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How To Prepare For Ayahuasca

How To Prepare For Ayahuasca

Wondering how to prepare for ayahuasca? If you’ve never tried ayahuasca, then in one sense, it’s hard to be prepared for the experience. On the other hand, having some psychedelic experiences under your belt — as well as having some idea of what to expect and how to protect your welfare — will provide a good level of preparation.

In this guide, we describe essential ways to prepare for an ayahuasca retreat, delving into topics like intention-setting, integration, diet, lifestyle, and much more. Knowing how to prepare for ayahuasca gives the best chance of gaining the most from the experience, while minimizing the risk of being overwhelmed.

As we shall see, there are techniques that can help you navigate this altered state of consciousness.

RELATED: How To Engage In Ethical Ayahuasca Tourism

Don’t Expect A Recreational Experience

Firstly, don’t travel to Latin America and take ayahuasca as a fun, adventurous thing to do. Ayahuasca is not a recreational drug. It may provide you with intensely positive states of mind, but it does not give you an easy-going experience where you just see pretty patterns and laugh with others.

Often, ayahuasca offers people a profound psychedelic experience.

This can involve the following.

  • Visions
  • Confronting past trauma and difficult memories and emotions
  • The feeling of traveling to other realms
  • Communicating with entities
  • Mystical effects like coming in contact with “God”, ego death, interconnectedness, and losing the sense of space and time

If expecting a recreational experience from ayahuasca — just a wild ride, like some sort of psychedelic rollercoaster — one may find themselves unprepared for what actually occurs.

However, understanding that the experience can be highly personal, profound, emotionally challenging, and even disturbing at times, will allow someone to know that everything being experienced is normal.

How To Prepare For Ayahuasca: Expect Physical Side Effects

Ayahuasca is known to produce some noticeable side effects like nausea, vomiting, and — in some instances — diarrhea. Actually, many ayahuasca shamans and users of the brew do not consider vomiting a “side effect”, but, rather, an important part of the ceremony.

It is commonly referred to as purging or la purga. It is seen as a form of physical, psychological, and spiritual cleansing.

After drinking down the brew, you might feel some nausea within 20 minutes. This is normal. Not everyone vomits, but it is common to. You may feel a sudden urge to vomit and you may do so multiple times. However, when this purging stage is over, nausea tends to pass and you will feel a lot better.

So, how to prepare for ayahuasca side effects? Well, you should first expect them to occur. That way you won’t be shocked if you start to feel very nauseous and want to vomit. This is nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to drinking ayahuasca.

Secondly, you should know that the physical side effects of ayahuasca — even if they feel intense — do not indicate that you’re in any physical danger. There are many other natural psychedelics that cause nausea and vomiting (like peyote), but this does not mean they’re damaging to the body.

The side effects of ayahuasca may be unpleasant. But if you view them as part of the experience, as an initial struggle to get through to reap the rewards, then they can feel worth it.

How To Prepare For Ayahuasca: Practical Aspects

Think practically about an ayahuasca retreat to ensure that the experience goes as smoothly as possible. This means doing the following.

  • Understanding the legality of the retreat. Where is ayahuasca legal or decriminalized? If it’s not in the country where you’re planning to visit, are you comfortable with that?
  • Making sure you have time to settle in the country the retreat is in. For example, if you’re traveling to Latin America for an ayahuasca retreat, you might want to spend some time resting and exploring before the ayahuasca sessions begin. This way, you won’t start ceremonies with pre-existing jet lag or travel-related stress.
  • Ensuring you have a clear itinerary of how to get to the ayahuasca retreat.
  • Taking everything with you that you might need.
  • Having enough money available for any additional travel costs.

How To Prepare For Ayahuasca: Psychological Aspects

An ayahuasca retreat is not something you casually want to sign up for. It is typically something people want to do for a specific, important, and personal reason.

Set Aside Time For Integration

You may find it beneficial to prepare psychologically for ayahuasca by setting your intentions for the experience.

Why do you want to take ayahuasca? What do you hope to gain from it? Your intentions might include the following.

  • Using ayahuasca tea to help improve mental health issues
  • To face trauma
  • In order to confront difficult emotions
  • To enhance your spiritual life
  • Dealing with a personal or existential crisis
  • Or even for philosophical reasons — like trying to better understand the nature of consciousness and reality.

