While we all recover from our Easter chocolate highs, one Ballarat woman is making sure people understand how cacao – the raw, unrefined chocolate bean - can increase vitality, energy and mental clarity.
What is a Cacao Ceremony?
A cacao ceremony is a unique mindfulness exercise, similar to yoga or meditation. It is a practice that revolves around gratitude, setting of intentions and slowing down in our fast-paced world. Because of cacao has antidepressant and uplifting compounds, it is the perfect accompaniment to boost gratefulness and intention setting.
Markeeta Hines - a holistic therapist in Ballarat – is passionate about cacao and how it can benefit our wellbeing, particularly when used ceremonially. “Cacao is more than just chocolate as we know it. It is one of the highest natural sources of calcium and magnesium in perfect ratios that are fully absorbed by the body,” Markeeta says.
History of Cacao Ceremonies
As Markeeta explains, cacao was considered to be a sacred medicine by the Ancient Maya peoples. In that region, it is still regarded as a potent sacred Master plant, meaning that when properly ingested, cacao generate knowledge and tap into perceptions and intuitions.
Cacao Ceremonies have been traced back to 1900BCE, when cacao was one of the most treasured and revered foods of the Mesoamerica. Cacao beans were so highly regarded that they were often used in acts of trading or exchange, and were even a form of currency for the Aztec people. Cacao was widely used in religious rituals to lift the spirits of the soon to be sacrificed, so were often part of marriage or baptism ceremonies.
In more modern times, cacao ceremonies can be held individually or within a group; where a space holder or ceremonialist will prepare the cacao and then guide the group through a ceremony. “Regular ceremonial cacao consumption can encourage harmony and balance between mind, body and spirit,” Markeeta explains. “The combination of intention setting, prayer and sometimes dance can help people release unhealthy habits; and invite more health, happiness and love into their lives.”
Benefits of Cacao Ceremonies
Markeeta explains that drinking cacao, especially when paired with an intention for increased creativity can result in people being more “…open to inspiration, creativity and new ideas. This can give people new meaning and purpose.”
Cacao ceremonies can also deepen the practice of mediation. “When people focus on ingesting and connecting with the ceremonial cacao,” Markeeta says, “many people experience a deeper connection to their inner spirit and wisdom is forged; this allows for more profound levels of meditation.”
Markeeta says that cacao can also unlock an optimistic side of people and enable people to feel more capable of dealing with life’s difficulties and hardships. It can also improve focus, mental clarity and helps to control unhealthy cravings. The compounds within cacao can also enhance and stimulate pleasure, promote relaxation and trigger feelings of love.
“Concentration of these compounds increases during fermentation and decreases during roasting (a process that cacao doesn’t go through) which is why the psychoactive properties of raw cacao are more enhanced than processed chocolate,” Markeeta explains.
What is involved in a Cacao Ceremony?
Individuals can do their own cacao ceremonies at home by creating a quiet, tidy and decluttered space at home or in the backyard. Following this, the cacao can be prepared by combining 20-50g of ceremonial grade cacao paste (chopped or grated) and gently warming it with 100-200ml of water or milk on the stove in a small saucepan, tea pot or milk pan. Additions such as cinnamon, maca, chilli powder, vanilla or turmeric can be added.
It is important to connect with the process at each step; moving slowly and with awareness of all of your senses. Once the cacao is warm and mixed thoroughly (you can blend gently to create more froth) pour into your favourite cup or mug (we love Pottery for the Planet travel mugs for their ‘hugginess’).
Before drinking the cacao set clear your intention to let go of other plans and thoughts for the next ten minutes or so, so that you can focus on the ceremony. Then, take five deep breaths (we love what Eduardo Antonio Morales does) before thinking (or saying out loud) about what you are grateful for and setting an intention for the day.
Markeeta says that those having their own ceremony might just sit and meditate; or they might feel compelled to draw, journal or dance. “Whatever resonates with the individual,” she says.
Markeeta explains that “… as with all sacred medicines, it is important to approach the ceremony with humility, reverence, and respect.”
Markeeta holds ceremonies for groups (sometimes as a rite of passage, births or birthday parties), couples or individuals. Cacao Ceremonies normally go for around 1-2 hours and are generally held in conjunction with other modalities such as sound healing, breath work, talk therapy or dance; and can often have benefits for inner child work, trauma release or creative expression. “Each ceremonialist will hold space in unique and different ways,” Markeeta explains, “as their own intuition is guided.”