Most startup companies offer happy hours with libations and an opportunity to get to know your coworkers on a deeper level - seriously, how awesome would it be to remember the dance battle you and your CEO had the next time you feel anxious about a project or deadline? - but how many can say their employer approved a mind/body altering substance in the middle of a workday?
Enter cacao, the purest form of what we know as chocolate. It's been used in Central and South America in ceremony and ritual to connect to the divine and to bring communities together for the past 5000 years.
I first learned about the magic of cacao, its history and benefits while on a cacao/coffee tour on a working farm situated next to the papaya farm on which my husband and I stayed for part of our honeymoon earlier this year. The farm and tour company is called Don Juan Tours and it's one of the best deals in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, next to the Los Cañones zipline hot springs adventure. Pura Vida.
Back to cacao - the raw plant is actually a seed found inside a large, textured fruit ranging in color from violet to pastel yellow. The seeds are hand-harvested, fermented, dried and roasted to produce cacao nibs. This dark, solid substance can be ground into a paste to make a ceremonial drink blended with a variety of herbs, spices and essences like sweet orange oil, vanilla, salt, lavender and chili powder. You can also make a chocolate bar from this paste, like we did at the farm.
The chocolate bars we often get in North America are made using machinery invented in Switzerland that separates the cacao butter from the powder to control the percentage of cacao found in each bar (think milk vs. dark chocolate). Keep in mind the health benefits of cacao will only be realized if you have at least equal parts (50%) fat to powder so the nutrients can be absorbed into the body.
At the workshop hosted by my company, hOM, we were gifted with the joyful spirit and grounding, knowledgeable force of Florencia, the founder of Cacao Lab , who guided us in a meditation that honored the natural elements of earth, fire, water and air, while we drank from handcrafted clay cups the carefully prepared cocktail made lovingly by our guide. Florencia included rose and lavender and chipotle chili in our ceremonial cacao drink.
The giffy joy was felt amongst the group almost immediately. I looked across the circle where my coworkers and I were seated and witnessed their unforgiving grins from ear to ear. We sat in silence to connect to our bodies and breath, allowing any words of intention be heard among the group:
We laughed and poured more of this liquid happiness into our clay cups while we listened to the history of the Mayan calendar and the Nawales (or Nahuales) - the 20 different energies or spirits found in the human body, represented by animals and colors, like a red armadillo symbolizing abundance of knowledge and connection to children and family - in addition to the biophysical science behind the benefits of cacao. No wonder I was feeling light headed and hungry and aroused all at the same time!
Health Benefits of Cacao, in short:
- theobromine - stimulates blood flow
- antioxidants - diminish the presence of free radicals in the body
- magnesium - an element 80% of Americans are deficient in
- neurotransmitters - tryptophan, serotonin, etc. (the feel good hormones)
After the talk, we were led through a fiery yoga flow with moments of stillness that felt like an uplifting drink of cool water to soothe the intensity of the experience. At one point during a forward fold, I turned to look at my colleague practicing next to me and he was wide-eyed and mouth open in awe while at the same time exploring the subtle fluid twitches led by his own body's intuitive impulses, like he was a child discovering movement for the first time! I imagined this is what ecstasy felt like.
I was deeply connected to my breathing, where the inhalation was so buoyant I felt like I weighed nothing so I could float away at any moment. I fearlessly floated through the flow, attempting inversions and arm balances which are not usually in my daily practice, without effort and sometimes with my eyes closed, trusting that my feet and hands knew where to take me. I understood why they called it the "drink of the gods". It was simultaneously liberating and grounding.
Needless to say, the cacao ceremony was out of this world, however, I'm confident that you would experience similar physiological effects drinking coffee or eating fruit if done in a ritualistic, ceremonial or intentional way in a space that's comfortable and supportive of exploration. The love that goes into the preparation of what is about to nourish you, and the mindful way of consuming it, could replicate the grounded yet slightly euphoric state of being, especially when these moments are shared with others in community.