What is Ayahuasca Ceremony? (ayahuasca retreats)

What is Ayahuasca Ceremony? (ayahuasca retreats)

An Ayahuasca Ceremony is ritual where a group of people drink an indigenous Psychedelic Tea originally from the Amazon Basin in order to have personal insights about themselves and perhaps heal from psychological trauma.

In your first Ayahuasca Ceremony you can expect to feel nervous but if you follow the advice in this article you have nothing to fear. Once you are in your first ceremony you can expect,

  • To challenge yourself.
  • To focus your mind on your intentions after you have drunk in order to focus your experiences.
  • To go through the necessary purging in order to progress to the next stage of healing and introspection.
  • To receive healing from past trauma and negative mental health patterns (anxiety, PTSD and others) or receive spiritual advancement.
  • Ceremonies can take between 4 and 6 hours and often involve multiple participants however some Ayahuasca retreats will attempt to limit these to no more than 12.

In this article I’ll walk you through the preparation for ceremonies (so you can be more confident), the day of ceremony leading up to drinking as well as in the ceremonies themselves and immediately afterward. While peoples ceremonies differ there is a high level pattern to many of them which I discuss in this article.

What is the point of Ayahuasca (plant medicine)?

Ayahuasca is a plant based psychedelic tea popular for thousands of years in the South America – especially the Amazon region of which its ingredients are from. Two plants, the Ayahuasca Vine and (usually) the Chacruna plant, are boiled over several hours to concoct the tea. It is then drunk in a ceremonial settings to induce hallucinations for various reasons. Westerners often are interested in taking Ayahuasca for spiritual development or trauma release/healing but it can be used for various things.

Pre-drinking your first cup of Ayahuasca – Get confident:

If you can tick off these things before you get to any ceremonies you are well prepared and can rest easier in the ceremony itself knowing you have dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s.

Medical health screening:

Any shaman (who is a healer and curator of the ceremonies themselves) or retreat you drink with should be asking you medical based questions to see if you are fit to even have an Ayahuasca experience without health complications. A quick list of medical issues to understand in relation to Ayahuasca is,

  • Have you any serious illness or condition of any kind but especially heart issues? Speak to your shamans about this and/or do your own research.
  • Are you taking any medications either frequently or infrequently? Some of these are definite no-no’s to have in your system while drinking Ayahuasca and some are not so serious but should aim to be avoided. Some examples of medications to definitely avoid (but not a full list) are some medications for Malaria, medications for depression/anxiety, altitude sickness and others. You should aim to stop taking them in time to have them out of your system by the time you drink (can take up to 6 weeks depending on the medication).
  • I wrote more about the risks of Ayahuasca where I go deep into why (medically speaking) certain medications and foods are dangerous combined with Ayahuasca).

Psychological Screening (mental health):

Ayahuasca is considered dangerous for those who currently already have problems with reality or in other words people with a personal or family history of psychosis. Bi-Polar is also considered to be a dangerous mix with Ayahuasca. The danger is that these may trigger a psychotic break or a worsening of the above mental health concerns when combined with Ayahuasca. Your shaman or retreat should be asking you about this before accepting your booking or psychologically screening in other words.


Meditation is in some ways doing something similar to a healing Ayahuasca experience in that it is a much less intense version of ego dissolution and hence spiritual connection. They pair very well together, in fact meditation can be used throughout your Ayahuasca journey.

Leading up to your retreat, a meditation practice can help you to get more deep than you otherwise would into Ego Dissolution (aka Ego Death). Meditation can take a while to get anywhere with so I would recommend 1-2 months or (mostly daily) practice pre Ayahuasca to get a good introduction.

Meditation can also help you zero in on what intentions may be appropriate for you but is also cleansing in its own right so don’t consider it only appropriate in the lead up to your ceremonies. Actually your Ayahuasca experiences will possibly make meditation much easier for you than before so to continue on may not be so difficult.


Having an intention for your ceremony(s) will help you to guide them and help to you keep on track within the ceremony itself. An intention could be anything you want help with or want to work on but if in doubt you can simply use ‘show me what I need to know – I’m open and want your help’ (‘your’ being Mother Ayahuasca).

Choosing an Ayahuasca retreat:

TIP: We put together a list of the best retreats from around the world which are using good practices to help you choose.

Make sure you do your research and find an experienced and skillful shaman. The shaman you drink with should have approximately 10 years of experience and have safety precautions in place (like the medical and psychological screenings as above).

If you are female you should also think about what precautions are available to stop any potential abuse. Some ideas may be – finding a female shaman, female only retreats or always having someone with you whenever you are alone with a male shaman. There are reports and confirmed cases of abuse of western women by shaman so do take this seriously.

Dieta in preparation for Ayahuasca ceremony:

Any time you are drinking Ayahuasca you should undergo a Dieta which consists of a food/drink diet but also a cleansing energetic diet. You can sum up the Ayahuasca diet by more or less by following an Alkaline Diet as it is very similar. You can read Ayahuasca Diet recipes here and a list of do’s and don’ts.

