Lola Medicine Keeper, Shamanic Medicine Woman
When preparing for an Ayahuasca Retreat in Central or South America, a specific, restrictive diet (also known as a dieta) is usually strongly suggested.
But, is this diet really necessary? And if so, why does it matter? A google search will yield hundreds of differing opinions, from a requirement to follow the dieta guidelines for 14 days prior to your first ceremony, to people’s suggestions that the dieta is an outdated practice and isn’t really important to the medicine work at all.
What follows is yet another opinion, but hopefully you’ll find this to be a more well-rounded summary of why the dieta DOES still matter in this day and age… perhaps even more so because of our modern (Western) lifestyle.
Oatmeal with berries and bee pollen.
Smoothie with berries, peaches, and walnuts.
Besides, dieta foods don’t have to be flavorless.
Just look at the food above, prepared for the early portion of our 2-week dieta as we readied for our 2016 Shamanic Play retreat in Peru.
First off, why is the dieta so strongly recommended?
1) The Ayahuasca Diet helps protect your health.
Ayahuasca tea is a powerful combination of medicine plants. There are more than 200 documented recipes, but most include the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, along with leaves of the chacruna (Psychotria viridis) or chagropanga (Diplopterys cabrerana) plants. The chacruna/chagropanga contains the entheogenic DMT molecule (N-Dimethyltryptamine), and the Aya vine inhibits the body from instantly metabolizing it and rendering moot the visionary qualities of this medicine. The brewed medicine thus acts as an MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor), albeit a temporary one.
MAOIs can also inhibit metabolizing other substances, particularly Tyramine and Tyrosine – which can build up in the body for up to three days and has the potential to create a toxic reaction (heart palpitations, headaches, changes in blood pressure) during Aya medicine work. So, foods, supplements, and other substances which contain significant amounts of L-Tyrosine and Tyramine are contraindicated for Ayahuasca and are foods you want to avoid, particularly for the final 3-5 days before your ceremony.
Foods that contain high amounts of Tyramine include non-alcoholic beers, dairy products, some dietary protein supplements, turkey, any fish that has been smoked, pickled, fermented or isn’t FRESH, shrimp paste, fermented tofu, tempeh, miso, natto, sauerkraut/kimchi, ginseng, bouillon cubes, brewers yeast, yeast extracts, (soups that contain miso (fermented soy) or any type of meat extract (bouillon), banana peels (I know this one is hard to resist – ha!).
2) You become all too aware of your vices.
As you eliminate your usual go-tos for comfort, solace, and satiation (especially sugars, fats, salts, caffeine, alcohol, and recreational drugs), you become increasingly aware of your actual feelings. It can be quite mentally and emotionally uncomfortable as you gain insight into all the ways you avoid discomfort with foods and other substances. Yet, it’s helpful to become aware of and release these more surface-level patterns before entering into ceremony, so that deeper healing work can occur.
3) Your sacrifices are offerings to Spirit.
The word sacrifice has a bad rep… It feels heavy and full of obligation. However, the root of “sacrifice” is sacer, meaning “holy” in Latin. By going without some of your pleasures, you are creating a sacred intention. This isn’t about suffering in the name of God, Spirit, or the Divine… rather – when we offer Spirit something we want, it has more meaning than if we were to “give up” something that we don’t really care about.
This reasoning may be more esoteric sounding in our modern-day world, but the way we once lived was in deep communion with the Sacred. We remained humble and at an even level with all other beings, rather than perceiving ourselves as the best of the best (and therefore above everyone else). Participating in the dieta helps us recreate being in “right relationship” with our world… it humbles us, as no one else in nature expects instant gratification quite like we (currently) do.
4) Dieta helps us return to our sovereign power.
One of the more “controversial” items on the list of ayahuasca diet no-nos is sexual activity. The way you handle this is up to you personally, of course – and each shaman/healing center has their own specifics for timing on this one… Let me explain the reasoning behind this: Sexual energy is our strongest expression of life-force. Cross-culturally, there have been longstanding practices to cultivate and harness this energy, whether it be through tantra, kundalini yoga, breathwork, sexual alchemy, sexmagik, etc.
When we reach the point of orgasm (whether alone or with a partner), this life force explodes outward from our bodies, sending the energy either into our partner(s), or out into the ethers. No matter how good it feels, this can be a way of depleting ourselves. Abstaining from sexual activity (either alone or with a partner) gives us a chance to build up a reserve of this power, which helps us stay focused on our intentions and mentally/physically/emotionally powerful during the medicine work.
Another reason to abstain is that, when you are having partnered sex (or even kissing), the energies of you and your partner can’t help but become intertwined. In medicine work, it’s extremely important to keep your energies as clear as possible… So, unless your intention for healing has something to do with your current relationship, it’s best to go without sex for at least a few days prior to ceremony. It’s a sacrifice (ahem, see #3 above), but it’s not forever… You’ll be back to sexytime in no time.
5) An Ayahuasca Diet helps cleanse our digestive system.
Ayahuasca is notoriously purgative… La purga (the purge) is one of Her names in the jungle. These purges happen on many levels (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, karmic, etc.). We westerners tend to dislike the sensation of nausea and vomiting, but not all cultures feel that way. In many tribal traditions, emetics (purgatives) are part of a normal dietary and spiritual routine to help keep all systems go. So La purga is nothing to fear. No guarantees that if you hold a “perfect” dieta – as if there was such a thing – you won’t still purge…. BUT there is more of a chance for “deeper” cleansing to happen in ceremony if Madre Ayahuasca doesn’t first have to spend time and energy clearing out your pipes.
Plus, you’ll likely notice a distinctly reduced amount of gas, bloating, digestive discomfort, etc. over the course of your dieta. BONUS!
6) Dieta helps both you and Spirit to take your medicine work seriously.
Sticking to a restrictive regime for any amount of time is challenging for most of us. Our inner rebel gets activated and we will probably want to throw in the towel (AKA CHEAT) at some point. When we decide instead to hold fast to our commitment, it adds to our self-esteem (overriding any stories of “I can’t commit to anything”). It also sends a message out to the Plant Spirits that we aren’t just in this for fun or to try and get some sort of insight without also offering something in return. Medicine work is about relationship. If we only bring our curiosity and our physical selves, we aren’t contributing all that much to the process. Therefore, it’s presumptive and entitled to expect a massive expansion of consciousness in return. If you want to take shamanic healing work seriously, or perhaps become a healer or shaman yourself, following the dieta guidelines demonstrates devotion and strength needed for these extremely challenging lines of work.
Ayahuasca Brewing in the Amazon Rainforest
Photograph cc by Paul Hessell
Confirmation bias leads us to find supporting evidence for just about every desire/opinion.
My hope is that this article helps you feel more confident in your decision to follow the Ayahuasca Diet, and perhaps to demonstrate that there are MANY reasons to follow it, beyond following the instructions of your Shaman or to earn a self-proclaimed badge of austerity.
Every Shaman and healing center will have their own specific dieta recommendations, based on their healing process and the medicines they make.
The Ayahuasca healing center we recommend and partner with for our retreats is Rainforest Healing Center, about 45km South of Iquitos, Peru.
May your medicine journeys bring you clarity and connection.
May you receive exactly what you need most. (You will.)
May you find healing, blessings, and wholeness upon your re-entry.
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