A Guide to Ayahuasca - by Skye Forrester

Yag, Vine of the Soul, The Tea, La Purga, La Medicina; thinking of experiencing Ayahuasca? Here's what you need to know. We speak to experienced Shamanic Space Holders, Skye and Helm Indira, for a practical guide to this ancient brew.

ANCIENT ROOTS

Ayahuasca (pronounced 'iowaska') the plant, is so deep-rooted in indigenous Amazonian philosophy and mythology, there's no disputing its great antiquity. The 'Vine of the Soul' has built a reputation as a life-changing brew, a mythical brain-busting elixir guaranteed to launch you into the deepest corners of the cosmic garden and return you back to earth a brand-new, enlightened citizen of the universe.

Can this psychedelic tea from the Amazon really be the answer? You are the sum total of your experiences. Everything you have seen, touched, taken, lived, has contributed to the grand and complex design that makes up who you are today. And it's this recipe that will guide an experience with this ancient medicine. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for  Ayahuasca healing ' but guidance in the form of preparation diets; dosage, and post ceremony integration can make the difference between an integrative or disintegrative journey. Ultimately though, each will follow their own unique path. As Skye says 'Life is the ceremony; and it is up to us to meet it in whatever form it chooses to take.'

BASIC BREW

Ayahuasca is an Amazonian plant mixture capable of inducing altered states of consciousness. The foul-tasting brew, typically ingested in liquid form, is made of two main ingredients; the Ayahuasca vine (called Banisteriopsis caapi) and the bark or leaves from one of several DMT (dimethyltryptamine) containing plants like Chucruna, Acacia, Chaliponga or Mimosa. It's the vine itself that's considered the most important part of the medicine. Skye says 'My teachers explained that the vine holds the wisdom and the chucruna brings the light which illuminates this wisdom within the mind.'

The brew is definitely not for everyone, Skye stresses. 'Ayahuasca has an excellent safety profile, even when compared to many western pharmaceutical drugs available over the counter; but certain conditions strongly contraindicate with the medicine.' Though this list is not exhaustive, anyone suffering from: cardiovascular illnesses, liver and kidney conditions, psychosis, bipolar, schizophrenia or other kind of mental illness (not including depression or anxiety) and anyone on anti-depressant medication should steer clear. Qualified facilitators are required to have a structured vetting and briefing process. It's also wise to self research and ask your chosen guide plenty of questions before embarking on an Ayahuasca journey. 

WORD TO THE WISE

As with any industry, caution is required when choosing your shaman or medicine worker. 'In the Amazon, some work with the plants to become doctors and heal people, and others work with the plants to become 'black magic' practitioners and cause harm', says Skye. 'In my experience the plants are non-specific 'amplifiers' or 'potentiators' and that's why it's important to know why you are coming to the medicine and who you are drinking with.' Helm adds, 'and just serving Ayahuasca does not make you enlightened. In fact, it can do the opposite if a person really wants to avoid themself. Shamans are not gurus. Choose someone you feel is compassionate, aware and sincere. If they channel spirits and energy too, then that's even better.' 

THE PLANT'S PURPOSE

Recently there's been a noticeable surge of interest in Ayahuasca globally. Many influential individuals, including scientists, doctors, artists, CEO's, musicians and writers, are looking to this magical vine to unlock the secrets of the cosmos. There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence in support of Ayahuasca's ability to heal a wide range of diseases and conditions. Recent scientific studies, too, have shown the vine's effectiveness in treating recurrent depression and addiction.

The plant has an incredible reputation, and while Skye has no doubt of the divine vine's effectiveness, she strongly emphasises, 'I can't stress this enough; this is not a magic bullet. Though not unheard of, it is rare to find those who have been 'fixed, healed or enlightened' in one shot. What matters most is the prayer in one's heart, your sincere longing for truth, growth or home. Ultimately it is this prayer that is responsible for healing, the unfoldment of the self and the long-term integration of plant medicine experiences'.

Traditionally, the shaman would drink the Ayahuasca on behalf of his 'patient', then 'spiritually diagnose' him or her. Prescriptions range from specialised diets, plant baths, herbal remedies or behavioural prohibitions or recommendations. 'Only if they felt it was necessary would the shaman instruct you to drink the mixture yourself,' Skye explains. In western culture we want to take our healing into our own hands, whereas in most jungle traditions the position of a shaman is likened to a priest; where the shaman acts as a spiritual conduit and trusted confidant.

