Yoga and Chocolate, Festivals and Ceremonies

The past few months have been filled with a whole bunch of yoga and filling my belly with sweets.  In fact, we attended two major yoga festivals and a few cacao ceremonies to do just that.

Zambhala

The Zambhala festival is a celebration of yoga and music that took place in Ashvem Beach on the penultimate weekend of our 300 hour course.  We organized a couple of vans and made the 2 hour journey on a Saturday morning.  The 2 day festival was filled with a variety of activities.  They included yoga classes from some of the most prominent names in the yoga industry (such as Eoin Finn and Duncan Wong), demonstrations (such as xaoilin monks performing martial arts), live music, and dancing.

Thanks for an awesome time Zambhala!

Thanks for an awesome time Zambhala!

The most intriguing and enriching experiences of the festival gravitated around Herbert Quinteros, a shaman from the high jungle in Terapoto, Peru.  It is evident that Herbert has a deep connection and respect for nature that shows through in his gentle smile and his powerful words.  Herbert’s world is filled with connecting to medicinal plants, feeding off of their energy, and connecting to the spirit of the plant.  By connecting to the spirit of the plant he is able to enhance the plant’s natural healing powers.  In this matter of thinking, there should not be the stigma associated with plants such as marijuana or iowaska if they are used with respect.  Every plant has something to teach us, and by tapping into the plant’s spirit with humility and respect, we can let the plant work through us.

Herbert using his pipes to get everyone dancing.

Herbert using his pipes to get everyone dancing.

On the second day, Herbert held a concert based on using Amazonian sound healing techniques.  Herbert is also a talented musician, using his voice and a variety of flutes and drums to create lively, primal music.  By the end of the concert, everyone participated in singing different parts to a traditional African chant.  As the four different parts harmonized, a sense of being interconnected to everyone grew.  By the end of the concert everyone was hugging one another.  I guess that we had connected to Herbert’s spirit similar to how he connects to the spirits of his people’s plants.

Shanti Festival

The Shanti festival was my second foray into the yoga festival scene.  Gabe and I attended the last two days of the three day festival.  Coincidentally, it was held at a resort a stone’s throw down Ashvem beach from the previous Zhambala festival.  The major attraction was definitely the presence of Jason Nemer, the cofounder of AcroYoga, and his cohort of fellow Acro practitioners, including my good friends Gabs and Ari from Koh Tao.  Listening to Jason describe the foundation of his creation during an afternoon flying session, I realized that there is much more to AcroYoga than I originally thought.  It is not just intended to be flashy and fun.  At its core is the development of trust and communication between people, overcoming your fears, and tapping into that childish playfulness that resides in us all.

After the first night we hit up the Saturday Night Market, a major attraction in Anjuna Beach, 30 mins away.  What makes the market unique is not the stalls selling a vast assortment of clothes and trinkets.  It is the live music and party scene integrated into the market.  A three man band called El Rostro de la Medusa caught our attention.  Hard trance music blasted out of the speakers with the additions of a live bass and electric digeridoo.  Certainly an interesting combination.  We wound up staying until the closing of the market.  At the late hour there was no affordable accommodation to be bargained for and we crashed in some hammocks outside of a nearby restaurant.

After a dodgy night sleep, it was very fortuitous that the highlight of the next day was a four hour thai yoga massage clinic.  The style was very interactive, with a lot of rocking back and forth and more of a yoga influence than traditional massage.  I felt very at peace after receiving my massage from my partner, a kind woman in her late 50’s who was a pleasure to talk to.  The festival concluded with some kirtan chanting, Bollywood music, and of course, more dancing.

Cacao Ceremony

When I hear the word cacao, I envision sweet, melted chocolate flowing on top of an ice cream sundae.  Or being a kid and going ‘Cukoo for Coco Puffs!’.   So when Mango said that he was conducting a cacao ceremony I was a little confused.  42 grams of pure, organic cacao per person.  Sounded like a child’s fantasy and a tooth’s worst nightmare.  But cacao is actually considered a sacred bean, the bean of the gods, and has many health benefits.  It is only by adding the massive amounts of sugar to the naturally bitter cacao that makes chocolate an unhealthy indulgence if ingested too much.  Cacao boosts blood circulation by up to 40%, making it an effective heart opener and also an aphrodisiac (sort of like nature’s Viagra).

Around 12 of us gathered in a circle to start the cacao ceremony, drinking the rich, extremely thick concoction slowly.  By the time I was finished, much of the cacao adorned my face and I could feel the effects almost immediately.  Similar to a massive sugar rush, I felt an underlying energy in my body begging to be released.  But within this storm of potential energy there was also a sense of serenity, the eye of the storm.  By focusing on my heart, I could indeed feel my circulation boosting, making my heart feel like the Grinch’s heart on Christmas day, expanding and becoming more loving.

As the ceremony progressed, we completed a variety of activities to help us connect with the spirit of the cacao.  (Herbert’s incredible discussion obviously had a lasting impact.  By tapping into the spirit of that which you naturally consume you definitely become more attuned to the experience, no matter how the plant is consumed.)  The cacao bean has a very unique spirit.  It is quirky, energetic, and loving, providing a great standard to strive to connect with.  And we connected with the cacao spirit by dancing around, by channelling our inner monkeys and climbing around the shala, making use of the excess glucose in our systems.  We connected with our own energy through qi gong exercises and connected with one another’s energy through group exercises.  After a half hour of ecstatic dancing, we enjoyed a guided meditation and then hit up the beach for a bonfire, some music, and star gazing late into the night.

The ceremony was a very organic experience in opening up.  I highly recommend giving it a try if you don’t plan on sleeping for a couple of hours, because it will keep you wired for a little bit.  The best part may be having some leftover cacoa as it is a perfect addition to pancakes or your morning coffee, a delicious pick me up when you need it.  Life’s pretty sweet when you have cacao overload.

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