Ayahuasca, a powerful hallucinogenic and healing potion brewed by indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest, was traditionally consumed by shamans for purposes of magic, divination, and healing. The way they prepare for ayahuasca involves many months or years of fasting and dieting, eating only basic nutrients, and abstaining from every kind of stimulation except the ayahuasca experience and consuming other psychoactive “plant helpers”.
Around the globe today, ayahuasca is increasingly being approached by urbanized Westerns looking for healing, personal transformation, and a deeper understanding of themselves and the reality they inhabit. They are often advised by ayahuasca retreat centers and facilitators to undertake a more reined-in form of the preparation regimen compared to what shamans would undergo during their training. However, to make the best of the experience and minimize the risks, a proper ayahuasca preparation should go well above and beyond honoring just dieting or La Dieta.
Without good psychological preparation and integration, the effects of the brew can be overwhelming, on one end of the spectrum, or even non-existent, on the other. Shamans in training spend such a long time communing with the spirit of the plant in order to learn how to control the effects and fulfill their intentions; be they diagnosis of illness, prediction of behaviors and events, or conduct rites of passage rituals. Similarly, we also must learn what we are drinking, how it will affect us, what we need to steer clear of, and, perhaps most importantly, how to approach the inner encounter with this special drink.
Preparing for ayahuasca is a serious matter that involves dedication and commitment. But, as most of us aren’t ready for a long-term process like the one shamans undergo, here are some essential tips on how to approach ayahuasca preparation in the practical context of a modern life. Below are our 8 essential tips on how to best benefit from this process.
(If you are considering choosing an ayahuasca retreat, be sure to check these essential safety tips)
Preparing for Ayahuasca 101: Set your intention
Coming into the ayahuasca journey, it’s important to bring something with you. As your soul detaches from its corporeal husk and floats off into hyperdimensional space, things can get quite disorienting. It’s not uncommon to lose all idea of who you were back on Earth and get overwhelmed by astounding visions or sidetracked into dark dwellings.
This is where your intention can play a crucial role. Remembering what brought you to explore or heal in the first place can re-center you and dispel the chaos.. More importantly, and whether you choose to believe ayahuasca is an independent spirit or a mental facet of your own self, asking important questions to the experience can help bring on the insight you’re seeking.
So, what are ayahuasca intentions? They are nothing more than a response to the question perhaps you’ve heard in different forms from friends, family, or the retreat center you’re planning to visit:
Why do you want to drink ayahuasca? What do you hope to gain from the experience?
It’s the most important thing to ask yourself before drinking—answering it truthfully will make you formulate and express your intentions for what may be the most challenging journey you’ve ever faced.
It’s important that you arrive at a personal, meaningful, and clear intention because it may well happen that ayahuasca doesn’t bestow you with insight or visions if you come to it not knowing what you want. On the other hand, if your intention isn’t sincere, it may “punish” you for it and make your journey unreasonably difficult.
If a sincere motivation for growth and/or healing are behind your intention to drink ayahuasca, how can you define it?
Although it does have a ring of mystery to it, an intention really should not be anything complex, abstract, or otherwise difficult to understand or recognize from within. If it’s your first time with the Master Plant, it should be a simple, clear, and general statement or question regarding your wish for healing, cleansing, direction, emotional resolution, knowledge, insight, or some other aid to your state of being. An example of a good intention would be to understand and break some specific habit or thought pattern that isn’t conducive to your growth. Look deeply and intuit what feels right for you; and remember, there is no wrong answer here, as long as it’s honest, meaningful, and personal.
Once you define your intention, you should try to ‘simmer’ it in your mind in the days leading up to the ceremony. You can use some of our other recommended ayahuasca preparation activities and guidelines from this article which, in a way, should all help bring up your intention in the days or weeks leading up to the retreat. This kind of casual meditation on your intention will fortify its significance to you and your connection to it, which will then be fruitful in ceremony.
If you’ve already experienced ayahuasca, you may want to stick with approaching it with a simple intention again, or, if you feel comfortable navigating that level of consciousness alteration, you may want to call forth some more complex or specific questions about the nature of life, love, loss, pain, death, or anything else that is existential and important to you. In this case, you are still advised to meditate on your intentions so you would have them prepared once the experience takes you.
