Monday, March 20, 2017

Preparing for an Ayahuasca Retreat, Part 2: The Diet

I spent twelve days in the Amazon rainforest attending an Ayahuasca retreat where we drank the brew on seven nights. It was both the most difficult and the most therapeutic experience of my life. In part 1 of this blog series I discussed some preliminary considerations. Here in part 2 I'll be discussing the preparatory diet, which helps minimize the chance of adverse reactions, and which helps prepare your innards for the potentially grueling task of drinking Ayahuasca. (The video version of this post can be found here.)

What it involves
The particulars of the diet slightly vary depending on who you ask, but in general participants avoid alcohol, caffeine, sugar, salt, pepper, spices, red meat, pork, dairy, carbonated beverages, medications, and a long list of other things, including some seemingly innocent ones (for example, spinach). Retreats usually provide participants with a detailed list of exactly what to avoid and for how long. Participants usually start the diet a week or so before the retreat and then continue until a week or so after the last Ayahuasca ceremony.

Why it's important
The Ayahuasca brew contains a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), which poses health risks when combined with certain foods. For example, Ayahuasca combined with tryamine-containing foods such as cheese, chocolate, sauerkraut, certain nuts, etc., can cause hypertension and intracranial hemorrhaging. Ayahuasca can even be fatal when combined with certain medications like Prozac or other anti-depressants that contain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These anti-depressants can take up to three weeks to fully leave the body and therefore must be discontinued well in advance of drinking Ayahuasca. (Further reading on this topic is available from MAPS and Wikipedia.)

Banisteriopsis caapi, AKA
Ayahuasca: "The vine of the soul"
I recommend taking the diet seriously not just to mitigate potential health risks, but also because Ayahuasca can wreak havoc on the digestive system. Ayahuasca acts as a purgative, ridding the body of everything that it can via one orifice or another. This purging process will probably be extra difficult if your guts are coated with a thick layer of oily residue from fast food and whatnot. Even though I followed the diet for about two weeks beforehand, Ayahuasca still rocked my innards with painful intestinal cramping followed by heinous diarrhea, so I shudder to think what would've happened if my digestive system were already in shambles to begin with.

Other restrictions and considerations
In addition to restricting various foods and drinks and medications, the diet typically also requires abstaining from all sexual activity, including masturbation. However, depending on your specific circumstances, this can backfire.

Before I decided to try Ayahuasca, there was a time in recent years when I willfully abstained from all sexual release for approximately one month. I had heard that doing so resulted in physical and mental benefits such as increased energy, increased creativity, increased clarity of mind, and so forth. None of those purported benefits came to fruition in my case, and I felt only one strong effect: constantly being preoccupied with sexual thoughts.

As such, a few years later when I booked the Ayahuasca retreat, I was highly skeptical of the retreat's claim that sexual abstinence would benefit me while drinking Ayahuasca. Nonetheless, I reluctantly followed their rules, under the assumption that thousands of years of shamanic tradition probably produced more wisdom than my twenty-something years of masturbating. So for the two weeks leading up to the retreat I abstained from sexual release, and unsurprisingly about half of my Ayahuasca visions turned out to be nothing more than raunchy, bizarre, psychedelic pornography — not quite the reason I had ventured all the way to the Amazon.

Abstinence might benefit some people, but in my case it backfired and heavily detracted from my experience. The pornographic visions, though titillating and engrossing, felt meaningless and offered next to nothing as far as introspection or self-improvement. If you think that you might run into a similar issue, then I recommend you disregard the abstinence rule and take care of business in advance. Unless of course you're specifically hoping to experience psychedelic pornography. Then by all means, enjoy the show...but you may want to reevaluate your reasons for drinking Ayahuasca.

Continue on to part 3, where I discuss dosages and the physical effects of Ayahuasca.

If you're interested in reading an in-depth description of my entire Ayahuasca experience, check out my full-length book Seven Nights with Ayahuasca: A graphic account of heaven and hell, and the bizarre infinity in between, available from Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other retailers.

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