Connecting with the Cacao Spirit


What is Cacao?

Cacao refers to the seeds or beans found inside the fruits of the Theobroma cacao tree, typically cultivated in the equatorial countries of South America, West Africa and Asia.

Once harvested, these beans are dried and fermented to develop their distinct flavour and aroma – they are then further processed into various cacao or cocoa products. To make ceremonial cacao, the fermented beans are lightly toasted or sun-dried, and then ground into a paste. This creates an unadulterated product with a rich nutritional and flavour profile.


A centrepiece of the ancient Mesoamerican traditions, Theobroma cacao (where ‘Theobroma’ means ‘Food of the Gods’) was a staple in the Olmec, Zapotec, Aztec and Mayan civilizations as a sacred plant medicine enjoyed in rituals to nourish the physical and energetic body.

The term ‘Cacao’ comes from the Maya word ‘Ka’kau’ which means ‘Heart Blood’

For long it was thought that the Cacao tree was first cultivated and used by the Olmecs around 3900 years ago. However, a 2018 study found archaeological artefacts with T. Cacao DNA  in Mayo-Chinchipe sites in Ecuador from around 5300 years ago, which predates the evidence of Cacao use in Mesoamerica by 1700 years. Supporting these findings, recent genetic analysis has traced Cacao domestication back to South America (present-day Ecuador) roughly around 3600 years ago.

From there, it spread northwards and became an integral part of the ancient Maya and Aztec traditions, not only as a nutritional source, currency and medicine, but as an offering in their sacred rituals and ceremonies, including those associated with birth, union, sacrifice and death. A sign of deep reverence, Cacao featured extensively in Mayan and Aztec mythology and even played an pivotal role in their creation myths. In the sacred Popul Vuh, the Mayan Creation myth goes that humans were made by the gods out of water, earth, wood, maize, fruits and cacao.


Medicinal Uses

Recently, the benefits of this ancient elixir have garnered significant attention in the scientific community with ongoing research into the potential health benefits that cacao-derived products offer, including enhancing cognitive functioning, immune support, cardiovascular health, gut-microbiome support, blood sugar control and elevating mood.

Gut Microbiome Support

A growing body of research has documented the role the gut plays in supporting healthy physiological and psychological functioning. Preliminary evidence suggests that cacao, with its abundance of fibre and polyphenols (plant compounds which have antioxidant properties, including flavanols) exerts a prebiotic effect that is essential for supporting our internal ecosystem of gut microbiota.

A recent study demonstrated that consuming high-cocoa flavanol drinks for four weeks noticeably increased the levels of certain beneficial bacteria in the gut, specifically the Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. A similar study found that consuming 85% cocoa dark chocolate three times a day for three weeks reduced negative emotions and increased gut microbial diversity, specifically with elevated levels of Blautia obeum. Interestingly, high levels of Blautia obeum are often found in the gut of healthy individuals, suggesting a link between the prebiotic activity of dark cocoa and improved mood via the gut-brain axis. One potential explanation could be the polyphenol content of cocoa, which has antioxidant properties and has been showed to reduce stress and anxiety in separate lines of research.

Additionally, a team at Louisiana fed cocoa through an in vitro model system which simulated gastric digestion and colon fermentation. The lower-intestinal gut microbes feasted and fermented on the carbohydrates into short chain fatty acids (anti-inflammatories), reduced the pH, and increased the polyphenol content that could be absorbed into the blood stream. Again, these results support the role of cacao in maintaining our digestive health.

Mood Boosting

Whether through the gut-brain axis or through other mechanisms, cacao and its more processed derivates have garnered attention due to their potential mood-enhancing capacities. For example, cocoa flavanols in dark chocolate are associated with improved mood and higher levels of calmness and contentedness.

In an even larger sample study, data from 13626 adults participating in the National health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed lower levels of clinically relevant depressive symptoms in those who reported consuming dark chocolate. While we can’t infer causality from these results, they do point to an interesting relationship between cacao consumption and mood. In addition to their high flavanol content,  there are many potential culprits of cacao’s mood-boosting properties. Cacao contains anandamides (taken from the Sanskrit term which translates to “bliss”), which stimulates cannabinoid receptors in the brain and can produce subtle feelings of euphoria similar to THC. It also contains phenylethylamine (“the love drug”), a neuromodulator that stimulates the release of endorphins, and triggers release of dopamine, norephinephone and serotonin, which are all key in mood regulation. 

Another factor could be the sensory pleasure of consuming cacao. While it is an incredibly nutrient-rich food, the flavour, the aromas and the experience are all thought to play an important role in the mood-boosting effects.