Set your intentions by journaling, or perhaps speaking to someone about them beforehand. This could be a good friend, a partner, or a psychotherapist.

Focus Your Mind

Psychological preparation can also mean making sure you have time for integration after your ayahuasca experience(s). Psychedelic integration is a popular, but ambiguous term, and describes the process of applying a psychedelic experience to your life. This could involve making changes to your attitudes, beliefs, habits, relationships, career, hobbies, plans, and goals.

Generally, the point of integration is to achieve a positive transformation, be that in what you’re like as a person, how you view the world, or the important aspects of your life.

Be sure to prepare for more than just the experience itself, but also for the period after it. This may entail many questions, heightened emotional states, confusion, and uncertainty.

For the purposes of integration, many ayahuasca users find it helpful to seek out a psychotherapist who is knowledgeable about psychedelics or altered states, or a psychedelic integration circle.

Of course, being able to discuss the experience with anyone who is open-minded, non-judgmental, and supportive can help you during your process of integration.

Know How To Handle A Challenging Experience

Ideally, you will have trained, experienced facilitators with you during your ayahuasca experience. Not only will they look after your physical safety, they can also help you navigate any challenging aspects of the experience, such as states of anxiety, fear, panic, or confusion.

However, you can also prepare for ayahuasca by learning techniques for handling difficult experiences — which some refer to as a bad trip.

Some of these might include the following.

  • Mindfulness. Noticing what is occurring during an experience without being either attached or aversive toward it.
  • Focusing on your breath. This involves consciously taking deep breaths. A form of mindfulness that can bring your attention to the present moment, alleviating some distress you might be experiencing.
  • Acceptance. Embracing what you are experiencing, rather than wanting challenging emotions or visions to disappear. Also known as “letting go”, this acceptance and lack of resistance can be useful when experiencing intense states like ego death.
  • Self-Compassion. Showing kindness toward yourself during a difficult experience.
  • Reminding yourself that you are safe and not in danger. This is especially helpful when you experience fear, anxiety, or panic.
  • Telling yourself that what you’re experiencing is because of ayahuasca. You haven’t lost your mind, and that you will be sober again in a matter of hours.

It isn’t necessary to become a master of meditation to prepare yourself for challenging moments of an ayahuasca experience. Nevertheless, being aware of the above techniques, practicing them a bit beforehand, and recalling them during an ayahuasca journey can prove to be incredibly helpful.

How To Prepare For Ayahuasca: Physical Aspects

Many shamans, retreat organizers, and ayahuasca users strongly believe in the importance of following the ayahuasca diet (or dieta) before drinking the brew. This involves avoiding certain foods, beverages, and lifestyle habits (like sex and masturbation). The idea behind the diet is to prepare your mind and body for the experience.

It is widely believed that you should avoid eating foods high in tyramine before drinking ayahuasca, as this compound could apparently interact negatively with the monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) present in Banisteriopsis caapi (one plant used in ayahuasca preparations).

However, it is not clear that the above is true.

For example, members of the ayahuasca church União do Vegetal don’t follow these dietary restrictions. This is because the church doesn’t believe the risk is significant.

Also, Etzel Cardeña and Carlos S. Alvarado state in Altering Consciousness: History, Culture, and the Humanities that “there is no in vitro or other empirical evidence to support the current cultural myth that consumption of Ayahuasca in conjunction with tyramine-rich foods can, in and of itself, lead to a hypertensive crisis.”

Yet, even if consuming tyramine-rich foods doesn’t put you in harm’s way, you may find it useful to follow the dieta (or certain aspects of it, at least). This is because the dieta typically involves eating a clean and nutritious diet, free from processed foods, alcohol, and sugar.

By changing your diet before an ayahuasca ceremony, it will allow you to feel lighter, more energized, and in better psychological health. This may encourage a more positive experience.

Disclaimer: We do not endorse the illicit use of Schedule 1 psychedelic compounds in a non-therapeutic setting. We do, however, hope the regulations look at the research to understand how these drugs can used in powerfully positive ways.

Sam Woolfe

View all posts by Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer based in London. His main areas of interest include mental health, mystical experiences, the history of psychedelics, and the philosophy of psychedelics. He first became fascinated by psychedelics after reading Aldous Huxley's description of the mescaline experience in The Doors of Perception. Since then, he has researched and written about psychedelics for various publications, covering the legality of psychedelics, drug policy reform, and psychedelic science.

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