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A Cynic Walks into a Cacao Ceremony…

I set out to explore an ancient heart-opening practice.

Somewhere between my fascination with spiritual medicine and following every step of Chelsea Handler’s wellness journey, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of Ayahuasca, especially as there’s no shortage of people who refer to the plant-based psychedelic as “life-changing”. On the flip side, I live in Dubai (read: going to jail is not on my bucket list) and therefore chose to explore the next best thing armed with just the right amount of cynicism: a cacao ceremony. Here’s what I learned.

Cacao 101 

My research took me to the Heart-Opening Cacao Ceremony & Sound Healing Journey hosted by Yoga House and led by Lisa Oxford, an energy, sound, and breathwork practitioner who works specifically with crystal bowls. While I attended the 120-minute session in the heart of the city, Lisa often conducts sessions deep in the desert, making for an evening drenched in serenity – a must-do with the return of cooler temperatures.

For the uninitiated, cacao ceremonies date back thousands of years to Central and South America, where the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations turned to cacao – essentially chocolate in its purest form – for spiritual, medicinal, and ceremonial purposes. Today, people worldwide recognise its health benefits. Dubbed “the superfood of all superfoods”, it is high in iron, calcium, magnesium, and antioxidants (40 times the antioxidants of blueberries, in fact). Bonus: it’s also 100% plant-based. As for why the cacao ceremony is known as a heart-opening practice? Theobromine – the primary alkaloid found in cocoa – increases blood flow throughout the body, evoking a heart-opening sensation of sorts. 

The aim of a cacao ceremony, according to Lisa, is to empower you to release what no longer serves you and reconnect with what is truly important. She serves ceremonial-grade cacao from Peru (so it’s as good as it gets), flavouring it with cinnamon, vanilla, cayenne pepper, and agave to offset its bitterness. It’s rich and delicious, reminiscent of an adult take on hot chocolate. Rest assured, cacao is a mild and non-addictive stimulant – not a psychedelic – making it both safe and legal to consume. A word to the wise: eat lightly in the hours leading up to the session as cacao is best ingested on an empty stomach. Additionally, pack a journal should you wish to document how you’re feeling and any unexpected epiphany.

Getting Personal 

As someone who arrived at the cacao ceremony feeling under the weather, the setting instantly helped me relax – a dimly lit room accented with the flickering of candles and Lisa’s welcoming aura will do that. Add the fact that she, like me, is a Scorpio and I couldn’t help but felt an instant connection. Incidentally, I deliberately chose to attend a cacao ceremony timed according to the new moon, which is not only the beginning of a new lunar cycle, but also new beginnings in general – a.k.a. the perfect time to set intentions and re-evaluate goals

As tradition dictates, the ceremony started with setting an intention and (mindfully) sipping on the cacao as we all took a moment to reflect on the cards that we’d chosen at random from what I reckon is a set of tarot or oracle cards. “Cry – the earth never held back rain out of fear of looking weak,” read one of my three cards, and I was shook. I’m a very private person, but at that moment, I was surprisingly comfortable opening up to a group of complete strangers, revealing how I’ve been laser focused on clearing my family’s long-standing debts this past year (you know, leaving little room for ‘frivolous’ matters like emotions and self-care). Others were equally vulnerable, sharing the circumstances that prompted them to spend their Friday evening sipping cacao and looking inward. A guided meditation and breathwork practice later, we transitioned to the sound journey.

Safe and Sound

Noteworthy is the fact that up to 60% of the human body is water, making it highly responsive to sound – and the bath of sounds that followed was proof. Lisa explained that the heart chakra-based crystal bowl sound journey can trigger anything from agitation to relaxation, depending on one’s emotional state. The mystical sound of singing bowls not only moves participants into a deeper state of relaxation, but also recalibrates the nervous system and refreshes the mind, helping clear any negativity and old patterns that need to be shed. 

It’s no surprise, then, that while everyone interprets the sounds differently, a majority of the participants reported feeling more grounded and balanced afterwards. One even claimed to have an improved sense of clarity, comparing her mental state to a reorganised library. In contrast, I was drawn to the almost-aggressive intensity of the sounds created by the rain stick and ocean drum that later made an appearance, my body practically yearning to follow them. My heart was pounding, but not in a bad way – I felt exhilarated. As for what that says about me as a person? I’ll never know.

Closing Thoughts 

It was interesting to observe myself in the hours that followed. We were advised to eat a “grounding meal”, and I’m mortified to admit that mine came out of a drive-thru window. A slight case of insomnia ensued, but sans jitters, unlike those evenings where I consume way too much coffee in order to cope with deadlines. Cacao is a stimulant, after all. Lisa informed us that not only are mid-ceremony tears normal, but we may also feel more emotional than usual for a day or two. Strange dreams? Also normal. However, I’m pleased to report that all of cacao’s mood-boosting claims are indeed true. I found myself a lot more cheery, a lot less burnt out than I did earlier in the day. Clearly, no two people will have the same experience at a cacao ceremony. What will yours be?

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