Cognitive Function and Attention

Another avenue of research has explored the positive effects of cacao consumption on enhancing cognitive functioning. While plant flavanols more generally have been associated with improved cognition and decreased risk of dementia, recent findings have found that cocoa flavanols improves acute cognitive functioning and reduces perceptions of mental fatigue during sustained mental demand. The CoCoA study even suggested that Cocoa flavanols can reduce age-related cognitive dysfunction in healthy individuals across verbal fluency, attention and cognitive flexibility.

As well as the high flavanol content, cacao is rich in theobromine, a gentle cardiac stimulant and vasodilator that is closely related to caffeine. Not only does theobromine provide a more grounding source of energy, in one study in mice, a theobromine-rich diet facilitated motor learning and increased brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) levels, a key protein involved in brain cell functioning, neuroplasticity and learning.

While the exact mechanisms of these changes is not well understood, imaging studies have also shown that Cacao increases cerebral blood flow in both healthy young people and healthy elderly people, suggesting a promising role of regular cocoa consumption in supporting cerebral vascular health.

Cardiovascular function

Finally, the most extensively studied benefits of Cacao are its cardio-protective effects. One key finding is its ability to reduce blood pressure, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. A recent review of 35 clinical trials showed a modest but significant cacao flavanol-induced decrease in blood pressure. One potential mechanism is the flavanol-induced increase in nitric oxide levels in the blood, which enhance the function of blood vessels, increase blood flow, reduce bad ‘LDL’ cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. In turn, these factors lower risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke.

In another finding, consumption of a daily dose of dark chocolate with high levels of flavanols showed improved blood vessel function in healthy people over the course of two weeks. Ultrasound measurements of the main artery in the arm dilated by about 13% more that the measurements taken at the beginning of the study. Blood samples showed higher levels of the flavanols epicatechin, which is the likely culprit of the increased blood flow. A similar study showed improved function of the lining of heart and blood vessels after daily consumption of 70% cocoa over a month.

Another factor could be the mineral content of cacao, which is one is one of the highest plant-based sources of iron and magnesium, as well as containing high levels of calcium, zinc and potassium which are all essential for supporting a healthy cardiovascular system.


Ceremonial and Ritual Use

Drawing upon both scientific research and ancient wisdom, Cacao ceremonies have gained popularity in recent times as a tool to facilitate meditative states and release emotional trauma stored in the body. Often referred to as a heart-opening medicine, cacao is believed to release negative energy and blocks in the heart space, fostering feelings of compassion and gratitude.

Cacao when consumed in ceremony or ritual offers a safe and nurturing environment to connect with our inner selves and others in an elevated and more intimate state, through accompanying techniques such as breathwork, meditation, sound journeys or ecstatic dance.

While no two cacao ceremonies are alike, whether you are joining a group ceremony or creating an at-home ritual, the most important element is setting an intention. Most ceremonies start off with setting a collective or personal intention, connecting with the cacao spirit and expressing gratitude. You will experience a gentle shift in your consciousness, entering a grounded state that helps with healing work and inner processing, facilitating the release of what no longer serves you.

Cacao Ceremony at the Sen Wellness Sanctuary

At the Sen Wellness Sanctuary, we offer transformative fire and cacao ceremonies during our Signature Retreats with sacred chanting and dancing. It is a collective spiritual experience of expansion and elevation hosted by Sen Wellness Founder, Sam Kankanamge.

“Gathering a group of special souls for a ten-day journey together, we believe that no group comes together by accident, there is always a deeper purpose and intention. Some of the deepest healing can occur when we allow others to be a mirror of ourselves. The group naturally evolves during the retreat, strong connections are made and lasting friendships are formed”.

For those looking to create an at-home cacao ceremony, we will soon be releasing the Sen Wellness nourishment book, inspired by the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda and the flavours of Sri Lanka. Within this culinary exploration is a recipe for the perfect cacao ceremony, whether you are seeking a solitary moment of self-reflection and connection with the cacao plant, or a ceremony to connect with loved ones.


