10 Tips To Better Your Ayahuasca Experience

Mats, and buckets for vomiting are common at ayahuasca retreat centers.

 
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by Guy Crittenden

on June 22, 2014

It’s common for newbies to be nervous before an ayahuasca ceremony.  I know I was.  Here are 10 tips to help see you through.

1. Food prep. I can’t say enough good things about preparation. First let’s talk about food. If you research the “aya diet” you’ll encounter lists of what not to eat and some of these differ. The lists usually discourage or forbid red meat and pork, salt, hot spices, alcohol (that’s a big one), avocados and a few other items. At a minimum all these things should be strictly avoided 48 hours before ceremony, but really two weeks is my rule. That doesn’t mean you have to suffer, though. If there was ever a time in your life to get turned on to good vegetarian or vegan cuisine (ideally raw), this is the time. You can eat delicious, simple food for a couple of weeks before your big experience, which isn’t much of a sacrifice. Pity the fool who finds herself backpacking in Peru and decides to drink ayahuasca on a whim after a week of hamburgers and mohitos.Mama aya gonna smack her up the side of the head real good! Note that there’s real science to support some of these restrictions. Certain prohibited items interfere with how aya interacts with neurons in the brain. I guess thousands of years of experimentation taught the indigenous people of the Amazon a thing or two, huh? Some prohibitions are just pragmatic. Spicy food may not offend the gods so much as your butt and mouth if you vomit or get diarrhea…

2. Sex. Yes, let’s talk about sex. The first time I drank aya sexual abstinence was easy because I was between relationships; there was no one to disappoint by skipping the wild thing for a couple of weeks. While I’m normally libidinous, I got lucky in a different way the month before and just didn’t feel like it for about three weeks before ceremony, and that included self-pleasuring. In Asia they call this preserving one’s chi — one’s life force — and it’s all about cultivating energy. (You know, the type that allows the Kung Fu masters to break stacks of concrete blocks with a single hand chop.) In the Upper Amazon, Mother Ayahuasca is described as a jealous lover. Whatever you call it, leave it alone for a while. If you’re seeking a super-duper big-ass experience, try being abstinent for, like, six weeks or longer, if you can manage. (Now you see why not a lot of young people in South America are apprentice shamans…) Anyway, I practiced abstinence and had powerful visions my first time. I’ll never know what would have happened otherwise, but I imagine my experience could have been less.

3. Paying attention. I imagine one of the most neglected areas of preparation among people traveling from busy industrial society to ayahuasca retreat centres is the simple act of paying attention, by which I mean noticing (really noticing) your mood, what’s around you, nature, and so on. I don’t understand people who finish a work deadline, jump on a plane and drink ayahuasca the next day. I was fortunate because my trip with Pulse Tours gave me four days hanging out and trekking in the Amazon to really s-l-o-w d-o-w-n and absorb that unrushed living-with-nature vibe. I’d flown into Iquitos a day early, too, so I’d had more time to shift gears. But what I’m talking about is even more than that. I believe the moment you decide to participate in ayahuasca ceremony the medicine starts working on you. That may sound bat-shit crazy (hey, a lot of this stuff sounds bat-shit crazy) but the medicine takes you to meet universal consciousness and the funny thing about “U.C.” is she, um, knows everything. So (big surprise), when you make your decision, she starts communicating with you. It’s subtle, but if you watch for it, it’s there. You might even find yourself talking to plants.

4. Flower power. Okay, so the big day has arrived and you’re in some ayahuasca retreat having eaten super-healthy vegan food for weeks and weeks, avoided alcohol and had no sex for what seems like forever. Lucky you! Now what? This is when things start to become ritualistic. Remember, you’re not having a “drug experience” — this is a shamanic experience (something not emphasized enough in descriptions, I feel) and certain things are done that seem odd to a person raised in a non-shamanic culture. These are for your benefit and your protection. In the Amazon, this would be thought of in terms of guarding against evil spirits, dark energies, and so on. You don’t have to think of it in those terms, if you don’t care to. I quite like it, but then I like the Lord of the Rings movies, so finding out there really is a spirit world is quite cool in my books. Anyway, I was instructed to take a flower bath (or what I prefer to call a “flower shower” for the alliteration) before ceremony in which I sponged water over myself filled with flower petals. This is to make oneself more appealing to the plant energies. In any case, it’s nice. (Some practitioners simply spray some floral water on you that smells a bit like the stuff they use in old-fashioned men’s barber shops.)

