Ayahuasca is considered by some as the spiritual enlightenment we all need, and others have called it ´pseudo shamanism´. But what exactly is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca, also called iowaska or yagé, is a liquid hallucinogen taken primarily in Peru, Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador. It is usually made up of two main plants: the Ayahuasca vine and a chacruna shrub. Both are native to the Amazon and the shrub contains DMT, a powerful hallucinogenic drug that is illegal in many Western countries. In South America however, Ayahuasca is not simply a drug but an essential traditional and spiritual medicine in ceremonies among the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin.
For centuries, shamans have administered the drug as both medicine and sacrament, but times have changed. In 2008 the Peruvian government recognized Ayahuasca as an essential part of its cultural heritage and made taking it legal within the confines of a religious ceremony – regardless if you’re a native Peruvian or not.
Ayahuasca – The Plant
Ayahuasca is an Amazonian plant mixture that is capable of inducing altered states of consciousness, usually lasting between 4 to 8 hours after ingestion. Ranging from mildly stimulating to extremely visionary, ayahuasca is used primarily as a medicine and as a shamanic means of communication, typically in a ceremonial session under the guidance of an experienced drinker such as a ´Ayahuasca master´.
The main ingredient of this jungle tea is a vine, Banisteriopsis caapi, which like the tea itself is also called ayahuasca (which means ‘vine of the soul’ or ‘vine with a soul’). The secondary ingredient is either chacruna (Psychotria viridis) or chagropanga (Diplopterys cabrerana), plants that contain a relatively high amount of the psychedelic substance DMT.
The experience following ayahuasca ingestion is also notoriously physically unpleasant, with vomiting and diarrhea not just a common outcome, but an expected one. Vomiting is considered by many shamans and experienced users of ayahuasca to be an essential part of the experience, as it represents the release of negative energy and emotions built up over the course of one’s life. Others report purging in the form of nausea, diarrhea, and hot/cold flashes. The ingestion of ayahuasca can also cause significant, but temporary, emotional and psychological distress.
Nobody knows for sure how long this drink has been used. How and when exactly the discovery of combining these two plants was made by native Americans remains unclear, although many tribes and shamans have their own mythical tales explaining this event.
In the 16th century, Christian missionaries from Spain and Portugal first encountered indigenous South Americans using ayahuasca; their earliest reports described it as “the work of the devil”. First recorded Western contact with ayahuasca was made in 1851 by Richard Spruce, the famous ethnobotanist from England. When taking into account archeological evidence of comparable native plant use, it seems likely that its use dates back to at least two millennia ago.
The Ayahuasca Pre-Diet
The quality of an Ayahuasca ceremony is completely dependent on the preparation the receiver put into it. There is a lot someone needs to know about how to prepare for Ayahuasca, as the process starts long before the actual ceremony.
While different shamans and retreat centers vary on the specific restriction, most places advise that you should start eliminating certain foods and drugs from your diet 2-4 weeks before a ceremony (longer for certain prescription drugs like SSRIs). Some of the things to keep in mind prior to the ceremony are:
- Foods Containing Tyramine – Ayahuasca is an MAO-inhibitor, meaning it temporarily inhibits the activation of the monoamine oxidase (MAO). It is important to refrain from eating foods high in this amino acid — otherwise your body could reach toxic levels that cause headaches or hypertension. Foods that contain tyramine include: Pork, red meat, aged cheeses, fermented foods, yogurt, alcohol, nutritional supplements, aspartame, chocolate and peanuts (in large amounts).
- Other Foods to Avoid – In addition to foods high in tyramine, you should avoid: Salt (i.e. canned and processed foods), refined sugar, spicy food, dairy, oils and caffeine
- Most centers strongly recommend that you avoid sexual activity two weeks before and after a ceremony.
- Many medications and natural supplements are not complimentary with this work and can be dangerous especially MAO inhibiting medications, SSRIs and or antidepressants.
.) Meditation, yoga or other mind/body/spirit practices are very complimentary to this work, which teaches you to focus your energy and connect to breath, which is very useful during the process, however this is not mandatory.
What makes Ayahuasca so interesting?
Although not unique to ayahuasca, there are many fascinating reports about people who have been healed from comprehensive problems, like addiction or depression, during one or more sessions. This, however, has also been reported by people using other psychedelics drugs or various breathing and meditation techniques, and always involves heavy psychological work.
Ayahuasca is not a miracle cure but it does bring unconscious and seemingly other-worldly processes to surface, which enables the user to work with it while the effects last.
Enigma will always stress the importance of respecting the religious aspect of the ceremony as well. The ritual and its different aspects (such as the “ícaros” or sacred chants sang by the shaman) are not just accessories, but part of the healing “power” that Ayahuasca provides. Many travelers unfortunately don’t have the proper information, are not well-prepared for the ceremony, and unaware of the consequences it might have.
More recently, environmental groups have also gotten involved as the ayahuasca plant is getting harder to find, and there are fears of deforestation. Meanwhile, different indigenous communities have differing views on the trade – some believe the ceremony is too sacred to share with Westerners, while others embrace the opportunity to share their spiritual practice with foreigners, even though same people don’t understand its importance.
We at Enigma can help you connect with a Shaman or ayahuasca master but would always recommend to do the proper research about the ceremony in advance and are here to answer any questions you may have. If you have any health problems or need to stop taking any medication prior to your Ayahuasca experience, please always consult with your doctor first. We will always suggest you to prepare yourself for it; physically, mentally, and spiritually.