Upon hearing about cacao ceremonies, they tempted me. Honestly, I was also a little skeptical. I delight in celebrations of life, but really? Chocolate Yoga? It all sounded a little gimmicky to me. After experiencing the journeys for myself though, I was left feeling awake, inspired, loving and blissful. Cacao ceremonies, inspired by traditional South American rituals are becoming more and more prevalent in the western world. In Australia alone, there are many yogis engaging in the art of cacao celebration, from combining ceremonial cacao with music and dance to the aptly titled Chocolate Yoga.
Cacao has a long list of health benefits and is quickly becoming a popular super food. In addition to this, it is said to have many spiritual benefits, facilitating heart expansion and opening the gateway to bliss.
Interested to understand the philosophy behind the practice of the cacao ceremony, I connected with Jemma Gawned, owner of raw goodies bar Naked Treaties in Byron Bay, who spends up to three months a year in Peru studying the cacao ceremony tradition with the locals. Back home, she facilitates regular ceremonies through her and her partner, Chris Mapstone’s creative collaboration, Sacred Sonics – infusing cacao ceremony with acoustic music.
Jemma tells me that Cacao is considered by the Mayan culture to be an entheogen: a substance that can inspire God or the Divine within. It contains a trace amount of DMT, a naturally occurring substance in the brain that is linked to spiritual awakenings (see box piece). The cacao, “like any plant medicine, has a ‘spirit’ which allows the participant to ‘see’ anything they may need to shift or change in their lives.”
My Sacred Sonics experience begins with an opening, honouring and calling in the four cardinal directions and the elements associated with them. We are encouraged to contemplate what we need to let go of, to forgive, to change, to call in, to heal and what we are grateful for. We then drink the cacao, a surprisingly bitter tasting liquid. This is said to facilitate the opening of the energy centres in the body, revealing to us what changes are needed and empowering us to move forward. This is followed by a didgeridoo sound healing and ‘cleansing’ with Peruvian flower water and sacred feathers. From there, with hearts open, we find ourselves in a creative flow, dancing to tribal beats and celebrating. We stay dancing until the early hours of the morning, blissing out on the kind of high you might feel after a yoga class, but this one lasts for hours.
Jemma and Chris hold this space with respect for the Indigenous Peruvians and their traditions: “It’s not about us trying to be ‘Shamans’.” They simply aim to create a safe and loving space, acting as guides for each individual to have their own “transformative and joyful experience.” Bringing together the community in these rituals, Jemma holds, “helps us to see past the illusion of separation and work together as one beautiful human family.”
Isabel Melody, creator of Dance Your Dreams, remembers having profound spiritual experiences with cacao in Guatemala: “During my first ceremony I felt my crown chakra open as never before, and I started channelling all these feelings and images.” Now, back in Australia, Isabel shares Chocolicious Dance Journeys, creating space “to be, share and extend the experience of the cacao.”
Married couple Sjha’ra and Shaa Taylor are the creative minds behind Chocolate Yoga, uniting elements of cacao ceremony with kundalini. Five years ago, when visiting a village in Guatemala, the couple heard of and were intrigued by the local ‘Chocolate Shaman’. Initially somewhat sceptical themselves, they curiously went along to a ceremony and were amazed and inspired by the experience.
At the time Sjha’ra was teaching kundalini classes in the village and, after much persistence from the Shaman to combine the two traditions, Chocolate Yoga™ was born. Eventually, Sjha’ra and Shaa felt inspired to bring these ceremonies back to Australia. On their return they were ridiculed, and people joked about yoga classes where students smear chocolate all over themselves. Although the jokes were always taken in good humour, recently they’ve witnessed a shift in people’s attitude and “people are far more open to the spiritual potential of working with cacao.”
The couple now import Sacred Mayan Cacao, the highest-grade ceremonial cacao, which they sell online and at selected health food stores. This cacao is sourced from the Shaman and made from a rare bean that makes up less than one per cent of the world’s cacao production. With no potential for mass production, this cacao is pure and ethical and the beans are hand peeled by the families of the village. Unlike other cacao products, the Sacred Mayan Cacao is made from the whole bean and does not undergo any separation. Keeping in line with yogic values of union, this cacao is ideal for ceremonial purposes. Sjha’ra beams when telling me: “What I love about the cacao is that it leads you to a gateway, but it’s up to you whether or not you want to step through. We facilitate people in a gentle way to step through the gateway to their hearts. That’s what’s needed and is what we’re trying to achieve in yoga: Union and connectedness.”
What is DMT?
Sometimes called the spirit molecule, DMT or N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, is a psychedelic compound of the tryptamine family. It is a structural analog of serotonin and melatonin and a functional analog of other psychedelic tryptamines. It is consumed by indigenous Amazonian cultures through the consumption of ayahuasca for divinatory insights and rituals. In it’s pure form, it is illegal in Australia.