A New Year Cacao Ceremony with Mischa Varmuza
&Sister have Om Bar to thank for our love of raw cacoa; we have seen the light or rather we have joined the dark side of chocolate, and we have definitely decided to go raw or go home. Now, there is no going back, so much so, that Om Bars have become a regular fixture on our yoga retreats, either tucked away in our healthy goody bags or placed as a delectable surprise on our guests’ pillows at Poundon House – making us more hotel healthy than hotel chocolate.
Rather than the usual dairy and sugar overload associated with chocolate, when you peel open that beautiful blue-hued wrapper and devour (I mean mindfully eat slowly) there is just pure uplift and no downer. That’s why they work so well on our yoga retreats which are all about open-hearted and healthy enjoyment.
My sister, Natalie and I set up &Sister yoga retreats in July 2015 to bring together a collective of inspiring yoga teachers, chefs and therapists with the purpose of creating and curating unique retreats. Our ‘flagship’ venue, Poundon House in Oxfordshire is our family home and provides the perfect sanctuary to host our guests.
On our New Year Soul Dive retreat, we decided to experience the benefits of raw cacao in a deeper way; by welcoming in the new year with a Cacao Ceremony. A cacao ceremony is an invitation to journey into your inner self. As well as journeying within, there are chemical components of this magical plant that work to open your heart chakra and allow for open-hearted sharing.
The ceremony was led by our teacher, Mischa Varmuza, who is highly experienced in leading rituals and currently training to be a modern day priestess. Even more befittingly for leading a Cacoa ceremony, Mischa’s moto is ‘Awaken The Heart’.
Mischa holds a special place in our &Sister heart as we collaborated on our first retreat, Autumn Light, together in November 2015. With Mischa’s deep experience of teaching and retreats, we created ‘New Year Soul Dive’, an invitation for guests to take their practice deeper, through asana, chanting, meditation and ceremony.
On the Saturday afternoon of the retreat, I watched as Mischa unveiled the richly coloured blocks of ceremonial-grade raw cacao and she began the sacred process of preparation. She gentle placed the cacao into the pot, sent on its way with a whispered prayer. Then she lovingly mixed in the remaining ingredients from a special recipe.
For the next few hours the delectable concoction was stirred with love and prayers by Mischa, our karma yogi Natasha and myself. During these peaceful moments it became clear that the preparation of the ceremonial recipe is as important as the ceremony itself; it is all part of the same heart-opening sacred process.
As the magical mix was melting, the guests were making preparations of their own. Mischa instructed each of us to radiate our own distinctive and instinctive beauty. Fresh from fragrant soaks in Poundon’s deep bathtubs, guests entered the Shala for the ceremony dressed all in white, adorned with glimmering glitter and shimmering gold tattoos that had been placed on together as a group in front of the fire.
We gathered on our mats in the sacred ceremonial circle and Mischa began to lead us through prayers, blessing of the cacao, which we were invited to sip with care throughout the ceremony. We were treated to a chant of beautiful invocation that ended with each of us invoking our own deepest waking dreams for the year ahead and sharing with the group. Our hearts powerfully connected and opened thanks to the cacao and the beauty of the ceremony we sang and danced a song of flight to send us soaring into the evening to come. It was a unique and glorious experience.
Later in the evening, we sat together for dinner, a three course banquet prepared beautifully by Ceri Jones from The Natural Kitchen. Mischa said a prayer before the meal and there followed non-stop bubbling chatter and laughter, as the room glowed with pure heart energy radiating from all of our guests. Many sparklers and energetic spins around the Shala later we welcomed in 2017.
I may not have ‘journeyed’ and met the Cacoa goddess on the eve of 2017 (although some of our guests did) but I did share the experience of this beautiful ceremony with 18 other yogi goddesses. The experience opened my heart in a way that is difficult to describe, I felt humbled by the sheer vastness of love available to tap into on the retreat. It has certainly created a memory that will never fade and has made me want to go deeper into rituals. The feedback we have received after the retreat has been overwhelming with so many guests mentioning that they feel more ‘open’ and many saying that they have been given a lot to reflect on since the retreat which certainly makes all the hard work of production and hosting completely worth it.