So, you’ve signed up for that ayahuasca ceremony? Then the medicine’s work has already begun. In the weeks leading up to the ceremony it is upon you to set yourself up for the best possible journey, a phase of the work that should not be underestimated.
Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to sit with mother ayahuasca several times, in different locations and group sizes. The quality of my preparation for each ceremony varied, and it had clear consequences for the quality of my experience with the medicine, as well as the integration process afterwards. I’ve learned what worked and didn’t work for me and as personal as that is, this article is my attempt of summarizing some general recommendations for preparing to drink ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca is a sacred plant medicine from the Amazon that has been used for spiritual and physical healing for perhaps thousands of years. It is usually served by an experienced shaman in a ceremonial setting, at night, and accompanied by music, prayer, and deep meditation.
The use of ayahuasca has long since spread from South America and has become popular in Western countries. At any given weekend, there are an estimated multiple hundreds of ceremonies happening in the US alone (most of them illegal, some legal because of their religious contexts, others now decriminalized based on their location).
And while there are many potential benefits to experiencing ayahuasca, for us individually as well as our society, it deserves deep respect and the commitment to fully honor it as the sacred, indigenous plant medicine that it is.
The significance of preparation for ayahuasca
Drinking ayahuasca is an intense experience and has been fundamentally life-changing for many. It is a practice that should not be approached lightly or spontaneously. Preparation is key to ensure a safe, positive journey.
A big part of the preparation is to ensure your own safety, especially by cutting out foods and medications that can interact with ayahuasca in potentially life-threatening ways. By preparing your mind and body for the medicine, you also significantly increase your chances of having a positive, pleasant experience and avoiding headaches, stomach cramps, and psychological trauma.
Beyond safety and comfort, preparation can also help you get the most benefit out of your work with the grandmother. By cleaning out your body, opening your mind, and setting your intentions in the days and weeks before the ceremony, you essentially start and amplify the transformational process that is about to happen.
Finally, diligent preparation is a sign of your commitment to the journey and doing the work outside of the peak experience. It demonstrates a certain level of reverence and respect to this sacred plant medicine, and that you don’t approach it as a “quick fix”. You yourself and the medicine and its spirits will likely return this honor. This may sound overly spiritual, and there is certainly that side to it. But your own commitment to the experience can help you through the challenging parts, no matter how spiritual you are.
If you think you don’t have the time to properly prepare for ayahuasca, think again. Ayahuasca can give you a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. See the time you put into preparation as an investment. It will make your experience that much more comfortable and rewarding.
The arguably most well-known part of ayahuasca preparation is restricting what you eat for two to four weeks before the ceremony. The so called “dieta” has many interpretations and degrees of strictness. Most commonly though, you should avoid:
- Processed foods including fried foods, protein powders, soda drinks
- Fatty, salty, sugary, or spicy foods
- Red meat, especially pork and cured or smoked meats (high tyramine contents)
- Overripe avocados and fruit (tyramine)
- Dried fruits including raisins (tyramine)
- Aged cheeses (tyramine)
- Pickled or fermented foods including kimchi, tempeh, yoghurt (tyramine)
- Soy products including soy sauce, tofu, soybeans, soy milk (tyramine)
- Yeast including yeast-extract spreads such as Marmite/Vegemite and sourdough bread
- Dairy products
- Peanuts (small amounts are okay)
- Chocolate (small amounts are okay)
- Coffee and caffeine
Many of the foods listed above have high contents of the amino acid tyramine. The MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) in the ayahuasca brew block the enzyme that normally breaks down tyramine in the body. As a result, consuming high tyramine foods in combination with ayahuasca can lead to a spike in blood pressure severe enough to require emergency treatment.
Other than that, the idea of the dieta is to clean up your body with natural, simple foods that are easy to digest. Choose a variety of vegetables and fruit, perhaps eggs, chicken and white fish. Use oils, nuts, and legumes in moderation.
On the day of the ceremony, is it recommended to stop eating by 12pm to 2pm. This will vary based on the starting time of your ceremony (right after dark or possibly later in the evening) and your guide should let you know. If in doubt, err on the side of starting your fast earlier. Some people even fast for the entire day of the ceremony, while others prefer to gather their strength from a light and healthy brunch or lunch.
But what about coffee you ask? If you’re like me you have one or several cups of coffee every day and can’t imagine going without. Quitting for two weeks or even just a few days can seem unbearable, so is it really necessary?
I’ve tried several degrees of strictness when it comes to reducing my caffeine intake before drinking ayahuasca. In my experience, it is okay to just reduce to one cup a day in the week leading up to the ceremony, and then have your last cup in the morning on the day of. However, I noticed that towards the end of ceremony, I would get a very unpleasant headache and feel very exhausted, much more than when I had not had any coffee.
It also depends on how sensitive you are to the side effects of coffee such as jitters, anxiety, and high blood pressure.
If you dare to quit coffee, consider doing so two weeks or more before the ceremony. That way, any withdrawal symptoms you may have will be over by the time you drink the medicine. Adding the potential caffeine withdrawal headaches and dizziness to the sensations of an ayahuasca journey is certainly not ideal.
Good substitutions include mate tea, Guayusa tea (which is also from the Amazon, a nice synchronicity), green tea. Decaf coffee is not optimal, since it is just as acidic as coffee. But then again I’ve seen people drink decaf coffee right before ceremony and they seemed fine.
The time before ceremony as well as the journey itself might also be a very suitable moment to reconsider your overall relationship with caffeine and other stimulants. So even if it’s uncomfortable, recognize the opportunity and listen to what your body calls for.
