The Gunas of Ayurveda and Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca and Ayurveda

Sometime around the 5th grade you probably learned about ‘homonyms’ – those coincidental situations where two words either looked the same, or sounded the same, but actually meant entirely different things; flower and flour comes to mind. And for the uninitiated, you may notice that a similar coincidence seems to exist in the world of alternative medicines. Ayahuasca, a root that grows in the temperate, humid rainforests of Latin America, is known for its powerful psychoactive effects and healing properties. Ayurveda is a principle of total wellbeing, dating back on the Indian subcontinent thousands of years. And while they refer to entirely different things, it does seem like they have some overlap! Let’s explore.

What is Ayurvedic Medicine?

The principles of Ayurveda stem from a theory about our biological make up. Ayruvedans believe that humans are constructed from a certain ratio of elements. When these elements fall out of balance, either naturally or through unhealthy lifestyles, problems begin. Ayurvedic practitioners believe that when our ratios are out of balance, our digestive fire starts to decay. This decay leads to a buildup of toxins, or ‘AMA’ in ayurvedic medicine, in the body. These toxins express themselves in the form of heavy, dense, cool, sticky, oily, viscous, stagnant substances throughout our body. Foul odours emitting from our sweat glands may be a noticeable by-product of these toxins. As this AMA moves through our 7 layers of tissues, or what Ayurveda calls ‘Dhatus’, it eventually leads to depression, lack of motivation, and poor memory.

Ayurvedic medicine seeks to maintain balance and to expel these toxins as they (inevitably) accumulate. Monitoring your diet and cultivating a good digestion system are the most powerful ways to accomplish this.

First Principles of Ayahuasca and Ayurveda

But Ayurvedic practitioners also achieve balance by leveraging what they call the Five (Pancha) Actions (Karma). These five physical remedies have long been thought to bring balance to the body. These Five Actions are:

  • Sweat baths (Vapor Banacan or Snahana)
  • Vomiting (Vomitivo-Purge-Virechana)
  • Massage (Abhyanga)
  • Nasya (elimination of toxins through the nose or Vapor baths), and…
  • Detoxification of the blood (Rakta moksha).
Dietas are a critical part of preparing for an ayahuasca and ayurveda-led transformation
Preparatory diets free from toxins are central to ayahuasca and ayurveda thought.

If you’ve made it this far and have some experience with indigenous plant medicines, these Five Actions probably sound familiar. The Curandero’s of Peru frequently make use of many of these modalities in their own healing practices. Temezcals, or Sweat Lodges, are common fixtures on ayahuasca journeys. The purge, often induced by consuming ayahuasca, is well-known and central to the notion of clearing toxins from the body. Massage, flower baths, sound baths…all of these activities align very closely to the Five Actions.

Ayahuasca and Ayurveda – More Similarities Than Differences

There is a concept within Ayurvedic medicine of three ‘Gunas’. A Guna is best thought of as a personality attribute; the relative proportion of these Gunas in a person will define how they behave. There are three Gunas in Hindu tradition:

  • Sattva, which is a person’s intrinsic goodness and harmonious nature
  • Rajas, which refers to your animal instincts of passion and activity, and
  • Tamas, which represents a person’s propensity for darkness and destructiveness

Ayurvedic medicine is meant to keep these Gunas in equilibrium and to enhance the presence of Sattva in all persons. In Ayurvedic tradition, certain foods and their toxins cause the opposite to happen, with increases in Rajas or Tamas. Here, a parallel to ayahuasca cultures begins to take shape. Think of the ayahuasca preparatory diet you are asked to maintain: no salt, sugar, oils, dairy, or spices. No participating in ‘vices’ such as alcohol, drugs or sex. All of these items would be considered either highly Rajasic or Tamasic in nature. The diet focuses instead mostly on vegetables and small amounts of fish and white meat – all Sattvic in nature.

Thinking more broadly, Amazonian Dietas are quite similar to certain Sattva techniques of healing. Sattva is enhanced, it is believed, by maintaining a presence in nature. Dietas traditionally demand the participant to live in natural isolation for a period of time. Ayurvedic disciples believe we must seek to create a more balanced state of being through the cultivation of Sattva and the elimination of AMA. This ‘optimized’ balance leads to ‘Oja’, or life essence, is not dissimilar from the enlightened state of being that ayahuasceros seek. Furthermore, when in Sattva-orientation, it is believed that our bodies and minds become more sensitive to the effects of plant medicines and their healing properties.

Ayurveda in Support of Ayahuasca

With such similarities, it isn’t surprising that Ayurvedic medicine is often incorporated into an Ayahuasca journey. A Sattva-centric Dieta focuses on the elimination of toxins and sparking our digestive fire, leading to a more resonant ayahuasca experience with greater clarity. Having a cleaner body with better digestion is thought to help properly digest and assimilate the medicine.

An ayahuasca recipient will benefit from sparking their digestive fire and maintaining a balanced easy to digest diet will aid in the elimination of toxins and their need or severity of the Purge during an Ayahuasca ceremony. The concept of a purge is also present in Ayurveda, where it is known as a Shodhana, and this expulsion of toxins is very consistent. As one continues to work with these medicines, they start to move away from the Tamas Guna into a more Sattvic-inclined existence.

That two cultures, separated by thousands of miles and thousands of years, came to such similar outlooks on the human condition. And if you would like to learn more about ayahuasca, dietas and their outcomes, you should consult our Ultimate Ayahuasca Retreat Guide!

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About the Author

Dan Barnes is a classically trained Ayurvedic Therapist, Perfumero and Amchi Tantric practitioner. He lives in Tarapoto, Peru with his wife who is also a MD and Ayurvedic Specialist where they work at Medicina Del Sol integrating Ayurvedic medicine with Curanderismo, Ayahuasca and Local Plant Medicines. He has sat in Ceremony with many traditions, wisdom keepers, healers, fools, tricksters and Shamaniacs from numerous countries over the last 19 years and draws from these experiences in everything he does. He is also a Photographer, Father, Poet and Freelance Journalist having written for many online Ayurvedic Journals and is the author of the 3 Chapter stream of consciousness fable - Who is Siddha Somanomah?

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