Going Cacao

It’s no longer a stretch to a lot of us that plant medicine can be beneficial, when used on a complimentary basis, to many of our modern day physical ailments. Of course, many tribes and cultures outside of Western society have been using plant medicine, not just as cure for the physical, but also as a means of spiritual healing.

The Cacao plant has been used for centuries by tribes such as the Aztecs and Mayans in ceremonies for awakening and healing. But what exactly is involved in a ceremony?

Etain Finn attended a ceremony in Dublin and met with yoga teacher Mandalei Kuhn, who decided to offer the ceremonies in Dublin after working with cacao in Peru.

Picture courtesy of Madeline Kuhn

Picture courtesy of Madeline Kuhn

Cacao is a plant medicine increasingly popular in the yoga community for its heart opening and awakening properties. Unlike other plant medicines such as ayahusca, it is a gentle remedy with no psychoactive or hallucinogenic properties.

I first heard of Cacao ceremonies mentioned in yogi circles earlier in the year and was intrigued to try one for myself. Indeed, yoga teacher Mandalei Kuhn says since she returned to Dublin from working with cacao in Peru, and decided to offer these circles, she has received lots of interest.

 I book in for weekend cacao ceremony on a Sunday afternoon. There is a diverse range of people in attendance and the majority have not attended a cacao ceremony before. However, the two people that have attended before, have returned which is a positive sign in itself.

The night before the ceremony, students are issued with some email guidelines of what to avoid in advance. This includes alcohol, caffeine (so no morning coffee!) and dairy. We are also told to avoid eating 3 hours beforehand.

Courtesy of Mandalei Kuhn

Courtesy of Mandalei Kuhn

The room itself is curated into a ceremonial space which focuses on an altar in the centre where students are invited to add items to. The ceremony begins with a seated meditation and some sound healing work which really grounds the energy in the room and everyone enters the “zone”.

Mandalei opens the ceremony by describing her personal journey and how experiencing traumatic health issues and leaving a corporate law career lead her on a personal path of healing and to the exploration of plant medicine. She now works full time as a yoga teacher and healer.

The group are invited to introduce themselves and share their intention for the ceremony. These range from looking to detox, inviting in new relationships, letting go of old relationships, seeking career changes and looking for more gratitude and compassion.

 Then the ceremonial cacao is shared. This looks like a thick and melted chocolate but has a much stronger and earthier taste. Mandalei orders her ceremonial grade cacao direct from the growers in Peru. The beans are fermented, dried and ground using traditional methods, and despite smelling wonderful, there is none of the sweetness usually associated with hot chocolate.

 Although raw cacao has been consumed ritually and for both nutritional and medicinal purposes by ancient Mayan and Aztec civilisations, Mandalei advises there are benefits of consuming cacao, even outside of the ceremonial process and by modern Western standards. In its raw form, cacao is packed full of phytonutrients and polyphenols and contains theobromine, magnesium, caffeine and antioxidants.

 The drink we consume during our ceremony is heated and served in a traditional way with hints of spices like chilli and cardamom. The gathering sip the cacao slowly and make their way down to their mats where blankets, bolsters and eye masks await. The cacao takes about 20 minutes to activate into the system, the immediate effects mirror a caffeine style boost but without the coffee jitters.

 As we take to the mats the sensory experience in the room escalates. There are smells of sage, incense and rose oil in the room. Powerful vibrations from sound bowls and drums travel through the space and you can feel the pulsation of the music building.

While the students lie, Mandalei performs reiki healing and works with the individual energy blockages. She also uses the sound bowls directly on areas of the body to encourage healing and release, (the students advise whether they are open to hands on healing but Mandalei senses the areas herself). As the class absorb the healing and meditation the music rises and the sounds of singing bowls, tribal drums and singing, time seems to pass and suddenly the class are on their feet.

Though strictly speaking, our eyes should be closed, I sneak a peek and witness the unusual sight of Irish strangers who have only recently met dancing and moving unselfconsciously to the music coming from the sound system and the drumming and sound bowls in the room. For a moment, it’s nearly like being at a summer festival although all the highs are legal. Some people remain seated on the floor or resting in comfortable postures and we all slowly meet back on our mats.

 As people settle on their mats, they are invited to share their experience. The experiences in the room are as diverse as the intentions set at the beginning of the ceremony. For some people, the experience is completely joyful and others advise they have gained more clarity. For other people, they feel that the process has released difficult emotions. Many people comment that the areas where they felt the sound healing was reflective of physical or emotional ailments associated with the area.

I initially experienced the ceremony and the cacao as a very chilled and slow experience, although I personally experienced more effects as the evening wore on, both on a physical and an emotional level. It was certainly different to anything I had tried before, and I would recommend it to anyone open to having a deeper meditative experience in a very safe and supportive environment. Although the ceremonies are popular in the yoga community, there is no need to have any yoga experience to participate.

Mandalei teaches yoga and hosts sacred cacao ceremonies every month in Reformation https://reformation.ie/. You can also check out her website www.namastenut.com.