Preparing for your first Ayahuasca ceremony

This is an FAQ of common questions that will help you prepare for your first Ayahuasca ceremony. A few things are specific to groups I facilitate, but most I’d advise to any newcomer.

Why do people drink Ayahuasca?

To find the Present
To re-lease the past
To conceive the future
To choose a path
Where a question asked
May be answered
Where if trusted help
May be offered
To walk through a door
Now Open
To tread the Tiger’s tail
To become the Whole
Or at least more than half
To feel the greatest Love
Or at least to laugh
To touch something Greater
Or just to grow
Like a tree toward sunlight
Like the Soul toward Home

If I had to choose a single word to summarize the Ayahuasca experience
I believe that the single word that summarize the Ayahuasca experience is healing. That is, the word healing in its original intention: “to make whole.” Through our interactions with the spirit of Ayahuasca, it is possible to heal psychologically, physically, and spiritually.

Is it safe to participate?

If you are a generally healthy individual, drinking Ayahuasca in a ceremony is perfectly safe, as long as the proper precautions are followed. The tea has been safely drunk for thousands of years in South America, with participants ranging from children to the elderly.

Ayahuasca should not be taken if you are on certain medications, because of possible dangerous interactions. These include SSRI medications (eg prozac) or stimulants (eg amphetamines). It is also not recommended if you have heart problems. If you have related health issues, consult your doctor first.

In general, the fear of physical danger of Ayahuasca is vastly exaggerated in the media. Today in modern cities in Brazil, ceremonies are held on a bi-weekly basis, and participants on average are found to be more healthy than their countrymen/women. Compared to a night of drinking or use of recreational drugs, the Sacred Plants are far less toxic to the body. Remember, the purpose of the ceremony is to heal.

How should I prepare my body?

There are differing schools on the proper dieta to follow before participating in a ceremony. On the extreme end, some teachers require eating nothing but unsalted and unflavored plantains and fish for weeks. The following is what I strongly recommend as a minimum to aide in a positive and fulfilling experience:

  • For the week before the ceremony, take it easy: no binge drinking (a glass of wine ok), no drugs (small amounts of Santa Maria [aka Marijuana] ok)
  • For 3 days before the ceremony avoid alcohol, drugs, Santa Maria, orgasms, meat, and minimize caffeine (try tea instead of coffee). This is not easy for many people, but the more you put in in terms of preparation, the more you stand to gain from the experience.
  • Day of the ceremony: Eat a decent breakfast and lunch (following above guidelines), don’t eat after 2pm and only drink water or herbal tea. If you get a headache / hangry, have some herbal tea with a spoonful of honey.

Come to the ceremony well-rested and feeling good. To borrow a Native American phrase, “come in a good way.”

How should I prepare my brain?

It is generally helpful to have an intention (a focus or guide) when entering a ceremony. If it is your first time participating, it is ok to have your primary intention be curiosity.

Sacred Plants are often referred to as “Teacher Plants.” This implies that you, as a participant, are taking the role of a student. So do your homework and come prepared to class! If there are some issues you hope to work through during the ceremony, I find it helpful to boil these down into simple questions and have them memorized. You may receive answers to all of these questions, or you may receive answers to none of them, but it helps to be prepared.

Apart from setting your intentions, it is also helpful to practice quieting your mind through meditation and breathing. There are plenty of good guided meditations on YouTube, or try downloading the apps Calm or Headspace.

What should I bring?

  • Sleeping bag + pad (or lots of blankets) and a bunch of pillows
  • Sleep mask or a scarf you can wrap around your head
  • Comfortable / loose fitting clothes (in some traditions participants wear white, but I suggest wear whatever would make you happy on a rainy Sunday afternoon)
  • A notebook/journal and pen to write down thoughts and experiences
  • Optional: a special meaningful item (stuffed animal, piece of jewelry, family heirloom, etc)
  • Optional: a musical instrument you might be inclined to play if it fits the mood

What is the ceremony like?

Traditionally, ceremonies are held in groups that can range from a handful of people up to 100. Some traditions encourage the communal energy of the group, while others focus on the individual. In groups I facilitate, we aim for a middle way, where both individual focus and group energy are available.

The Shaman’s role in a ceremony is to serve as the agent, or facilitator to the participants and Ahayuasca. The Shaman conducts the ceremony, and by contributing to the environment though burning incense, chanting, and music, she/he can help guide your experience.

Before drinking the tea, it is important to give gratitude that we are able to take part in a Sacred ceremony that has given great wisdom for over 4000 years. We perform ceremonies that center around showing gratitude and love to pacha mamma (mother earth) and related spirits.

The tea is taken in the evening, and the lights are turned down. What happens next is virtually impossible to describe, in part because the experience can be very different for different people. You may have profound visions. You may have none. A Shaman once told me “Ayahuasca gives you not what you want, but what you need at a particular time.” Hence it is best to come open-minded and without expectations.

The ceremony typically last 4–6 hours, and participants will often sleep afterwards.

Will I Puke?

Maybe. Maybe not. Many people vomit after drinking the tea, as part of what is called The Purge. Before my first time participating in a ceremony, I was nervous about vomiting…I have always hated it (I could count on my hands the number of times I have puked as an adult). But Purging can feel quite different from ordinary puking, it can feel like a release of psychological and physical weight on your body. Don’t be afraid to puke!

What happens afterwards?

  • The end of the Ceremony is the beginning of Integration. Integration is the processing of what you’ve learned from the ceremony, and merging that knowledge into your every day life.
  • The next day, participants often discuss their experiences with each other. It can be helpful to your integration to discuss your experiences, both good and bad, with the group. The Shaman may also offer guidance or possible interpretations of your experiences.
  • It is helpful to give yourself time after a ceremony to continue Integration. I recommend avoiding drugs and alcohol for a week after the ceremony to help extend the learnings and positive feelings you may experience.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. This is not medical advice. Also I don’t advise anyone to do anything illegal in their part of the multiverse.