The material below is not intended to provide medical advice and we don’t encourage the illegal use of any substances. Ayahuasca is a potentially illegal substance, and we do not encourage the use of this substance where it is against the law. Due to the high demand for the subject, we created this article for educational purposes. The intent of the content is to help you start learning about the subject
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Nobody can tell you what your ayahuasca experience will be. There is no standard set of lessons learned or messages received. However, in the face of this unknown, there is a lot we can do to prepare our minds and bodies.
Ayahuasca is strong plant medicine. It can be beautiful while also being the most challenging experience of our lives. Ayahuasca’s ability to show us how we really feel about our life or forgotten memories can create massive shifts.
For these reasons preparation is essential. The better we prepare for our life beforehand the better chance we have of integrating ayahuasca into meaningful change in our lives. In this article, we explore what to expect, how to prepare, what foods and medications to avoid, and what to bring for a safe and meaningful ayahuasca journey.
Types of Ayahuasca Ceremonies
Not so long ago ayahuasca was only drunk by the shaman who would diagnose and heal their patients. It was only recently that curanderos began serving ayahuasca to those not learning to work with healing plants. Since that time different ways of consuming ayahuasca are emerging. Before deciding what type of ceremony to join it’s important to understand the different contexts ayahuasca is used within.
Traditionally trained, ayahuasqueros spend many months, even years alone in the jungle doing plant “dietas.” A dieta involves solitude and a very restricted diet while consuming special plants and often drinking ayahuasca. This practice is said to allow practitioners to learn from the plants themselves. This approach is still practiced today and dietas are offered by various retreat centers ranging from 1 week to many months. A dieta is a significant commitment, but even for those not training to be curanderos, can be a profound and healing experience.
Ayahuasca Ceremonies – What to Expect
Most ayahuasca ceremonies are now held in groups with a facilitator and several assistants. They may be part of a retreat or a single ceremony. Music is usually part of a ceremony, along with prayers and blessings with shamanic tools like tobacco. The facilitator should be someone very experienced with ayahuasca who maintains a good reputation.
Once the medicine is served participants will lay on mats while the medicine works, often felt in 40 minutes, and peaking a few hours in. This period can include intense visions, strange body sensations like shaking, chills, sweating, vomting, dhireahh, along amplified meaning of experieinces and emotional releases. The facilitator will sometimes sing to participants individually, or lead the group with music. A ceremony is typically about 4-6 hours long and often held at night in darkness.
Another type of ayahuasca ceremony to be aware of is the Santo Diame, a syncretic church from Brazil. Their ceremonies have a very specific format and include Christian hymns and images. A Diame ceremony is called a “work” and involves rituals, prayers, and dancing long into the night. These ceremonies have spread around the world with legal churches serving ayahuasca around the world.
Ayahausca Mental Preperation
Whichever type of ceremony you choose it’s essential to prepare. As ayahuasca is largely a journey into our own minds and therefore mental preparation is an important focus. Our minds contain many stories, ideas, and feelings we are both concious and unconscious of. While ayahuasca often brings oftn needed light to these aspects of our life, it can be challenging.
The good news is we don’t need to rely on (and nor should we expect) ayahuasca to do all the work for us. We can begin to examine our lives before ayahuasca to gain insights into what might come up during the ceremony. We can also train our minds with activities like meditation and breathwork to have tools to help us regulate ourselves during the experience.
Here are some ideas on how to prepare for ayahuasca:
- Professional Support – There are many therapists, coaches, and support groups focused on psychedelics. Finding a professional you trust or an understanding community to support you in preparing for ayahuasca is best done beforehand, not afterwards. A good therapist or community will help develop the right mindset going into ayahuasca.
- Meditation – While a meditation practice can take time to cultivate it is very helpful to simply be present when things get a bit crazy on ayahuasca. It is a great way to get to know our mind and its patterns. Meditation can also be a great teacher of acceptance and awareness, which are big parts of ayahuasca.
- Breathwork – Many find meditation difficult, but various types of breathwork can help us shift our mental state quickly. Something as simple as deep breaths can be a valuable tool to help us calm ourselves during ceremony. Techniques like holotropic breathwork can give us a glimpse of an altered state of consciousness.
- Journaling – Writing down your thoughts, fears, and desires before a ceremony can give useful insight into why you are seeking ayahuasca. Consider what you would like to happen, and what fears you might need to look at. When journaling be honest with yourself. With regular writing it’s possible to have personal insights or establish your intentions.
Questions to Ask Ayahuasca – Setting Intentions
When working with ayahuasca and other plant medicines it is very helpful to have an intention. Intentions are the “why” behind your desire to use psychedelics. When an ayahausca experience is overwhelming and difficult to understand it is helpful to be able to return to an initial intention.
Usually, asking ayahuasca a question is a personal. There are no intentions that fit everyone and creating your own is much more meaningful than simply copying one from the internet. That being said, intentions might be open like “show me what I need to see” or “find my purpose.” They also can be specific to healing a certain condition, finding forgiveness, love, purpose, clarity, and virtually any outcome.
Intentions help us make sense of ayahuasca after the fact and remind us why we chose to drink such strong medicine when things get tough in ceremony. They are guiding principles and motivations, yet also should not be treated as guaranteed outcomes. Take the time to make intentions powerful and meaningful, yet try not hold onto them too tightly, because sometimes the medicine has other plans.
What Is The Ayahuasca Diet?