And finally, once you have your intention ready and fortified, you must remember that the spirits or visions don’t owe you responses. It is highly important to maintain an attitude of humility when entering a ceremony with your intention; the experience will often respond kindly to kindness, scarily to fear, or trickster-like to cheekiness. How you personally approach the ceremony is therefore absolutely crucial to your journey.
Be prepared to surrender
Just like in everyday life, expectations are the root cause of disappointment. Although we live calculated, scheduled, and, for the most part, predictable lives, we are usually under the illusion that we are in control of many things. At any given moment, a disruption to our routine and predictions can incur massive frustration and loss just because it’s unexpected. On the other hand, experiences we look forward to and build up in our minds often underwhelm us, just because they are different to the image we constructed beforehand.
The answer? Let go.
Ayahuasca tests our sense of control. Even though some parts of life may be well under control, it doesn’t mean you’re on top of everything; on the contrary, we inevitably experience irregularities. As Buddhism teaches us, those who embrace the unpredictable and transient nature of all things are those who experience the least amount of suffering and the most joy in the fruits of the present, whatever they may be. So, while you are preparing for ayahuasca, try to integrate the understanding that it will most likely be nothing like you expect it to be, especially since you will be entering worlds which don’t conform to the rules you are familiar one.
Whatever your ayahuasca journey brings you, the number one piece of advice to take away from what you read here is – embrace it. Whether you experience nothing, a mild buzz, darkness, fear, pain, nausea, self-soiling, anxiety, light or full-blown visions, love, unity, understanding, ecstasy, release, bliss… Know that ayahuasca looks at the core of your core uncovering difficult to access realities, whatever your expectation or opinion of them may be. Don’t try to force any feeling, don’t fight or judge what you go through. Surrender to the medicine with humbleness and without expectations. You can always make sense of the experience later and cast your tempered awareness on it then.
Good practices to help you gain an instinct for surrender would be to try it in real life during the days you allocate to prepare for ayahuasca. Do something spontaneous without designing a result for it. Foster gratitude for everything that happens, be it in your favor or not. Remind yourself that every time you react to something with fear, it comes from the expectation of a negative outcome, and try to let it go. Focus on the present moment every time you remember some painful event from the past or envision some dread in the future. Restrain yourself from social media, news feeds, stressful work communication, and everything else that grounds you in fear and anticipation. Meditate; understand how little you really control your mind and learn to embrace it as it is.
And remember—your ayahuasca experience will be much fuller if you’re able to approach it with an attitude of ‘whatever happens is exactly what should happen.’ This is the way I approach it, and it is the way most facilitators at popular ayahuasca retreats seem to promote. But I should mention there are a variety of other styles. For instance, many indigenous Shipibo healers suggest we work to banish the negative, scary, afflictive aspects of our visions and invite in beautiful, joyful, empowered, or graceful visions.
How’s the brew?
Before drinking ayahuasca, you should be aware of the potential dangers that this medicine can pose. A standard ayahuasca brew is normally made from one plant with MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), such as Banisteriopsis caapi, and one plant with the molecule DMT (dimethyltryptamine), such as Psychotria viridis or Diplopterys cabrerana. It’s not known to cause any adverse reactions in takers, other than potentially in those with cardiovascular conditions (ayahuasca raises blood pressure), and those on certain chronic medication (there are some negative interactions between ayahuasca and some chemicals).
However, there are dozens of other plants that are traditionally infused into the ayahuasca brew in order to modulate or amplify its effects. Most of these are harmless, but some, like the tobacco plant (Nicotiana rustica) or toé (Brugmansia spp.), can introduce compounds that can herald serious health risks if not measured precisely. It just so happens that these additions also ‘enhance’ the ayahuasca experience, and are sometimes offered by inexperienced ayahuasqueros wanting to serve up a strong trip to their unsuspecting gringo guests.. This is why it’s important to know beforehand exactly what you’re drinking and to have great trust in the individual leading the ceremony.
There are ways to ensure you’re getting a qualified provider and proper brew.
The first one is to book a retreat in a center with a verified track record of good service. If this sounds appealing, head to our guide to finding a perfect retreat center for you in order to learn everything you should take into consideration when choosing, or directly to Retreat Guru to browse retreat centers worldwide and their guest feedback.
