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.

Connecting with the Cacao Spirit

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.

Connecting with the Cacao Spirit

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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Mithi Thaya
Mithi Thaya
Heaven on earth. A must-visit if you wish to disconnect and self-connect.
Elaine Lynskey
Elaine Lynskey
The most nourishing, relaxing and healing week I have ever experienced in the most beautiful setting!! 7-day Ayurvedic and Yoga retreat left me feeling like a new person. I will definitely be returning.
Jill Long
Jill Long
My two trips to the Sanctuary were equally special. Both were in January, one in 2016 and then again in 2020. It was a perfect way to start the year. The sheer beauty of this part of Sri Lanka is restorative in itself, but when coupled with the luxury and care of the Sanctuary, it becomes a deeply healing experience. I will go back again as soon as I can.
Di Sherlock
Di Sherlock
I arrived exhausted and frazzled from a flight that had lost my bag in transit with the clothes I left London in and raging sinuses from the plane's insanely fierce aircon. Within days the sinus infection was healed with Ayurveda. This was the start of a 10 day healing journey that was pure magic. I stayed in an eco cabana - bed super comfy! - waking up to amazing birdsong. The nature here is lush (bring your mozzie spray!) , the complex open and airy, the food delicious (mainly veggie). Everyone on the team - from the Ayurvedic doctors and practitioners, the amazing manager, the chef and his crew, the yoga teachers to the boys who do the cleaning know what they're doing and radiate positive energy. Days are structured but the vibe is relaxed, open and easy. The Cacao ceremony was amazing. The Fire ceremony also. I'd go back in a heartbeat.
Emma Chadwick
Emma Chadwick
I came to the sanctuary at a difficult time for me personally. I came home feeling mentally and physically restored. It was just the tonic for me.The sanctuary is set in a beautiful and peaceful location, a stone’s throw from the sea and never-ending empty beaches.I loved the daily yoga sessions - I had a brilliant teacher the week I was there - which has an open front so we often saw monkeys swinging by.But it were the Ayurvedic treatments and meals, made with fresh local produce, that were out of this world.The communal dining is such a great idea, particularly if you come on your own like I did. And the sanctuary is run by a fantastic and caring team who went out of their way to make my experience truly unforgettable.I really do hope to return again one day.
Sen Wellness is really a Sanctuary where you can really connect back to you, your body and nature. The 10 days Spring Retreat was so fantastic, the breathing, moving and the food was always great. The location is far off from everything and you pretty much have the beach to yourself. All the animals like baby turtles, monkeys, squirrels, peacocks combined with nature was just magical. Also all the staff took great care of everyone induvidually. I will definitly be back!!
Lara Y
Lara Y
My husband and I stayed at Sen Wellness Retreat for 11 days in February 2023. We highly recommend Sen Wellness. It is not a resort, it’s a true retreat. Our stay was an absolute dream come true. From the moment we passed through the gate, took our shoes off, and set our feet on the grounds, we found ourselves in a serene atmosphere that washed away all the stress and worries of everyday life. It was an absolute peaceful heaven with calming sounds of the ocean and nature. We stayed in eco-cabana. The blend of natural materials and elements with simple but modern amenities created a perfect balance between rustic charm and contemporary luxury. The room was daily cleaned and had everything we needed for our stay. After meeting with doctor on the first day, our Ayurvedic treatments were tailored to our individual needs, and they were the best part of the experience. Our yoga teacher Thilini was local and made our yoga sessions very meaningful, connecting our body and mind. We still do yoga with her over Zoom ever since we returned home. In a week, we had a new teacher Megan coming. She wasn’t local but she had an extensive knowledge about Ayurveda, local culture and she was great too. The people we had a pleasure of meeting during stay were from all over the world and truly exceptional. The best part was having all meals together around the table and having conversations. Every meal was a delightful journey of flavors and nourishment. The food had many varieties and left us both satisfied and intrigued to try more. Thilini explained to us each food ingredients and shared many stories and information about the local culture. She even took us to the beach late at night for stars gazing and listening to the sounds of the ocean. The staff was very caring, attentive, and tried to provide the best service. By the time we had to leave, we felt so much genuine care and felt like a part of a close-knit community. After returning home, I had a question about medicine for the doctor. Davia sent my question to Dr. Harnika and she replied to me. We left retreat feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, deeply relaxed, and with determination to change our lifestyle.
Rahela Rajh
Rahela Rajh
My time at SEN Wellness Sanctuary for the Ayurvedic retreat was an incredibly relaxing experience. The immersion in pure nature, the sights and sounds of flora and fauna wildlife, and the rejuvenating Ayurvedic treatments made it a standout wellness sanctuary worldwide. Daily yoga and meditation sessions, as well as a meeting with a monk, added a spiritual dimension. The wholesome meals were a delight, and the romantic boat ride they arranged for our wedding anniversary was unforgettable. The staff's warmth and dedication created a peaceful, welcoming atmosphere that truly fostered a deep connection with nature. The private beach felt like a personal paradise, offering an exclusive bond with the ocean and sand. My stay at SEN Wellness Sanctuary was truly transformative.
Ghurair Shaikh
Ghurair Shaikh
Our time at SEN Wellness Sanctuary was like discovering a whole new world during the Ayurvedic retreat. Every second felt like a soothing melody of relaxation and refreshment for both of us. Being surrounded by untouched nature was like a dream, with all sorts of plants and animals creating a calming atmosphere. The Ayurvedic treatments were like magic, making this place stand out as one of the best wellness spots globally.Each day, we got to do calming yoga and meditation. We even met a monk, which was pretty cool and added a special vibe to our days. The food was delicious and healthy, giving us energy and making us smile. The cherry on top was a romantic boat ride on our anniversary, showing how much they cared about our happiness.The staff was incredibly friendly and worked hard to make the place feel like a peaceful escape. It was like they understood how much we needed to connect with nature. The private beach felt like our own little paradise, where the waves and sand seemed to give us their full attention.And guess what? We're already planning our next visit to SEN Wellness Sanctuary. Our stay changed us in a big way. It felt like we were woven into a beautiful story that mixed nature's beauty, calming activities, and friendly vibes. This experience is something we'll always remember and it inspires us to bring more harmony and renewal into our lives.
I was looking to fill my cup with good energy and that’s exactly what I got from Sen Wellness. Highlights for me were the delicious healthy food, the setting surrounded by nature and a protected nesting-turtle beach, the soothing Ayurvedic treatments and the daily yoga/ meditation sessions in peaceful settings or gentle dips in the seaside pool. The staff are superb, treating you like family in their lovely home. The cabanas were super comfortable and had everything I needed. Bring lots of insect repellent, camera storage for all the baby turtles you might witness, and a positive attitude and you’re golden. Worth the three-hour trip from Colombo!
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