5. Tobacco. I don’t smoke and personally hate the smell of cigarettes, but tobacco is a sacred plant in shamanic practice so you need to get used to it. But be reassured it’s not “your dad’s tobacco.” Instead, it’s mapacho tobacco that has a rich, sweet smell that’s quite unlike the chemically adulterated stuff in commercial cigarettes. Tobacco is used to “seal the container” — meaning it’s blown in places around the maloca (sacred meeting place) whether this is a purpose built round building or any kind of space adapted for the purpose. The smoke is also used on participants. This is sometimes done by the shaman lighting a cigarette made from hand-rolled mapacho tobacco and inhaling it and blowing it on you (e.g., on your head/crown chakra and chest/heart chakra). Sometimes I’ve seen the smoke delivered like a smudge, waved over a person with a large feather. In Peru, participants were allowed to smoke mapachos during ceremony, which on one level I didn’t mind except for the light in my eyes when they lit up, which was almost blinding (your eyes become highly light sensitive on the medicine) and some people seemed to light up out of a sense of boredom and restlessness, which annoyed me (since I was breathing their smoke). Of course this all became a moot point as people were overtaken with the medicine and fell into visions or writhed around their mattresses. But if you do smoke during ceremony, cover up the light as much as possible and smoke minimally.

6. Setting an intention. You’ll be encouraged to “set an intention” for your ceremony. This can be perplexing to newbies, who may be there for a wide variety of reasons, including healing, curiosity or even thrill-seeking. The fact is, the medicine meets you half way: You must make an effort to ask questions and interpret the lessons. This is work, and you’ll find out quickly why no one would ever drink ayahuasca as a recreational drug (one reason why it’s so ridiculous that it’s illegal in North America and many other places). As the shamans often say, if you bring no intention to the ceremony, you may see a pretty light show and colors and not much else. In truth, the first time I drank I felt it was worth the price of flying to Peru just for what I saw in the first 15 minutes. But I get far more out of the experience when I set an intention. Beginners are advised to keep their intention simple the first time. An example might be, “I want healing” or “I seek purification” or “I want guidance with the path forward in my life.” If you set your intention as something like, “I wish to clear up the relationship with my mother who makes me so angry sometimes because she keeps comparing me to my brother, and just because he excels academically I know he has a lot of issues she doesn’t know about…” or something like that, you just won’t be able to remember it when you’re in ayahuasca’s thrall. A good intention is kind of like a mantra that you can repeat and come back to if you start losing your way.

7. Your gear. At different ceremonies you may encounter people who surround themselves with stuff: crystals, little vials of different healing potions, favorite objects, shoe options, etc. I like to keep things simple. At a shamanic centre, a mattress will normally be provided and some pillows. Let’s assume here, though, that you have to bring your own stuff. I prefer an inflatable camping mattress to lie on. Note that this is not the thick kind you inflate with a bicycle pump, but rather the thin kind hikers use, that can be rolled up tight. Anything more than that and I’m rolling around too much; anything less and I become sore from the hard floor. I divide my time during ceremony either lying back propped up on pillows or sitting up fairly straight, in a meditation pose. (I rarely lie down flat except for stretching out my back — the visions just become to overwhelming.) As I can’t easily sit with my legs crossed for a long time, I find it very useful to bring along a yoga chair (there are versions used by hikers) that’s basically a legless item made from two pieces of nylon-encased foam, held together with straps. I bring a sleeping bag rather than blankets, and usually keep this unzipped like a duvet. I also bring a water bottle and a thermos bottle in that contains Amazon bark tea that I buy from panaceaperu.com.  Note that I only sip the water as needed, and the tea is more for the latest part of the ceremony when the medicine is dissipating. I find it soothing at about 3:00 am to sip something warm. I also bring a small flashlight with a fresh battery the end of which I cover with transparent red tape (so I don’t blind my fellow seekers in the dark). If you can’t find the red tape, always turn your flashlight on under your shirt. You just need enough light to navigate your way to the bathroom or whatnot. Remember people’s eyes are sensitive. I also bring a hard case for my eyeglasses and I put this along with other sundry items like my cell phone (which is turned off completely) and keys in a cloth bag. Trust me, when you’re under the medicine it helps to not have to feel around in the dark for things. Most venues will supply a bucket and some tissues in case you throw up; if you have to bring your own, a large empty yoghurt container with lid is a great idea. (Note: Don’t place your bucket where people may accidentally kick it over in the night.)