If booking a retreat is out of your budget or not adventurous enough, you could always travel to South America, namely Peru, Ecuador, or Colombia, and find a shaman or a retreat center locally. This way can be more risky, and a communicational level of Spanish will get you a lot further than speaking English can. If you’re considering an excursion like this, make sure to also check out some of our essential survival tips for being in the Amazon rainforest.
If you choose this route, it’s important that you don’t commit to anything before you feel absolute trust and certainty to put your life in the hands of the people facilitating the ceremonies. You should talk to the shaman, directly if possible, and learn about their background, training, and experience, if they make the medicine themselves or where they get it from, what is in it, how they conduct the ceremonies, whether they employ any other healing modalities, have they ever had a medical emergency during a ceremony, what the procedure is in those cases, etc.
Don’t worry about being too inquisitive, it is your right to ask these and many other questions to determine whether the provider is trustworthy. It is also a good idea to ask around with the locals about the center’s and shaman’s reputation, to look online and make sure theirs or the center’s name hasn’t been implicated in any serious incidents, and check for feedback with any current or previous guests. If possible, you would be well-advised to stay at the property for a few days and even sit through a ceremony sober. Properties which truly value their guests and have nothing to hide usually allow this.
How are you?
As discussed, even the standard ayahuasca brew can pose risks to people with a cardiovascular condition; one of the most common side effects of the brew is a substantial increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Consuming ayahuasca can thus lead to a hypertensive crisis in those who suffer from these health issues and/or are taking prescription medication to treat them. Other compounds that can interact negatively with ayahuasca’s ingredients include serotonergic agents, such as certain depression medication (primarily SSRIs), some psychoactive substances, and psychostimulants. Finally, those with serious psychological conditions, such as bipolar disorder or psychosis (chronic or latent) should probably steer clear of ayahuasca. The brew, or just DMT, could exacerbate episodes of instability or mania, or even trigger latent psychosis.
All this is to say that one of the most important things to consider before taking ayahuasca is your mind-body state. Even though it has many healing effects, ayahuasca should not be regarded as a fix for serious medical or psychological conditions. It’s there to show you what’s wrong, to give you experience and insight into a better state of being; then it’s up to you to do the actual healing work. So, if you’re experiencing very difficult psychophysical issues, it might be wiser to seek out validated clinical treatment and then try ayahuasca once your on an upward path to recovery rather than at the bottom of a negative amplitude of your wellness.
Although it should not be approached as a miracle cure, working with ayahuasca can be helpful for attaining balance in a range of troubling states. The brew has been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD, Parkinson’s disease, and maybe even cancer in some special circumstances. However, all these results need further scientific validation and should, until then, be treated as unconfirmed. What ayahuasca can truly help with depends on many factors and is highly individual; taking the ayahuasca preparation process seriously as described in this article should improve chances for healing. It is also recommended to consult directly with the center or facilitator about the specific condition whose healing is sought.
Otherwise, if you are feeling healthy and just seeking spiritual growth from ayahuasca, before the ceremony, you should aim to establish a positive, observant, and carefree state of mind. This kind of mindset can be attained by engaging in mindful and peaceful activities, and avoiding distractions, stress, and significant energetic shifts. Here are a few recommendations on how to go about doing this:
- If possible, consider taking a few days off from work and spending some time in silence, ideally in nature.
- Consider limiting your interactions if you feel like the people in your social circle may not be fully supportive of your ayahuasca plans.
- Consider limiting or cutting off exposure to over-stimulating or unrewarding media feeds.
- Practice meditation and try to observe your thoughts and let go of any pent up stress.
- Do some yoga, tai chi, or light exercise.
- Try to get quality sleep.
- Meditate on your intentions.
- Try to awaken the appreciation for the beauty in the small things that make up your everyday life.
- Try to become aware of how your mood changes and not to hold on to negative states.
- Write your thoughts, feelings, and experiences down in a journal.
- Foster gratitude for the chance to experience a sacred medicine from an ancient culture.
Heeding this advice should get you to an optimal state of mental and spiritual clarity and focus. Combining mindfulness with a proper diet, which we will discuss next, should put you well under way in your efforts to prepare for ayahuasca.
As mentioned, the custom to avoid salt, red meats, sugar, alcohol, drugs and sex stems from the dietas that Amazonian shamans in training subject themselves to in order to acquire their powers and conduct healing and magic. They often spend years in solitude living in the jungle, eating only basic starch and maybe fish, and drinking ayahuasca along with other plants, whose knowledge they are also receiving.