An energetic diet is to remove some influences which either give ‘bad vibes’ or remove focus away from yourself. For example, sex is an example of the later and intense/harsh music an example of the former.

Follow these for at least 3 days but preferably 2-4 weeks before drinking.

Day of the ceremony itself:

What to eat on Ayahuasca? Stop eating several hours before your ceremony start time:

You most likely going to purge (throwing up and/or ‘going no. 2’) in the ceremony so skipping lunch or having a light lunch is a good idea to reduce purging to its minimal. Ayahuasca is often drunk in the evening so lunch makes sense to miss. In my experience it’s also good to reduce water intake at the same time.

NB: If you do the Dieta properly then you will reduce purging in ceremony as it would have also cleaned out your system of junk food, alcohol and medication etc.

Things that are useful in a ceremony:

Here is some information you may have over looked in all the detail of Ayahuasca preparation.

  • Torch for ceremony as it may be int he dark.
  • Your retreat would normally give you a bucket, blanket, mattress and some toilet paper to make you comfortable during ceremony and the purging to come.
  • Mosquito repellent (natural).
  • Lighter (to light mapachos cigarettes (wild tobacco) which you may ceremonially smoke in the ceremony).

Activities to get ready for the ceremony itself:

In the few hours before ceremony I would try to tire myself out a little with a walk of 30 minutes or so, a yoga session and finally a meditation to quiet my mind and focus on what intentions I have decided to work on. The exercise will help tire out your mind as well as well as give you something to do.

The ceremony itself – gulp!!

Ayahuasca ceremonies quite often will follow a general process or set of stages.

The ceremonial start – shaman gotta shaman!

The shaman will often get to the space where the ceremony will be held earlier than you and will have energetically cleared it. This is part of their role and this helps protect you spiritually and energetically and provide a safe space to do the ‘work’ or healing or an Ayahuasca ceremony.

Once everyone has arrived a shaman will call you individually to him in order to drink. He will call you up and then serve you a cup or Ayahuasca.

Drinking the ‘vile’ brew:

It doesn’t taste nice. Plant medicine stereotypically doesn’t! Don’t smell it, don’t look at it, and don’t try to drink it slowly or sip it. Pretend you are going to ‘skull’ a glass of water and do something similar. Go slow and steady but don’t stop. Just drink ’til done. It will be about 250ml or so of thick brown coffee looking stuff in my experience.

The first 15 – 120 minutes:

At this stage you can return to your mattress in the room and wait for everyone else to finish drinking their cup. Once on your mat sit upright (preferably) in a meditative style position. Then just wait and meditate.

The shaman will start to sing (they sing Icaros to conjure energy and get things rolling with Ayahuasca) at some point to build the energy in the room which will bring on the onset of the sensations of the brew within you. You may start to trip quite quickly in 15-20 minutes or so or it may take a while.

Note: The first time I drank I couldn’t quite get into the head space and needed another cup. At a point in the ceremony where there was not much singing /chanting from the shaman I stood up and asked for another. You could do the same.

While sitting and meditating focus on your intentions and let these guide you in your ceremony. This is important.

La Purga (get ready to hurl):

At some point you will feel the need to throw up. This is not abnormal. It’s meant to go like this. While it is a spiritual experience your body processes trauma physically as well. Purging is a physical release of spiritual and emotional trauma held in the body and is a great thing. This is the healing you came for.

If you have followed the dieta for a good period of time and refrained from food for several hours before ceremony this will only be a few table spoons and no big deal.

From here you will usually enter into some hallucinations based on your intentions. Focus on your intentions at this point and enjoy the ride. Be open to things even if they are scary. Its purposeful not random – she has a plan for you in ceremony in terms of what she wants you to see.

What do you see on Ayahuasca? Insights/learnings/intention fulfillment:

Your hallucinations or visions at this point are related to either your intentions or the things which Ayahuasca has chosen to show you so that you can become more spiritually aligned. Just sit back and enjoy the ride and afterward write down what happened so as you can remember it.

Bad trip potential:

Some Ayahuasca participants have bad trips. It happens. One of the reasons I have included the first part of this article is so as to lower the risk of a bad ayahuasca trip for reasons of ill-preparedness or drinking when you probably shouldn’t have.

If you have followed this advice and have ruled out the things which can allow you to put your health at risk then you don’t have much to worry about.

Your only slight worry might be if Mother Ayahuasca chooses to show you something that is emotionally painful or difficult to experience. Sometimes participants need to go through these via visions in order to heal or develop spiritually. Assuming you’ve prepared well you only have to deal with this for a few hours and then you can look forward to the fruits of all the effort you’ve put in. If you are experiencing this then try to look for the lesson and know that she is doing this for your own, eventual, good.

Post ceremony highs and/or lows:

Ayahuasca ceremonies can be 4-6 hours long depending on how many people are in there. Afterward you might feel tired or you might feel energized. If I were you I would either hang out and talk about the experiences for a time with others of the ceremony or go and quietly write about the experiences in your bed before going to sleep.

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