Preparation for the Ayahuasca Experience
In the West there are lots of stories like ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ reminding us that plants have spirit power, Alice in Wonderland explored this world too. There is a large body of knowledge of power plants even if the form has been adapted to fairy tales and ‘domesticated’, not to under rate the richness of Grimms’ tales.
When a person drinks Ayahuasca, especially with a trusted shaman, there is a chance to learn and trust the plant. You discover that it works in its own way. It is a great moment getting to this point. Then there is the question of whether the plant trusts us, because it can be abused and used for getting the wrong kind of personal power. Without intention, vision, preparation, and a shaman, it is a drug not a healing medicine.
A major difficulty for Westerners is the diet and the living conditions in the rainforest. There is also the care clients need afterwards, as one is extremely vulnerable after drinking Ayahuasca. Also some of our attitudes need to change, for example some people find vomiting unpleasant.
In the Ayahuasca ceremony purgative cleansing of the physical body is an essential preparation for the new level of emerging consciousness. Vomiting and occasionally brief diarrhoea are common effects during the initial sessions.
The Shaman’s Diet
An integral element of this preparation is to undertake a diet intended to reduce excessive sugar, salt, oils, pork, fat, and spicy food in the body in
preparation to be in communion with the spirit of Ayahuasca. Reduction of these should commence as soon as one commits to the experience.
Pork in particular is considered to be impure and is studiously avoided by Ayahuasca practitioners. Complete abstinence from pork and lard for at least two weeks prior to the first ceremony is recommended to participants to reduce the impact of the purge. It is also recommended that this abstinence continue for at least two weeks after the final ceremony.
In the initiatory diet for those seeking personal cleansing and healing, chicken, fish, wild game meat, fruits, and vegetables may be eaten but with little if any salt, sugar, oils or spices. The cleansing effect and strength of the visionary experience can be greatly enriched by one’s commitment to these preparations.
Sexual abstinence also forms part of the diet and is a traditional requirement of Ayahuasca cleansing and healing. We recommend abstinence from sexual activity for a few days prior to the ceremony, and to continue a day or two after the last ceremony.
As all Amazonian shamans will tell you, and in the words of Dona Cotrina
“ Sex is bad. The ‘mother plant’ loves you and if you make love to another person, you are being unfaithful to her”. For this reason it is often said that Ayahuasca is jealous, and if you do not respect her, she makes you ill instead of healing you. You will also not be able to see any visions. The ill effects from not respecting the diet are called cutipa and range from a sense of trauma and stress to skin problems.
This is a complex issue in the Amazonian tradition. Basically women in their menstrual cycle are not permitted by Amazonian shamans and curanderos to be present in the preparation of the brew, drink Ayahuasca or attend the ceremonies. This is an ancient tradition rooted mainly in safety considerations rather than sexism, as female shamans in the Amazon also follow these prohibitions.
Some shamans say the presence of a woman in menstrual flow prevents them from “seeing” the causes of illness among those present in the ceremony, thus obstructing their ability to make diagnoses and facilitate healing.
It is important to know that, in some cases, the consumption of Ayahuasca in combination with some groups of prescription & non-prescription medicines can bear health risks.
1. Prescription Medicines
If you are taking prescription medication (including antibiotics), are subject to high blood pressure, have a heart condition, or are under treatment for any health condition), please consult your GP.
Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis Caapi) contains MAOI’s (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) generally in the form of harmine and harmaline therefore Medical consultation is essential if you are taking Prozac or other antidepressants affecting serotonin levels, i.e. serotonin selective re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI).
SSRI’s block the reuptake of serotonin in the brain and because MAOI’s inhibit breakdown of serotonin, the combination of MAOI’s and SSRI’s can lead to too high levels of serotonin in the brain. SSRI’s are much more common than MAOI’s which are found in some anti-depressants. Consult your GP about the use of temporary monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI).
These medications generally require a period of six to eight weeks to completely clear the system and must be reduced gradually.
2. Non-Prescription Medicines
Non-prescription medications such as antihistamines, dietary aids, amphetamines and derivatives, and some natural herbal medicines, i.e. those
containing ephedrine, high levels of caffeine, or other stimulants, may also cause adverse reactions. We recommend that you discontinue all such medications, drugs, and herbs for at least one week prior to and following work with Ayahuasca.
3. Recreational Drugs
Avoid all recreational drugs, in particular MDMA (Ecstasy), cocaine, heroin. Also do not drink alcohol on the day of the ceremony.
4. Herbal Remedies
Use of herbal remedies for depression such as St John’s Wort (which also influence the serotonin levels) need to be discontinued as per 2 above.
Howard G. Charing, is an international workshop leader on shamanism. He has worked some of the most respected and extraordinary shamans and healers in the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Philippines. He organises specialist retreats to the Amazon Rainforest. He is the author of the best selling book, Plant Spirit Shamanism.