Their training regimen is now honored by observing a several day-long cleansing period ayahuasca ceremony or retreat guests are usually advised to go through before and after taking the brew. Here is a list of foods most dietas recommend avoiding:
- Red meats (pork, beef, goat, tuna, eel, etc.)
- Fried and greasy foods
- Spicy and excessively salty foods
- Fermented and aged foods such as soy sauce, fermented dairy
- products, soybean paste, tofu, and bean curd, miso soup, teriyaki sauce, shrimp paste, and pickled foods
- Canned or processed/conserved meat and fish products
- Products high in gluten such as cakes, cookies, and white bread
- Various protein- and yeast-based extracts or supplements
- Sourdough bread
- Overripe fruits
- Processed sweets, chocolate, and anything with refined sugar
A good rule of thumb is that all aged, preserved, dried, fermented, pickled, cured (meats), old, overripe, or even slightly spoiled foods should be avoided. Beverages to abstain from include coffee, alcohol (especially wine and craft beer), and cocoa. Basically, a bland diet consisting of cooked or fresh foods with low salt and sugar content is suitable for ayahuasca preparation, as well as the integration period after the ceremony. You should eat lightly on the day of the ceremony, and not consume anything but water for about four hours before drinking ayahuasca.
Clearing out your digestive system from fatty and heavy foods, your circulation from intoxicants, and your mind from impure thoughts, certainly has its benefits. But they don’t always come easily. Many of us are medicate ourselves with food, and thus removing all those tasty dishes can be irritating. This is part of the surrender and discipline process necessary for making the most of drinking ayahuasca. Plus the deit will make you feel healthier and maybe more ready for challenges, with a clearer mind to focus on your intentions. It also brings energetic balance to your system, allowing ayahuasca to do its work more effectively. Some of the items on the list are included for the purpose of bringing you to an optimal physiological and spiritual state to receive the medicine, while others are there for factual health reasons.
There is a potential chemical conflict between tyramine and MAOIs (compounds in the ayahuasca vine), so consuming fermented or yeasted foods and drinks, processed fish, meat, livers, aged or bacteriologically cultured milk products should genuinely be avoided for several days before and after drinking ayahuasca; otherwise, there is a slight risk of developing a dangerous hypertensive reaction (this is also why alcohol and stimulants, and any other substances that alter circulation need to be avoided; for a similar reason, any SSRI-based depression medication should be cleared out of the system due to its potential to cause the possibly fatal serotonin syndrome when mixed with MAOIs).
However, it’s important to know that the alkaloids in ayahuasca are reversible (short-acting) MAOIs, meaning that it’s not highly likely that the outcome of interactions with foods and beverages would pose a fatal health risk (as of yet, there have been no deaths recorded). Still, it doesn’t cost you anything to avoid the listed items as you may still feel some negative and uncomfortable side effects; it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Other “prohibited” foods may also influence your experience, but no evidence points to serious issues arising from their interactions with ayahuasca. All this said, we recommend adhering to the guidelines issued by your retreat center or facilitator as best you can.
Finally, the dieta guidelines also commonly include restraint from sex and masturbation. Some centers and indigenous healers swear by the phrase “ayahausca is a jealous lover,” implying the need to conserve your ‘love reserves’ for the Plant Mother Aya. A more sensible reasoning relies on the understanding that the energetic flow of the individual can change dramatically through engaging in sexual and autosexual actions. This can limit the amount and quality of energy you have available to reach deep levels of consciousness, making ayahuasca less effective of a tool for profound inner work. Additionally, in sexual intercourse, energies are exchanged between partners—this can lead to states of confusion during your ayahuasca experience if you sense your partner’s energy parallel to yours.
Preparing your things
Once you’re ready to enter the ceremony itself, you need to ensure you have everything you will need with you. This includes bedding, clothes, accessories, and personal items.
The retreat organizers normally provide every visitor with a mat or futon to lay on and a bucket for purging. You are welcome to bring anything that may make you more comfortable, such as a pillow, yoga mat or a thin inflatable camping mattress, and blankets or a sleeping bag, in case your ceremony takes place in colder weather.
