SHAMANIC TRADITIONS

Ayahuasca Diet vs Master Plant Dieta

Elio Geusa

17 July 2017

In recent times, Ayahuasca and the sacred healing traditions of the Amazon have received much attention from the West. Publications like The Guardian and The New York Times have contributed to the popularisation of Ayahuasca by regularly featuring before and after anecdotes from celebrities championing the transcendental and profound life altering effects of journeying with the brew.

While it may be considered positive that the Amazon’s ancient healing traditions are now accessible to a much wider community of people in need of deep healing, such popularisation has also contributed to the corruption and omission of many of the sacred rituals necessary for individuals to have a safe, authentic and positive healing experience.

With the surge of Western tourists journeying to the heart of the Amazon seeking transformation, necessary precautions have had to be made by many facilitators to reduce the risk of harm. One such modification is the introduction of the ‘Ayahuasca diet’ to replace the traditional Master Plant dieta.

Papa Gilberto, Pahoyan.

Photograph by  Henry Vit

What is an ‘Ayahuasca diet’ and why has it become a standard precaution yielded by many sacred plant medicine facilitators?

An ‘Ayahuasca diet’ quite simply is a new diet that has emerged alongside what can be regarded as the sacred plant medicine tourist industry. It should not be confused with the traditional Master Plant dieta that is a foundational element in the science of Amazonian plant medicine.

Ayahuasca is an Monomaise Oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). Which essentially means that in its naturally occurring state, it blocks the absorption of norepinephrine in the gut and bloodstream. People experiencing depression are often prescribed synthetic MAOI’s in the form of Fluoxetine (Prozac) and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) to boost the presence of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in the bloodstream. These mood enhancing chemicals have been shown in some research to be generally deficient in people experiencing depression.

Monomaise Oxidase plays a role in preventing norepinephrine from reaching dangerous levels in the body. If norepinephrine gets too high, it can cause constriction of the blood vessels, severe hypertension and in rare cases, stroke or heart failure.

There are some foods which doctors advise people on SSRI’s and anti-depressant medication to steer clear of because they contain high levels of Tyramine (an amino acid) which stimulates the release of norepinephrine in the bloodstream. Therefore, if Ayahuasca is taken alongside foods that contain Tyramine and stimulate the release of norepinephrine in the blood, the danger is that someone will experience severe hypertension placing them at a much greater risk of experiencing a stroke or heart failure.

“In 2012, Dr David Flockhart, from the Indiana School of Medicine published a list of foods to be avoided when one is prescribed SSRI’s or any MAOI. These foods contain Tyramine in large quantities, the amino acid mentioned above, that supports the release of norepinephrine.”

Flockhart advised people to avoid:

  • Spoiled or improperly stored meat, fish, poultry and animal liver

  • Air dried or fermented meat, like prosciutto, salami or peperoni

  • Pickled herring

  • Aged cheeses, such as cheddar and blue cheese

  • Broad beans

  • Soy products

  • Sauerkraut

  • Tap beer

  • Marmite (Vegemite)

And so, the ‘Ayahuasca diet’ that has developed and is now offered by many facilitators in place of the traditional Master Plant dieta, mirrors the recommendations made by Dr Flockhart. Its purpose is to keep people safe and reduce the risk of someone experiencing a hypertensive crisis while participating in an Ayahuasca ceremony.

Giving thanks to the Master Plant Aya Huma tree.

Photograph by   Henri Vit

What a Master Plant Dieta looks like in practice

Unlike the more recent, ‘Ayahuasca diet,’ a traditional Master Plant dieta has several ritualistic components.

Firstly, a Master Plant dieta will be prescribed to an individual by a highly-experienced curandero based on any of the factors outlined above. That is, the individual naturally feels a strong connection with a Master Plant; they receive a powerful vision or dream that manifests as an invitation to complete a dieta with it, or the curandero overseeing the students healing may intuit that a Master Plant is perfectly suited to the needs of their student, based on their own dieta experience.

The curandero will then conduct what is called an ‘opening’ of the dieta. This is an official announcement that is made by the curandero at the beginning of an Ayahuasca ceremony. The opening usually takes the form of icaros or chanting of a special ‘Arkana’ that announces to the group present that one’s commitment to their dieta is about to begin. This opening ritual is important as it publicly acknowledges the significance of the commitment made by the dietero(a) and helps to not only strengthen their own determination to succeed in their immanent fast, but also to shield the dietero(a) from any negative energies or unwanted interference from spirits that may occur during its course. This ceremony also supports the personal relationship between the Master Plant and the individual to form.

Following the Ayahuasca ceremony and opening of the dieta, the individual will ingest special preparations of their Master Plant accompanied by a fast. The length and terms of the fast are set by the plant spirit, however the curandero may attempt to bargain with the plant spirit to reduce or change elements of the plants’ prescription depending on what they feel is best for their student.

Some restrictions which generally apply to all Master Plant dietas include:

  • Limited use of toothpaste, deodorant, insect repellent, soap and other personal care products unless they are made with 100% natural ingredients and are free of any scent or perfume

  • Abstinence from sex and masturbation

  • Restriction of certain foods and drink such as pork, oil, salt, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, red meat, sugar and certain fruits such as papaya, watermelon and mango.

The dietero(a) will also be invited to spend quiet, often solitary time in reflection as they begin to connect with their Master Plant spirit.

The purpose of the Master Plant dieta is for the dietero(a) to form a lifelong relationship with the indwelling plant spirit. Like any personal relationship one has with another person, the quality of the relationship will be determined by the energy one gives to the connection. Sincere, authentic attention given to the plant throughout their fast will enable the dietero(a) to unlock guidance, information and energy stored within the plant and to seek important answers that will aid them in their healing journey. Abstaining from certain foods and activities throughout the period of the dieta is a powerful expression of dedication and commitment. The willingness of the student to sacrifice aesthetic and visceral pleasures for the period of the fast demonstrates to the plant spirit that they are determined to heal and are ready to receive guidance, strength, protection and the endowment of special abilities from the plant spirit.

After one has fulfilled the terms set out by the curandero for the Master Plant dieta, a ‘closing’ ceremony will be conducted which signals the end of the fast and celebrates the dedication and determination displayed by the dietero(a).

This ceremony usually occurs alongside the evening Ayahuasca ceremony and serves as an invitation to the dietero (a) to express how they plan to continue to cultivate a relationship with their Master Plant (or spiritual ally) when they return home.

Master Plant dieta’s also play a fundamental role in supporting the dietero(a) to integrate and sustain the healing they receive through sacred plant medicines, including Ayahuasca.

While the recent advent of the ‘Ayahuasca diet’ is a positive measure to ensure that the safety of those enticed by the healing potentiality of the sacred healing traditions of the Amazon, it is not sufficient to facilitate deep healing. The Master Plant dieta has long been a fundamental, foundational element in the sacred healing traditions of Amazonia and needs to be upheld if the healing potentiality of Ayahusaca and other plant medicines is to be realised by students and curanderos alike.

References:

 

Flockhart, David  “Dietary Restrictions and Drug Interactions with Monoamine oxidase Inhibitors: An Update.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 73. (2012): 17-24

Hill, David. “Peru’s Ayahuasca Industry Booms as Westerners search for Alternative Healing.” The Guardian UK. 7th June 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/jun/07/peru-ayahuasca-drink-boom-amazon-spirituality-healing

Morris, Bob. “Ayahuasca: A Strong Cup of Tea.” The New York Times.13th June 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/15/fashion/ayahuasca-a-strong-cup-of-tea.html

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