May 01, 2012

What is Ayahuasca? Your questions answered.

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What is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca is a psychotropic medicine originally used by indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforests of South America.  It is taken as a drink prepared by a traditional healer, called a Shaman.  Preparation involves boiling leaves from the Ayahuasca vine together with leaves from the Chacruna plant as well as the bark of various native trees.  Ayahuasca should only be taken under the guidance of an experienced Shaman who can help an individual better understand their visions.
While Ayahuasca has been used by natives to the Amazon for more than 5,000 years, only in recent years has it gained the attention of modern doctors, psychologists, scientists, philosophers, and religious and spiritual leaders.  It is said to have the ability to cure many ailments, including Parkinson’s disease, HIV, addictions, cancer, anxiety, depression.  Whether looking for an alternative to modern medicine, seeking answers to life’s questions, or wanting nothing more than the cultural adventure, many travelers journey to Tambopata to participate in a traditional Ayahuasca ceremony.


What is an Ayahuasca ceremony?
An Ayahuasca ceremony is led by a Shaman and often takes place in a Maloka, which is a hut or a special place dedicated to the ritual.  It takes place at night and can last anywhere from six to eight hours. Participants in the ceremony form a circle by sitting or laying on the floor on cushions or mats.  Each person is given a container to use in the event that the medicine’s effects on the body induce vomiting.  The atmosphere will be calm and the room will be dark or very faintly lit with candles. 
 The ceremony is sometimes opened by clearing the room of bad energy and evil spirits, this is done through carrying out a short ritual using leaves from the Tobacco plant, another master plant of the Amazon.  Following this, each individual, one by one, is given the opportunity to drink Ayahuasca.  The Shaman also takes the drink, this helps him understand and interpret each persons’ visions.  Participants are encouraged to remain silent and relaxed while the Shaman chants.  As the infusion begins to take effect, the Shaman may approach individuals to discuss their visions and offer comfort or encouragement.  At the end of the evening, as the effects wear off, the ceremony is closed by lighting more candles and allowing participants to discuss their experiences with each other. 

How do I prepare for an Ayahuasca ceremony?
For three days prior and three days after, those who wish to take part in an Ayahuasca ceremony should abstain from alcohol, acidic foods (such as citrus), spicy foods, red meat (especially pork), papaya fruit (very common in the Amazon), and sexual activity. It is also important to prepare mentally for the ceremony, an Ayahuasca ceremony should be entered into with an open mind and positive attitude.

What does it taste like?
In general, Ayahuasca is not palatable, it is thick, gritty and bitter, with a mud-like consistency. The infusion is not drunk for it’s flavor as the taste alone can elicit a gag-reflex.  Following the medicine with a glass of water will help take away the unpleasantness of the drink.

Will I vomit?
Ayahuasca is a purgative medicine, and while everyone reacts differently, vomiting is common. The Shamans believe this to be a means of expelling bad things inside of us, and is not something to be afraid of.  In most Ayahuasca ceremonies, participants are provided with a vessel into which they can purge if necessary. 

What will I see and experience when I take Ayahuasca?
Each person who takes Ayahuasca responds differently.  For some, it can be a strictly visual experience, allowing them to see colors and shapes more brilliantly or see things that do not exist in the physical world.  Others have described the experience as emotional sometimes causing them to cry.  Shamans view crying as a form of positive emotional release.  Many say that Ayahuasca helps them to better understand themselves or see certain situations in their life more clearly.  They enter the ceremony with questions which the plant helps them answer.  It has been said that Ayahuasca allows you to see into your past, present and future.  While this may be true, it is important to remember that the visions you see may not be true representations of the future, but instead might represent your hopes or fears.
For some individuals, an Ayahuasca ceremony can be a very dark experience, giving them the perception of passing into the underworld from which only the Shaman can bring them back. Some have even described it as an exorcism of the demons inside themselves. 
 It is important to keep in mind that Ayahuasca is a curative plant, therefore, visions or feelings that you experience while on it are meant to help you to heal.  Remember that is it important to take Ayahuasca in a safe place with an experienced Shaman who can support you and help you better understand your experience. 

What will I feel like the day after?
The day after drinking Ayahusaca, you will feel tired from having stayed up late the night before. Many people describe feeling peaceful and reflective following an Ayahuasca ceremony.

If you are interested in having your own Ayahuasca experience, check out our wellness and holistic tours.

For further questions or to share your experience, please comment on this blog.

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