporarily inhibits the activation of the monoamine oxidase (MAO). This enzyme is essential to process the amino acid tyramine, so it’s important to refrain from eating foods high in this amino acid — otherwise your body could reach toxic levels that cause headaches or hypertension. Foods that contain tyramine include:
Fermented foods like soy sauce, fermented tofu, and sauerkraut
Nutritional supplements like protein powders
Chocolate (in large amounts)
Peanuts (in large amounts)
Other Foods to Avoid
In addition to foods high in tyramine, you should avoid:
Salt (i.e. canned and processed foods)
Refined sugar (i.e. sweets and junk food)
In the weeks leading up to the ceremony, many centers strongly suggest that you stop the following prescription drugs:
Antidepressants like SSRIs
Alpha- and beta-blockers
These include cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, marijuana, and MDMA. It’s also best to avoid other psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin.
Most centers strongly recommend that you avoid sexual activity, including masturbation, two weeks before and after a ceremony. As the guidelines on the Way Inn explain, “Sex (including any exchange of bodily fluids) is a powerful energetic exchange which can deplete your reservoir of energy available to you and thus inhibit the effectiveness of the plants to teach and guide you.”
How vital it is to remove all of these substances from your diet varies from source to source, but most agree that it is essential for your safety to avoid pork, street drugs, and sexual activity for two weeks before and after a ceremony.
Mental Preparation and Intention-Setting
Just as important as physical preparation is the mental cleansing you do in the time before the ceremony. Many retreat centers suggest you engage in a mindfulness practice like yoga or meditation and to set a clear intention for your experience. The more specific the intention, the better the chance is you’ll get a clear answer to whatever you are hoping to learn from the experience. Continuing these mindfulness practices after the ceremony will also help you integrate any lessons you learned into your daily life.
When you prepare yourself in these ways for any ayahuasca ceremony, you ready your body and mind to be in the best possible position to receive the teachings of ayahuasca. Sometimes you can’t properly prepare for it, like in my case, when an impromptu opportunity presents itself. I certainly don’t regret jumping headfirst into an ayahuasca ceremony — the benefits I gained were still innumerable — but I know that if and when I get an opportunity to attend an ayahuasca ceremony again, I will prepare myself for it, physically, mentally, and spiritually.
10 Reasons Why People Should Take Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca has been used for thousands of years by South American tribes for its mental, emotional, physical and above all, spiritual benefits. As the medicine becomes more popular across the world, Westerners are also discovering that it has much to offer.
1) To benefit physical health
There are accounts of individuals with conditions as diverse as diabetes to irritable bowel syndrome reporting an improvement in their health after an ayahuasca ceremony.
2) To unleash creativity
Are you an artist or musician feeling jaded in your work, or a writer suffering from that dreaded block? You may find that ayahuasca helps you to connect with your inner muse and rediscover the joy and inspiration that will make your work a meaningful and successful pursuit again.
3) For intellectual stimulation
It’s not just artistic types who benefit from taking ayahuasca. As a scientist, you may gain insights into your chosen field, as an entrepreneur you might hit upon a new idea that will take your business to the next level.
4) To fight physical addictions
It might sound paradoxical to use a psychedelic plant to free you from drugs, but there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that an ayahuasca retreat might enable you to do just that. Be it alcohol, illicit drugs, or even comercial tobacco; many people have discovered that their need for the substance diminishes after drinking ayahuasca. That’s not to say this is a magic cure….it isn’t. But it could bring useful insights that help overcome the addiction.
5) To address negative behavior patterns
Not all addictions are physical, many of us become trapped in repeated patterns that bring us nothing but unhappiness. If you’re battling with constant fear, shame, guilt, out of control gambling, sex addiction, self-harm or something similar; you may find that asking questions of yourself in the course of a well-conducted ayahuasca trip will give you a different perspective and enable you to start making the changes you’re aiming for.
6) To discover the source of depression
Some favor the idea that ayahuasca unmasks the hidden reasons for the depression, enabling the sufferer to confront and overcome their demons, other researchers suggest that the ayahuasca has a biological effect and ‘resets’ the brain chemistry. If you happen to be suffering from depression, chances are you’re not that interested in why it works, just the fact that it does is enough.
