La Purga, “The Purge,” is one of ayahuasca’s names in the Amazon, highlighting a most notorious aspect of its reputation. The ayahuasca vine is strongly purgative—indigenous people sometimes drink it simply to induce a good cleanse. The bucket is thus an essential element in most ayahuasca ceremonies, unless you are free to vomit on the ground. In this “Ode to the Bucket,” I will explore some legendary aspects of the purge.
I’ve heard people say “I don’t like to vomit, so I know I’ll never drink ayahuasca.” In truth, I know very few people who like to vomit—maybe ancient Romans? Bulimics? Vomiting is nasty. Plus, it’s painful. For most of us, it invokes a humiliating loss of control, or at least a bout of wretched nausea. Nobody particularly likes it. But if you want to work with ayahuasca, you have to come to terms with the purge.
A friend once told me how her brother, a doctor, offered her anti-nausea medication as she headed out to a ceremony. “I don’t want you to have to throw up,” he said solicitously. In truth, purging isn’t a side effect of the medicine—it’s one of its main functions.
Ayahuasca cleans, it clarifies, and it teaches. Purging is part of the cleaning, a powerful way to purify one’s system from old energies and imprints. There is no form of release more primal than vomiting. To this end, some indigenous people say it’s not the ayahuasca that makes you sick—it’s the presence of negative energies like fear, anger, or shame, which may resist leaving the body.
Ayahuasca-induced vomiting is seldom a casual puke: it’s a full-body convulsion going down to the prehistoric gut and the reptilian brain, a triggering of the “vomition centers of the brainstem” (cool phrase, huh?) that expels matter from the deepest, darkest depths of your being. The material that is ejected is energetic as well as physical. Purging is a release of stuck energy, a full-throated elimination of that which no longer serves us.
Forms of Purging
Lest you think purging refers exclusively to vomiting, understand that it can take many forms beyond digestive tract convulsions. Here are some more ways purging can manifest:
- Fits of intense, deep yawning
- Spontaneously tearing eyes
- Waves of heat and cold, sometimes both
- Spontaneous movements (kriyas)
- Spontaneous vocalizations
Just about all these can be recognized as signals of the energetic reorganization that accompanies trauma release. Let’s look at a few in more detail:
Weeping: These can be tears of sorrow or long-suppressed suffering, but also equally tears of release and relief. The truth is eventually always welcome, no matter what form it comes in.
Laughing: Sometimes a person recognises the divine ridiculousness of their hardworking mind, and feels compelled to laugh—possibly for hours. “I was laughing all those serious ideas out of existence,” is how one woman described it. A laughing purge can be tremendously liberating.
Belching: Dense, heavy energy coming up from the root of the belly can be truly demonic-sounding! Bubbles of stuck energy are rising up to be cleared—mal aire, bad air.
Yawning: We’re talking about wide-open-mouth yawns with tearing and trembling—yawns huge to the point where you fear jaw dislocation. Sometimes it feels like there’s a recalibration happening around the eyes, ears, and facial muscles. It’s interesting to note that the Taoist master Mantak Chia equates yawning with burping in terms of releasing toxicity.
Spontaneous movements (kriyas): Another possibility is the spontaneous movements known in yoga as kriyas. In ceremony these can feel uncontrollable, which people can find alarming or embarrassing, but really, it’s just another form of energetic release. More info here: https://kundalinisymptoms.com/info/kriyas/
Purging comes in many forms, yes, but vomiting and shitting (sometimes simultaneous, as in the vaunted double-header) are the most common experiences. Some tips for the vomiting part, as we tend to be less experienced at this end:
*Starting with the physical manifestations: relax. Let go of any tension. Experiment with softening your throat and releasing around the purge. Know that you will feel extraordinarily better on the other side.
*Be gentle, and don’t judge, compare or mentally criticize yourself (or others, for that matter.) Just go with whatever is coming up, to the best of your ability.
*Noisy vomiting is generally supported even in circles where you’re encouraged to keep quiet —it’s considered part of the release. Sometimes you’ll be subtly guided to vomit outside. In other circles, it’s suggested you bring your purge inside so that you can receive support. In some groups you may be asked to tone down the intensity of certain expressions (prolonged crying or laughing, spontaneous movements) so as not to disturb others.
*There’s something ritually empowering about emptying out your bucket, consciously carrying it out of the circle and flushing it down the toilet or pouring it onto the earth. If you are capable. Sometimes you’re not, and usually a helper will bring you a clean bucket.
*Even when it’s not you purging, the sound effects can remain an indelible memory of ceremony. Some nights it sounds like a madhouse. It can be anthropologically interesting to note the different sounds that erupt: the uncouth roar. The volcanic slosh. The hiccupping shriek. The deep, rumbling gurgle. The elegant, near-effortless whisper. Purging is as intimate an experience as one can have in public.
If You’re Trapped in a Sea of Nausea . . .
Early in your work with ayahuasca, it’s possible to feel relentless waves of nausea and yet be unable to purge, trapped in a state that can continue for hours. It’s hard to stay present with such extreme physical discomfort. What to do, beyond the tips above, is simply to relax, accept to the best of your ability and steer clear of agonizing over how to get it to stop.
Trying to figure out what’s happening can distance you from the actual experience. Unpleasant as they are, the sensations, thoughts and emotions arising within this miserable state are precisely where it’s at. Let the medicine do what it needs to do. Sometimes it chooses to stay and marinate in the body, in a sort of extended-play version that delves into the nooks and crannies of one’s being, uprooting energies from deep-seated sources. It can take several ceremonies for the channels to open into fuller release.
If you’re feeling stuck, it sometimes helps to shift positions and gently move around for a bit—never far from your bucket, as movement can trigger vomiting. (“The bucket is your best friend” is a truism in ayahuasca work: you always want to know where your bucket is, especially in the dark.)
Other tricks include exhaling big dragon breaths into the bucket, tongue extended, visualizing a wave of energy rising up and flowing out; or calling to mind a particularly nasty image—dogshit, for example—that might trigger some action. Chugging water can do the trick. Drinking more ayahuasca, dreadful as that sounds, is a surefire way to trigger a purge.
Over time, things seem to open up and become easier and more fluid. Over more time, the frequency of purging can reduce. Perhaps our systems become more adept, or maybe it’s due to the massive movement of the heaviest energies which happens in the earliest ceremonies—or both.
A handful of people I know report never vomiting in hundreds of ayahuasca sessions. I figure it’s either an extreme degree of purity, or a neurological glitch that reroutes the release into other channels (biologically speaking, there are apparently rare humans incapable of vomiting).