WHOLISTIC PREPARATION

Dedicated preparation is necessary before an Ayahuasca ceremony. This includes a diet without stimulants, and preparing your body for an internal make-over. Fermented foods, spices, alcohol, cigarettes, coffee and meat can have negative consequences for your body when taking Ayahuasca. Instructions vary from shaman to shaman and Skye mentions that 'some shamans don't recommend a diet at all. This is not a shaman I would trust to drink with, though.'

Skye and Helm recommend an exclusion diet up to a month beforehand. 'The cleaner your body is, the less you have to purge. Also, when taking heavy foods and stimulants, like coffee, sugar, cigarettes and other toxins, your sensitivity to the medicine is reduced.'

There's more to the diet than simply cleansing your body. 'Preparatory practices like meditation, can help us strengthen the prayer or intention we want to carry into our ceremony. These practices undertaken with genuine heartfelt sincerity, helps cultivate a type of 'spiritual will' that can be a potent support during our Ayahuasca experience' Helm says. Conscious movement practices, time in nature, cultivating gratitude, breathwork and actively turning toward your intention every day, is also recommended. 

FRAMEWORK

In this context, your framework is your set of beliefs, your conditioning and the philosophies that allow you to understand the world, process your emotions and integrate your experiences. These beliefs and frameworks go into your experience with ayahuasca, some are helpful and some very unhelpful. It is useful to reflect on your framework before you drink Ayahuasca and not assume you're drinking it with a clean slate. 

SACRED CEREMONY

A typical Ayahuasca ceremony lasts around four hours and a group can range anywhere from 1-40 people. Helm and Skye prefer smaller more intimate groups, or one-on-one work. The Ayahuasca shaman or space holder generally begins with an opening prayer; affirming protection for the ceremony, calling in the right spirit energy for everyone's purpose and healing in the ceremony.

Participants lay together in the ceremony space and take the ancient brew together while the shamans sing, play musical instruments, and bring in the energy of the medicine. Singing in ceremony is not purely for enjoyment; 'our teachers would say that the point is not to sing but rather, 'to be sung' by the spirits of the medicine plants' says Skye.

Skye explains that all plants have their own songs, and these songs, or 'ikaros', are taught to the healer by the plants directly during 'dietas' ' extended periods of time in isolation, adhering to strict dietary conditions designed to receive the healing energy and teachings of the plants. The ikaros work in combination with Ayahuasca to create energetic patterns and designs within the body to help purge negative energies and fill the body with energetic plant vibrations; they're seeds of transformation, planted for the participant to water, nurture and grow.

During the ceremony, participants may throw up. It is not absolutely necessary to purge, and purging can happen in many ways, not just vomiting. Some people purge through tears, release of obsessive thoughts, yawning, breathing, or shaking, diarrhoea; there are many ways the body can purge. 

TOGETHER AS ONE

'The most underestimated, yet most important, aspect of the experience is integration.', stresses Skye. The ceremony doesn't end when the singing stops. The months or years following make up the most significant, and arguably most difficult, step in the process. 'During the ayahuasca ceremony, many seeds are sown and while some of them may sprout and grow fruit with seemingly little or no effort on your part, like a kind of mystically driven unfoldment - many other seeds need to be carefully nurtured into full bloom' Helm says.

Skye explains 'We've had people on retreats who have astounding, paradigm-shifting experiences and then simply return to their previous existence without any effort to shift or change the patterns that caused them to seek help from ayahuasca in the first place. They rely on what we call the 'Ayahuasca effect' to carry them through.' People can be resistant to putting in the leg-work for change and may secretly hope that ayahuasca will 'fix' everything for them. 

Ayahuasca increases neuro-flexibility so your mind is open to form new pathways or neural connections. It cleanses your physical body and your energy so many people are left feeling lighter and happier, sometimes for months after the experience. 'This is a kind of grace-period where you are relieved from the weight of much your baggage, insecurities, worries and doubts, and you can implement the lessons and teachings from the plant in ceremony.' But integration involves daily commitment to your path or prayer.

'Imagine your brain is a forest' says Skye. 'With Ayahuasca you're able to cut new pathways through the forest; but if you don't choose to walk along these new paths every day, they soon become overgrown again.' The pathways of your old and unhelpful habits have been walked for so long and are so well developed that it's more tempting to walk along a comfortable old trail than use the energy and will to beat in a new path that may be uncomfortable to walk at first. 'It's a choice you have to consciously make every single day'.

Skye and Helm spent four years apprenticing full time under traditional healers from the indigenous Shipibo tribe while also facilitating hundreds of people through intensive healing retreats from 2-10 weeks in length. They have trained in various other modalities that complement the plant medicine path and gathered a wealth of experience and wisdom over this time. For more information, contact them via email: sensenya. [email protected] or log on to www.sensenya.org