Drugs & medication
Drugs such as opiates (heroin), cocaine, amphetamines, MDMA, and cannabis need to be avoided for longer durations before ingesting ayahuasca.
Most prescription medication, especially anti-depressants, anti-histamines, sleep aids, and drugs that contain MAOIs cannot be combined with ayahuasca. They can cause life-threating interactions and their use needs to be discontinued for a significant amount of time before the ceremony. This is best to clear with your doctor and shaman.
Other disruptive influences
The dieta doesn’t just apply to what you physically put in your body. It also applies to what you consume with your mind.
Thus it is generally recommended to abstain from all sexual activity, including masturbation, for at least a few days before and after ceremony.
Also be very conscious about the kind of content you consume. Avoid the news, thrilling movies or series, and ideally social media. Instead turn your attention inwards, meditate, read poetry (Rumi is great for this context) or non-fiction.
Be aware of the people in your life and how they make you feel. Maybe solitude and deep one-on-one quality time are more appropriate than rushed and superficial interactions.
The effects of ayahuasca will amplify who you are and how you feel. By taking care of yourself mentally, physical, and spiritually before the ceremony, you can significantly improve the quality and depth of your medicinal journey.
Intention & expectations
While there is nothing wrong with approaching your first ceremony especially with an open mind and pure curiosity, setting a clear intention will greatly benefit you. An intention, for instance, could be a question or a desire to change how you are in the world. Ideally hone in on your intention a couple of days before ceremony. Journal and meditate on it to become familiar with your conscious thoughts about it and prime your mind.
Some say that they got more questions than answers from their ayahuasca experience. Asking “the right” questions is a skill in its own right. You are encouraged to be specific and focus on questions that will likely have a big and lasting impact on your life. Not something that will be irrelevant a month from now. Ask specific, open-hearted, truthful questions that resonate.
And be ready to be surprised. You may think you can guess the answers, but you will likely have insights and perspectives you can’t even imagine now. That’s the point of intentionally working with psychedelics. Maybe other topics will come up instead, and maybe you need to address them first before returning to your original intention. Don’t get too hung up on your intentions/questions during the experience. They are meant as guiding, but not restrictive thoughts and there will be plenty of time afterwards to revisit them and see what you’ve learned.
If you are dealing with fear or anxiety before the experience, try to acknowledge and sit with them, without being consumed by them. Meditating and journaling can help clear them and create a feeling of safety and groundedness.
Acknowledge that entheogenic journeys can be difficult and uncomfortable. But even the challenging experiences can be productive and bring you closer to your intentions. Maybe you need to work through something that feels difficult in the moment, but allows you to finally clear a limiting belief, trauma or something else that is holding you back.
Show up with an open mind and let go of expectations. Trust that you will have exactly the experience that you need, not necessarily the one that you want.
Beyond setting your intentions, you can open up your mind and body with practices such as yoga and meditation. Try to slow down in the weeks and days leading up to your ayahuasca ceremony. Spend time in nature, go for walks. Set aside time to do nothing or to play. Expose your body and eyes to direct sunlight, especially in the morning. Take care of the quality and quantity of your sleep.
Journaling and practicing gratitude can help shift your emotional state and become more aware of what is changing in your subconscious. If you have a creative practice such as music or art, this is a great time to spend more time on it. Your experience with ayahuasca might also change or rekindle your relationship to creative expression.
What you need to know about purging
One of the first things you may have learned about ayahuasca is that it is likely to make you vomit. I hear you if that sounds scary and disgusting to you and you’re worried to embarrass yourself in front of all the other participants. However, know that vomiting does not happen to everyone every time, and it is part of the process of the medicine.
More generally, we speak of purging, which can take the form of vomiting, using the bathroom, crying or sweating. Even though it can be uncomfortable in the moment, it often feels liberating and like a weight coming off your shoulders. Purging is a physical and spiritual process of letting go what no longer serves you.
At most dosages of ayahuasca, you also do not lose control of your bodily functions or sovereignty. You’ll likely still be able to go to the bathroom by yourself or use your bucket when needed. The shaman’s helpers should be there to assist you if needed and change your bucket for a clean one.
What to wear during an ayahuasca ceremony
What you’ll need to bring depends hugely on the way your particular ceremony is set up. Your facilitator will let you know what supplies you are expected to bring and if there is a specific dress code.
Wear comfortable, loose and clean clothing. You will likely go through multiple changes of temperature during the night, so bring additional layers (sweater, blanket, socks, scarf) to keep warm. Do not wear anything too tight or restrictive, especially around your chest (avoid sports bras) or stomach (avoid yoga pants or tight leggings). A long, comfortable dress or meditation pants and a t-shirt are excellent choices. Choose natural, smooth materials that you like and feel good on your skin. Avoid strong scents from detergents or perfumes.
Some ceremony circles prescribe or recommend white clothes, which is based on some traditions and also creates a beautiful visual in the low-lit ceremony space.
Preparation for an ayahuasca ceremony is essential for your safety and comfort during this powerful entheogenic experience and will also make it more rewarding. This includes:
- a restricted diet called “dieta” that applies to food, sexual activity, media consumption
- setting your ceremony intention
- devote time to your spiritual, physical, meditative practice
Note that while there are some generally accepted guidelines, the strictness and duration of the preparation is highly individual. Each practitioner has their own philosophy to this, and you have the best knowledge of your own body and mind. If you take just one piece of advice from this article, let it be the honor and reverence of ayahuasca through your committed preparation.
Preparation for peak psychedelic experiences and especially ayahuasca is just an important as the integration work afterwards.