Coming from a lineage of healers, Lina works with somatic embodiment, breathwork, energetic healing, sound, and naturopathic nutrition. She channels her practice into words and thoughts to share with you. Her warmth and radiant energy will capture you through her words

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Claire White
Claire White
I have just completed a 10 day retreat at Sen Wellness and having researched many options, I was drawn to this but it was way beyond my expectations, it was amazing. The yoga by Frances and the monk was incredible, the doctors were kind and helpful and all the staff could not have been more helpful. Special mention to treatments from Tanisha and the manager Sanath who got me out on the beach one evening to see the mother turtles. A dream come true in so many ways, left feeling refreshed,so much healthier in body and mind!! I would highly recommend to anyone who needs a reset.
britta barth
britta barth
I had a wonderful stay and participated in the Signature Retreat. The resort is located in a very beautiful nature reserve. There is a beautiful beach for long nice walks and you also can see turtles.Meditation and Yoga were very also so good as were the ayurvedic treatments. I love it.The Signature Retreat led by Sam is a great, inspiring journey in itself - I can highly recommend.The ayurvedic food was delicious and the staff is great.I hope to go soon again to this wonderful place.Mandy thanks to Sam and his team at Sen Wellness Sanctuary. Britta
One of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had in my life. The 10-day retreat is the ultimate in relaxation. They feed you all your meals (delicious homegrown/homemade food), schedule yoga and daily spa treatments and hold special ceremonies throughout the week. The staff go above and beyond to make your experience deep, meaningful and heartfelt. The sanctuary is located in a jungle so be prepared to be immersed in wildlife! Monkeys, reptiles of all kinds, turtles on the beach, eagles/birds and more! I stumbled across this place researching Sri Lanka and it was truly meant to be. The faculties are stunning, comfortable and reasonably priced. Don’t miss an opportunity to come here!
Melanie Farfel
Melanie Farfel
A wonderful stay! The staff was so incredible and thoughtful throughout. I left feeling very rejuvenated. Thank you !
I had really nice experience at Sen Wellness for 8 nights. Here is in the middle of nature, we can feel that we are a part of nature and it is very natural to live with all kinds of animals and plants. I am now mentally and physically fit.What I really appreciated is food - healthy, everyday different menu, some vegetables that I have never seen… I felt that my feeling of taste transformed through my stay and skin condition and body condition became better.All people here is really kind and peaceful.Yoga teacher, Stefania, is a wonderful teacher, she is really knowledgeable and so kind to care all participants. I had enjoyed conversations with her at breakfast, lunch and dinner.Doctors, therapists are nice, I could ask questions and request whatever I feel comfortable.There are different types of rooms, I experienced the most luxury cabana and eco-cabana with Air Conditioning, too. Luxury cabana was awesome but I liked eco-cabana as well. It was an old facility but authentic, compact and I felt cozy. I was alone in the room so the space was enough for single use. If you wish to have luxury stay, I would recommend you to go for Luxury cabana.Everyone has different purpose and expectations. My purpose was feel nature, have simple life and feel appreciation of life. And it was fulfilled. Thank you so much for all Sen wellness team.
sunil damodar
sunil damodar
Went to Sen Wellness with family for a retreat, it was a nice spiritual and healthy experience. Fantastic team who were friendly and did everything possible to make it us feel special, great doctors and therapists and of course the daily yoga and one on one interaction with Sam was icing on the cake. Would recommend this to anyone looking for a great mix of spirituality, yoga, treatment and healthy eating. Look forward to my next one at Sen Wellness.
Jessica Crozier
Jessica Crozier
Sen Wellness is the perfect place to go to when you are exhausted by life and need a rest to get back to yourself and work through any difficulties you may be experiencing.There’s lovely yoga and meditation classes every day plus a set schedule which is a great way to structure your day of rest alongside tailored Ayurvedic treatments and healthy food.The place is for me perfect but it’s not like a 5 star hotel so if that’s what you are looking for it may be the wrong place for you.If you are lucky you’ll see some turtles as well.Samath and Francis are great managers and will make sure everything goes well.
Kumail Syedain
Kumail Syedain
Beautiful experience, beyond my wildest expectations. Would recommend to anyone interested in Ayurveda and healing
Neil Wadhawan
Neil Wadhawan
I was fortunate to lead a yoga retreat in early February of 2024. Everything was absolutely spectacular. Sen is a very special place with a beautiful energy that is perfect for retreat and healing.What really makes Sen so special are the people. Every single one of the staff members as well as the ayurveda doctors and all the managers were so kind and always trying to make each experience special. The entire team was led by Sanath and Frances and they were both absolutely wonderful. I can't possibly find enough kind words for both of them. Their leadership and warmth really allowed me to lead the retreat in the best way I could and they were always there for me whenever I needed. Thank you!
helen wright
helen wright
Sen wellness is a perfect sanctuary. The Ayurvedic retreat was insane - I loved every minute of it . Thank you
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