8. Clothing. Of course what to wear for ceremony is a highly personal decision, and there are no hard rules. I’ve seen people wearing everything from full-on Shipibo costumes to jeans and Metallica T-shirts. Does it matter? Sort of yes and sort of no. I mean, when I think of the profundity of what I might experience, it seems like a copout to not “dress for occasion.” I wear white Shipibo clothing with beautiful embroidery because of the pleasure it gives me wearing it and for the statement it makes via which I honor the whole experience. At a minimum I’d lean toward wearing white, light, breathable loose cotton shirt and pants. There’s a school of thought that wearing white attracts light energy and bright spirits. By extension, it may be that dark clothes attract dark energies. I can’t prove it, but I noticed in my last ceremony that the people wearing white clothing had gentler, positive experiences, but who knows? I bring sandals or flip-flops because these tuck in nicely beside my mattress and are easy to put on or off in the dark. I bring an eye mask — the thin cloth kind people wear on planes. These allow me to sleep in the morning after the sun comes up. They’re also handy if my visions are interrupted by people lighting tobacco or candles, as may happen if the shamans need to work on someone.

9. The medicine. The ayahuasca experience itself varies from person to person and from day to day. Some folks are purists about what recipe they will or will not imbibe. Banisteriopsis Caapi, a jungle vine, is usually combined with other plants that supply the DMT, commonly Chacruna/Rainha (Queen) or Psychotria Viridis. I myself have had this but also ayahuasca vine combined with Mimosaextract. I detected no difference in the power of my visions. The stuff usually tastes awful and has a sticky consistency like coffee that’s sat on the burner too long. Yet I’ve never found it as bad as people say, and usually dislike the sensation of the liquid hitting my empty stomach more than the flavor. Don’t eat big meals on the day of your ceremony. You can have a late lunch around 1:00 or 2:00 pm (following the aya diet). I recommend you avoid nuts, too. After that, drink only water. Fasting and drinking water give you a mini-cleanse and you’ll be without items in your stomach that interfere with the medicine. And let’s face it, not having a lot to purge from your body (at either end) is welcome. I find it takes about 40 minutes for the medicine to come on. Never ask for medicine sooner than when the shaman offers it; you don’t want to drink a second cup because you feel nothing, only to have the first dose come on in a big way.

10. Staying inside the circle (and a tip about other people). You may have attended yoga meetings or New Age gatherings of different types in which the leader talks about ‘holding the space” for another person or the group. I was always thought this was charming, but a little flaky sounding. However (trust me) you’re going to find out the meaning of really holding the space when you’re in the presence of a real shaman, under the influence of ayahuasca. The shaman uses ritual and the force of their own spirit to create a kind of “magic circle” in which you’re kept safe. Some people don’t take this seriously enough and go wandering out in the night. It’s okay to leave the space for a few minutes to use the bathroom or catch a breath of fresh air. You might want to look at the Milky Way for a few minutes. But don’t linger! Every minute you’re outside of the circle you’re subject to other forces. Remember you are openand the portal can let other energies in, and they’re not all benevolent. Pay only minimal attention to other people during ceremony. Your journey is your own and you need to focus on it. Don’t try to help the person beside you or interrupt what they’re going through, even it it’s tough. They need to face their demons and it’s not your place to interrupt what could be a life changing teaching moment for them. This is especially difficult if you’re a healer, who will want to share your positive energy. Leave it to the shamans and their assistants who are trained. You can make sounds or stand up and even dance if you like, but try not to distract people around you by being too loud or boisterous. Note that the icaros are an important part of the experience. You’ll notice everything subsides when they stop, then get going when they start again. Enjoy them and ride them, but don’t interrupt them for others.