Regardless of the outside temperature, ayahuasca may make you feel hot and cold in alternating waves, so dressing in layers is a good idea. You also shouldn’t forget rain gear, such as a raincoat and rubber boots—you may have to make a run in the dark for the toilet, which is usually outside of the maloca (ceremonial hut), so it’s good to have them ready if it’s been raining. As far as what to wear, a well-regarded custom recommends white or light-colored shirts, as they are believed to invite good spirits. Keep in mind that an extra set of clothes may come in handy in case you soil the original set.
Some basic ceremony accessories include a water bottle or a thermos, a towel, wet wipes, and/or tissues or a roll of toilet paper, and a small flashlight or headlamp. Be mindful of the other participants and never shine direct light in their direction; using a red lens or putting cloth over the lamp is a good idea to be less intrusive. Using cellphones during ceremony is discouraged.
Finally, you may consider bringing some personally meaningful items. These can be small artifacts, such as crystals, pendants, small totems, amulets, or anything else you find dear and/or consider to hold some power or personal memories. A nice gesture of your will to create a connection with the sacred space is contributing an object to the altar or the land or in the ceremonial maloca. You may also bring whatever helps you pass your general time in retreat in a meaningful way.
Other personal items include anything that will help you pass your time in retreat in a mindful way. These can be a journal and pen, painting material, musical instruments, or other tools for expressing yourself and channeling your healing process. Electronics are discouraged, and so are books that may present a distraction—those that help your healing and growth are welcome.
Many well-established retreat centers offer options for additional cleansing prior to, and in between ayahuasca ceremonies. Opting for these traditional methods should complete the circle of your ayahuasca preparation process and, if you’ve followed the rest of our recommendations, help you get the best out of your experience. Some of the options include:
- Taking a flower bath—getting doused with water infused with flower petals. It’s a light traditional ritual included in most retreat packages, and its purpose is to protect you from malevolent energies and to help you gain favor with the plant spirits.
- Undergoing a medicinal plant steaming—a variety of plants are brewed together, their steam trapped in an enclosed space, with the receiver breathing the healing steam in and sweating the toxins out.
- Participating in a tobacco cleansing ritual—Mapacho (Nicotiana rustica), sacred Amazonian tobacco, is widely used in shamanic healing rituals. Complementing the ayahuasca ceremony, it is snuffed (as rape powder), blown or smudged over the ceremony participants by the shaman (in smoke form), or doused over the individual (dissolved in water). Rarely, liquid tobacco can also be drunk, causing an intense cleansing purge. According to indigenous belief, Mapacho is the earthly vessel for a powerful and friendly spirit, one that can help the visitor navigate the realms of plant spirits and protect them from malevolent entities. Mapacho is also considered a Master Plant. But the consumption of tobacco at ayahuasca retreats has been associated with health risks and even death in rare circumstances.
- Taking a Kambô or Huancawi purge—these traditional indigenous cleansing rituals prepare the receiver for ayahuasca by detoxifying the body and unblocking energetic channels. Kambô is prepared from the venomous secretions of the Phyllomedusa bicolor The venom is applied through small points burned in the skin of the receiver. Huancawi is a potion made from the Huancawi Sacha plant, also known as yawapanga. It is taken orally. Both of these cause intense long-term purging, whose point is to clear out the bile ducts from toxins accumulated over years of improper nutrition. These rituals are available in few retreat centers as part of ayahuasca preparation or between ceremonies for those wishing for deep detoxification.
Prepare for ayahuasca integration
It’s vital to understand that, just as it begins days or weeks before, the ayahuasca experience does not end right after the ceremony or retreat is finished. Ayahuasca integration is a whole other topic that transcends the limits of this article. However, it needs to be mentioned here as you can’t truly prepare for ayahuasca without the understanding that the bulk of the inner work which needs to be done actually begins after the brew’s effects wear off. This is when the insight and visions you received during the ceremony need to somehow be made sense of.
Many of the recommendations we shared in this text can also be applied to the integration process—especially the ones about cultivating mindfulness and maintaining a dieta. With a clear mind and body, ayahuasca teachings stand a better chance of gradually becoming your new and improved reality.
To learn more about ayahuasca integration, we suggest you browse the online video courses at Kahpi. With expert researchers and teachers sharing profound hands-on knowledge and experience, you are bound to find everything you need to know about the path of drinking ayahuasca.