7) To understand the cause PTSD and anxiety disorders
Again, opinions are divided about whether the action of ayahuasca is a direct biological one or whether the fresh perspective gained as a result of taking ayahuasca makes it easier to overcome mental health challenges.
If you’re planning to drink ayahuasca with the aim of addressing any mental health condition it’s important that you do it in a well-managed environment with the support of a skilled facilitator with a background in psychology who’s aware of your specific vulnerabilities.
8) To gain a perspective greater than the self
Some describe profound ayahuasca experiences as ‘ego death’ which actually sounds rather alarming. A more moderate phrase sometimes used is ‘to put the ego in its place’. In the course of daily life, it’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day petty concerns about things which aren’t actually all that important. Ayahuasca will help you to remember that no ones last words were ever ‘I wish I’d spent more time in the office’ and will grant you the opportunity to reconnect with what really matters.
9) For personal and spiritual development
It’s not necessary to have a specific mental health problem to benefit from an ayahuasca retreat. The medicine has a long history of being used to help people reconnect with the most meaningful aspects of their lives. At it’s simplest and most basic, this could be as ordinary as choosing a new career path that will grant greater personal satisfaction, on another level it could mean transforming personal relationships towards more positive and happier directions. At the most profound level, some ayahuasca drinkers report insights that enable them to live according to their ‘higher purpose’.
10) To regain a sense of wonder and mystery
For many people, this is the central reason for drinking ayahuasca. It’s often described as a sense of wonder, an awareness that life is a beautiful gift, never fully understood, but to be lived with joy and in fullness, It’s not something that’s granted with every ayahuasca ceremony, but when it comes it’s worth the wait. When experienced, this sense of joy, and the realization that all can be right with the world if we allow it to be persist long after the medicine has passed from the body. If you’re lucky enough to attain this state, it can grant you the power to help you to transform your life in any direction or way you choose.
To Drink, or Not To Drink Ayahuasca: That is The Question
After a fair number of ayahuasca ceremonies now here in South America at the Spirit vine center, I have observed something I want to share. I used to think ayahuasca was for everybody, that the whole world should know about ayahuasca and be as excited as I am. I do not believe this anymore.
What I have come to understand through practicing this shamanic plant work with skilled facilitators, is that ayahuasca is an amplifier. That means it takes whatever is going on with you and gives it steroids. This allows you to see yourself, making things that seemed subtle and elusive super obvious. So, it is potentially a fantastic tool for self knowledge and in turn, the possibility of transformation.
What I didn’t understand before is that if you do not desire real transformation or do not have access to some kind of skill set for dealing with your own garbage, ayahuasca increases your problems. And that sucks.
As my South American mentor once illustrated the problem to me as I was expressing my initial enthusiasm…The bottom line is: everything depends on your intention. So, if you are thinking you might like to take this gritty brew, a good question to ask yourself, in your heart of hearts, is, “What do you really want?”
Ayahuasca amplifies thoughts and tendencies so I have a tough time ignoring them. It amplifies things I like and things I don’t like. And in each moment of facing different aspects of myself, I have a decision to make: to feed or not to feed. THAT is the question.
And I mean literally feed. Trust me. Thoughts are energy, and ego-based thoughts give rise to demanding little (or big!) energetic beasts. I have seen good people whose true nature, upon being revealed by ayahuasca, were helpless to the temptations and the lies of this unsavory part that each one of us possesses.
So with ayahuasca I observe, as through a magnifying glass, the extraordinary processes that go on within me on an ordinary basis. And perhaps most extraordinary, I see first hand how my life is created by decisions that I make moment to moment. The difference is that before I observed them, they were unconscious, based on out-dated conditioning and things that actually work in opposition to my conscious parts. They just sort of “happened.” Now, with the help of this amazing “psycho-active” tea, I see. And with this comes nothing less than the possibility of a new life.
So ayahuasca is not going to “save you.” But it is going to give you a grand opportunity to apply inner work to yourself. First, I recommend asking yourself, “What is my intention?” and, “Am I willing to do tough inner work: to see and acknowledge parts of myself that may be super uncomfortable?”
Ayahuasca can help us evolve beyond the imaginable, so that we can live many lives in one.
*Original article by Ana Cortez journal.