Traditionally, when curanderos of the Amazon were learning how to heal with plants they undertake a restrictive diet. These dietas, are said to increase sensitivity and in Amazonian medicine different foods have energetic and spiritual significance.
Today, many retreats and ceremony providers recommend various diets when working with ayahuasca. Reports suggest that these diets make the medicine more effective and reduce purging that ayahuasca brings on, such as vomiting or diarrhea. While a restrictive diet is fairly standard, some traditions take this less seriously, and a few people are adamant the medicine works well without extensive dieting.
A typical ayahuasca diet avoids sexual activity of all kinds (including masturbation,) and restricts social contact and consumption of media. Ayahuasca diets vary greatly between tribes or practitioners, but common restrictions include avoiding:
- Spicy food
- Drugs and alcohol
- Red meat like pork or beef
- Fermented foods like soy or old cheese
What Medications to Avoid with Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca could be potentially dangerous when mixed with different medications. Specifically, SSRIs and MAOIs, which are often known as anti-depressants. While more research is needed, here is what we know so far:
Ayahuasca and SSRIs
SSRIs which stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning these drugs affect how the body uses serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood. Because active compounds in ayahuasca are also known to work through the body’s serotonin system there have been concerns expressed that ayahuasca and anti-depressants might induce serotonin syndrome, a potentially dangerous condition.
Some groups in Brazil are rumoured to have mixed ayahuasca and anti-depressants without serious incidents, but caution is the best practice. Discontinuing the use of antidepressants before drinking ayahuasca is the safest course of action. There are also anecdotal reports suggesting taking psychedelics while using antidepressants could be less effective.
Ayahuasca and MAOIs
Also of concern is combining ayahuasca with MAOIs, another type of antidepressant. MAOI stands for monoamine oxidase inhibitor because it “inhibits,” or slows the activity of an enzyme in our bodies known as monamine oxidase. This enzyme breaks down neurotransmitters like serotonin.
When serotonin isn’t broken down rapidly it sometimes helps people’s moods. This is why MAOIs are used as antidepressants. However, because ayahuasca also contains MAOI when combined with a pharmaceutical it could trigger dangerous amounts of serotonin in the brain.
What to Bring to An Ayahuasca Ceremony
Setting intentions and following the diet help you prepare inside, but having a few physical comforts and supports can help your navigate ayahausca as well. Depending on the location (like deep jungle or luxury resort) there is a wide range of different objects to bring for both your physical, emotional and spiritual comfort. Generally, ceremony providers will provide a mat for you to lie on, blankets, and a bucket to purge into. If you want anything extra like pillows or more blankets it is usually your own responsibility. Here are a few other essentials to bring:
- Water Bottle – ayahuasca brings on “la purga” or vomiting and diarrhea for many people. Staying hydrated makes the purge easier and recovery faster.
- Appropriate clothing – Some ceremonies will ask you to wear all white. It’s a good idea to find out beforehand, but whatever the situation prioritize comfort. You might need to go to the bathroom a lot and your body temperature and change rapidly so try to wear layers and keep things simple.
- Flashlight – ayahuasca ceremonies are usually in the dark. Finding your way around can be tricky. You and everyone around you will be very sensitive to light so using red flashlights for night vision is recommended.
- Sacred objects – many of us have items holding significant meaning or inspiration. They may comfort us, give us strength, or inspire courage. It could be a crystal, pictures of loved ones, or a teddy bear. Some objects we can pray with like palo santo, agua de florida, or tobacco (check if its if allowed.)
FAQ – First Time Ayahausca Tips
Will Ayahausca Help Me?
Ayahuasca is different for everyone. While some people have transformative experiences, others sometimes experience no effects at all! Ayahuasca is being studied because of its profound effects on conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and perhaps many other healing properties. However, having too high of expectations for ayahuasca can lead to disappointment. Ayahausca is best approached with curiosity, rather than a guaranteed cure.
Is Ayahuasca Safe?
For most people in good physical and mental health ayahuasca is safe. However, for people with heart or blood pressure concerns, ayahuasca could be dangerous. Consult a medical professional if you are unsure of your physical health. For people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or multiple personality disorder ayahuasca generally isn’t recommended. Ayahuasca might destabilize people managing serious mental health conditions and professionals should always be consulted before taking ayahuasca.
How Does Ayahuasca Change You?
The exact mechanisms of ayahuasca or DMT are unknown. There are many theories about the default mode network and neuroplasticity, but how ayahuasca and other psychedelics change people isn’t really clear just yet. It is also worth noting that changes after ayahuasca can take great personal effort and may need professional or community support. Expecting ayahuasca to do all the work for you isn’t a reliable recipe for success.
Can you Drink Coffee Before Ayahuasca?
Most centers and traditional practitioners will recommend stopping coffee before ayahuasca. The cleansing process before ayahuasca can be a great exploration of our own willpower and commitment. Being physically and energetically clean before the ceremony is generally considered optimal for deep experiences. That being said, drinking coffee before an ayahuasca ceremony isn’t necessarily dangerous to one’s health.
Can You Eat Bread Before Ayahuasca?
Bread, particularly refined types containing gluten is often eliminated from one’s diet before ayahuasca. Some bread is considered processed food while other whole grain or gluten-free types might be considered ok. Sourdough bread is a fermented food and should be avoided. Views on bread will vary, and the best approach is to contact whoever is organizing your ceremony. Lastly, while bread is typically avoided eating bread before a ceremony is not considered dangerous to one’s health.