How To Prepare For An Ayahuasca Experience

How To Prepare For An Ayahuasca Experience

You feel the call. You’ve been receiving the signs. You know it’s time to drink ayahuasca. Maybe you’ve even chosen a retreat center, and now it’s time to get serious about preparation.

Choosing to drink ayahuasca is no small feat, and requires proper preparation, no matter how many psychedelics you may have taken in the past. Like with most sacred medicines, the more you put in, the more you get out–our relationships with these medicines should be reciprocal and putting in the effort to properly prepare indicates that.

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.

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Ayahuasca is Not 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, ancestors, or Nature.  
  • Mystical effects like coming in contact with “God”, ego death, interconnectedness, and losing the sense of space and time
  • Feelings of happiness, joy, and lightness. 
  • Sinking into your body more deeply. 

If you’re expecting a recreational experience from ayahuasca — just a wild ride, like some sort of psychedelic rollercoaster — you may indeed have a great time, but you may also find yourself unprepared for what actually occurs.

Understanding that the experience can be highly personal, profound, emotionally challenging, and even disturbing at times, will help you trust that everything you experience is normal.

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How to Choose an Ayahuasca Retreat

Ayahuasca is known to produce some noticeable physical effects like nausea, vomiting, and — in some instances — diarrhea. Actually, 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. It’s important to remember that this is the medicine doing its healing work and you will likely feel a lot lighter afterwards. And keep your bucket close, always!

In addition to vomiting, it’s not uncommon for ayahuasca to provoke other ways of emotional and energetic purging, including trembling/shaking, crying, laughing, yawning, sweating, talking, or the urge to stretch and move your body. These are also all normal and nothing to be ashamed about, and any good retreat center will have trained facilitators on hand to help you should they get very intense.

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The Ayahuasca Diet

Many shamans, retreat organizers, and ayahuasca users strongly believe in the importance of following the ayahuasca diet (or dieta) in the weeks and days prior to drinking the brew. This involves avoiding certain foods, beverages, and lifestyle habits (like sex and masturbation). The idea behind the diet is to enter into the experience as “clean” a vessel as possible so you can connect deeply with the medicine.

Kat Courtney, a trained ayahuasquera under the Shipibo lineage and CEO of Plant Medicine People, says “if you’re about to sit with ayahuasca, you just want to eat a clean diet. Very little salt, no sugar, no spice.”

Courtney also recommends avoiding red meat. “Reason being, first of all, they’re dense proteins. They’re hard to digest. Typically, they stay in the system for longer and density prevents the flow of energy of ayahuasca and makes it harder for her to work.”

In addition, it’s also advised to avoid dairy products, highly processed foods, fermented and/or aged foods, alcohol, cannabis, and any other synthetic street drugs.

The Reasons Behind the Dieta

Why do folks do this before they drink ayahuasca? “We’re removing all of these things, dense energies, things that keep us more tethered on a physical level so that we can set ourselves up for an easier, more graceful expansion into her energies,” explains Courtney. “What we’re doing with with plant medicines is connecting to subtle energy bodies.”

It’s important to see working with ayahuasca as a reciprocal relationships, says Courtney. “We get what we give. We are going to ayahuasca [and other medicines] with the biggest asks,” Courtney says. Recognize the gravity. “We are asking for profound healing and the secrets of the universe.”

“They ask us to work for it, to give something in return – to show up eating cleaner and having sacrificed some of our creature comforts, because we’re preparing for something divine and holy.”

Alongside giving up certain foods and substances, it’s advised to do a kind of “mental” diet as well. This means avoiding spending a lot of time consuming social media and dark media, and where possible, staying away from environments which may be stressful for you.

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Medical Contraindications

It’s also crucial to consider medical contraindications before drinking ayahuasca. If you have a history of serious mental illness including psychosis, bipolar, or schizophrenia, consult your doctor and the retreat center about whether or not it will be possible for you to participate. People with high blood pressure or heart problems should also consult with their doctor.

If you are taking any kind of prescription or over-the-counter medication, you should check with your doctor and the retreat center about whether or not this is safe. There are differing opinions about whether SSRI medications–like Prozac or Paxil–should drink ayahuasca. Any good retreat center or ceremony facilitator should have an intake form that rules out those for whom ayahuasca is not safe to drink.

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 An Intention

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 process past traumas
  • Overcoming addiction
  • To gain clarity on a certain situation or decision
  • Healing a physical illness
  • Connecting to your spirituality
  • Dealing with a personal or existential crisis
  • Learning more about yourself
  • Learning more about the medicine and connecting to the spirit of the plants
  • 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.

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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.

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.
  • Resolve: Telling yourself that you are capable of handling anything that the medicine throws at you.
  • 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.

The Power of Meditation

Courtney, who has been working with ayahuasca and other plant medicines for 20 years, says that “when people ask me what is the single most powerful thing I could do to prepare to drink ayahuasca? It’s meditation.”

“And I don’t just mean the typical sit, meditate, and stillness. But walking in nature and letting that be a meditation. Music as a form of meditation. Dance as a form of meditation. The idea being anything that gets you out of your head, connected to heart consciousness, connected to your body.”

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.

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Make Time For Integration

Psychological preparation can also mean making sure you have time for integration after your ayahuasca experience(s). Psychedelic integration describes the process of turning the lessons you receive from a psychedelic experience into concrete changes in 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 how you see and treat yourself, how you manage the challenges life throws at you, how you view the world, or how you behave in your relationships.

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 coach or therapist who is knowledgeable about psychedelics or altered states, or a psychedelic integration circle. Having access to either a 1:1 or group container can be crucial in holding you accountable to achieve your goals and providing a safe space to explore your experience.

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

How To Prepare For Ayahuasca: Practical Aspects

Finally, 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 legal where you’re planning to drink it, are you comfortable with that?
  • Doing your due diligence with regard to the training and reputation of the facilitators. It is psychologically and spiritually dangerous to take ayahuasca with someone who has not completed the many years of training required to serve ayahuasca, so make sure to establish that this is the case with your chosen facilitator before your commit.
  • 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.

Discipline Equals Freedom

Ultimately, as Courtney argued, you get out what you put in with ayahuasca preparation. Many people will tell you that the medicine rewards discipline and sacrifice ahead of the ceremony, so it’s worth giving up some of your creature comforts in the name of deep healing and connecting with this ancestral tradition. If you’re eager to try ayahuasca but haven’t yet found a trustworthy retreat center, check out our guide on finding the right retreat for you

Sam Woolfe

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.

Magdalena Tanev

This article was updated by Magdalena Tanev

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