Guy Crittenden is a writer who lives in Collingwood, Ontario, Canada. You can read more about his adventures on his blog at http://guycrittenden.blogspot.ca/2014/01/report-on-three-ayahuasca-ceremonies-in.html

there are 7,843 Comments

Christopher Lee Adkins

Lorado, WV

Thank you very much for these tips! I will surely follow them with pure intention and respect.

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shroomsaregoooood

Reno NV

Thanks for posting this one. I am looking forward to my first real ceremony in the near future.

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GreytoWhite

Re: Item 2 it is not preserving qi but rather jing.

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Sam Bird

Where do I get the appropriate shipibo clothing?

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Brian Nori

I find that this article is a bit misleading. I’d like to share my perspective on the things in which I’ve discovered while working for a long period of time in the jungle. First I’d like to say that the Aya experience will become everything that you need in that moment. The more you think about it and connect to logical ideas such as the things you read in this article the harder of an experience it will be for you. The whole concept of Aya is the ‘Purge’ – it’s letting go and trusting in the process. Yes its good to come to the table prepared and understanding the proper diet and cultural rituals but honestly it all won’t matter if you can’t get out of your head.

Here’s where I differ in perspective from this article:

1. Food Prep: I know people that work with aya that break most of the food rules mentioned here and still have deep and connective journeys. I’ve had a bacon cheese burger the day prior to a ceremony and it had zero effect on me. The bigger ones to watch in the diet more than anything is the MAOI diet. Also make sure that if you’re taking any medications that they will not have any adverse effects to your experience.

2. Sex: This has merit though I find that it’s mainly post aya that you really have to worry about. If you have sex too close to your ceremony you will find that your energy will feel very drained and possibly feel that some of the effects from the ceremony will pass. I’ve had sex the night prior to ceremony and had zero effect on me. This part of the article has merit to some degree. I do feel it does provide a much richer experience while sustaining.

3. Paying attention: You’ll be in the frame of mind that you need to be at that specific time – it is neither good nor bad. Post aya your mindset and connection to the present moment may shift dramatically – this is just due to the mental shift aya brings. If you’re still caught up in the 9-5 grind mindset in the jungle or in ceremony your experience will merely reflect that – and you will experience the strong contrast of thought and awareness post aya. The ironic thing is…most people get this anyways even when they do take time in the jungle. If you really want to curb the shock value – discover the art of deep meditation.

2. Flower power and tobacco: I’ll group these together. Here’s the honest truth about Aya…ready for it…. It’s all in your head. If you believe something evades bad spirits, or makes your experience better…your experience will be better. If I tell you doing a headstand before ceremony will make your experience 1000x better – if you believe it – it will be so.

I know one secret that will make everyone’s aya experience amazing but as a facilitator I am wary to tell it. The reason for this is because there’s beauty in the darkness. It’s not about having a good time – it’s about learning the lessons aya is going to teach you. It’s about growing as a person through the pain and discovering the deep and profound infinite beauty held within you.

Setting an intention: This goes back to ‘its all in your head’. You will be traversing across the barrier into your subconscious. If your conscious mind has an intention to connect with the depths of intelligence bound by your subconscious state you will find solutions. By subconscious I also mean the infinite spectrum of energetic being in which you are.

Your gear : There are a lot of the retreat centers that have proper seating available so bringing your own mattress might be overkill. It would be certainly worth talking to the people conducting the ceremonies prior to working out all this gear. Also the Tea suggestion in my opinion will help to temporarily intensify and shorten your experience. I would recommend only taking water post ceremony. I would bring a bottle of water in with me every ceremony however. This was mainly to wash the god aweful taste of aya out of my mouth post drink. I would rinse my mouth and spit the water inside the bucket.

Clothing: Just wear something comfy – don’t worry about color. The jungle gets a bit chilly at night so bringing a warm blanket with you and pillow may be ideal dependent your circumstances. Some like to stay overnight after ceremony. This will provide a nice safe and warm place for you to nest if needed.

The Circle: I completely disagree with this. I’ve worked with aya outside the circle and without a shaman. Like I said before it’s all in your head. You want to believe something…it becomes real. Many people feel the comfort of the shaman and trust in their work – the comfort and trust is reflected into their experiences and they find grounding simply due to the psychology behind their mental anchors.

Here’s a tip that I can’t stress enough – if you want a better Ayahuasca experience – discover the depths of meditation. This will not only help you prepare for your journey but it will also give you a platform for the reintegration process that comes post experience. Your thoughts and emotions guide your experience. The more you understand this, the deeper you will be able to connect with aya.

Cheers!

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pyx

Realistically, avoid the contradictory medication otherwise you asking for trouble. Diet on the day leading up to the event will do.

Everything else is just new agey requirements and not necessary unless that resonates with you.

The experience will be what it’s going to be especially the stronger the dose….intentions have no impact other than a placebo effect on your mind. Just let go and let the chips fall where they may.

NB….make sure you trust the people you doing it with or do it on your own if you know what you doing.

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Jeremy Deane

Thanks

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mahadragon

I think if people commenting here read what Guy Crittendon wrote about his 3 Aya experiences you would understand why he said what he did. Apparently during his 3rd Aya ceremony he left to take a leak. He thought the ceremony was over and took his time. When he came back he realized “Oh snap! They are still going!” Then he visualized a big spider stinging him and he was paralyzed. One of the Shamans saw the spider and chased it away (this is all happening in the spiritual realm).

That’s why Guy sounds so adamant about “staying in the circle” cause he broke the circle and was rewarded with a spider bite.

I understand where you guys are coming from. Guy is old school and he’s doing it the old fashioned way which is actually a really good approach. He didn’t spend half his time puking during the first 2 ceremonies which, apparently, a lot of the younger folk did because of his preparation. I admire his approach and hope that I can have the same will power to execute when my ceremony comes up in 10 days.

Like Guy, I’m 44 and I’m older. A lot of you younger people do not understand a lot of the reasons why preparations are important. Actually a lot of younger people don’t even understand why they are taking Aya in the first place. Many of you want to try it because it’s one of the few drugs you haven’t tried and your friends have all done it. Then they get their rears handed to them by Mother Aya and later on they are like “Oh, that’s how it is. Whoops, didn’t see that coming.” I don’t know how many stories from young people I’ve read sound just like that.

If you are serious about meeting mother Aya, and I am, you try your best to prepare yourself. One of my great weaknesses is my willpower. I understand what I need to do, I understand what is right, it’s just hard to get myself to do it.

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mahadragon

I think if people commenting here read what Guy Crittendon wrote about his 3 Aya experiences you would understand why he said what he did. Apparently during his 3rd Aya ceremony he left to take a leak. He thought the ceremony was over and took his time. When he came back he realized “Oh snap! They are still going!” Then he visualized a big spider stinging him and he was paralyzed. One of the Shamans saw the spider and chased it away (this is all happening in the spiritual realm).

That’s why Guy sounds so adamant about “staying in the circle” cause he broke the circle and was rewarded with a spider bite.

I understand where you guys are coming from. Guy is old school and he’s doing it the old fashioned way which is actually a really good approach. He didn’t spend half his time puking during the first 2 ceremonies which, apparently, a lot of the younger folk did because of his preparation. I admire his approach and hope that I can have the same will power to execute when my ceremony comes up in 10 days.

Like Guy, I’m 44 and I’m older. A lot of you younger people do not understand a lot of the reasons why preparations are important. Actually a lot of younger people don’t even understand why they are taking Aya in the first place. Many of you want to try it because it’s one of the few drugs you haven’t tried and your friends have all done it. Then they get their rears handed to them by Mother Aya and later on they are like “Oh, that’s how it is. Whoops, didn’t see that coming.” I don’t know how many stories from young people I’ve read sound just like that.

If you are serious about meeting mother Aya, and I am, you try your best to prepare yourself. One of my great weaknesses is my willpower. I understand what I need to do, I understand what is right, it’s just hard to get myself to do it.

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Tony Crimson Chin

The sex thing is completely subjective. I found that I was able to perform 3 times for 45 minutes each afterwards. I didn’t feel “drained” at all.

The food part is fairly accurate. Although, this drug/food list is fairly strict and more informative: http://www.ayahuasca.com/information-discussion/foods-and-meds-to-avoid-with-maois/ Although, the coconut thing is nonsense. Fresh coconut meat doesn’t bother me before/after.

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