Feb 18th, 2016, 01:48 AM

Chocolate For Enlightenment

By Keilimeilani Trahan-McCarthy
Practicing mindfulness with chocolate.

English professor by day and yogi by night, Sian Melangell Dafydd also makes chocolate. Raw, vegan and tempered. Her love for making chocolate came shortly after becoming vegan in 2010, when Sian discovered how different it felt to eat raw chocolate, feeling "energized and calm rather than wired and lethargic”. After a two year course under Amy Levin, the world's leading chocolatier and professional chef, Sian gained extensive knowledge on the origin, benefits and qualities of good chocolate. “The Botanical name for the cacao tree derives from Greek and translates to ‘the food of the gods’”, Sian told me. “It is one of the best sources of magnesium found in nature: a stress-relieving, muscle-relaxing, mineral.”

Chocolate is diverse, ranging in color, sweetness, and taste depending on where it's grown. Some refer to it as a guilty pleasure that should be avoided, due to its high sugar and fat content. However, this mainly goes for the chocolate you'll find on the shelf of your average grocery store. During the tempering process, the chemical composition of the molecules are restructured, so liquid sweetener cannot be used. Sian spends an hour pounding coconut blossom sugar to a powder the day before making the actual chocolate. She also includes medicinal plants and spices for health and happiness from her colleagues garden in Les Cévennes, and loves to experiment with different combinations. In this particular chocolate, she used maca powder, an aphrodisiac that aids glowing skin, balanced hormones, and digestive health.

“Being vegan means not ingesting dairy products.  Being raw means that nothing you eat is heated above 42 degrees”, Sian explains. “By not heating the chocolate beyond 42 degrees, you keep the enzymes intact. It’s the difference between ‘roasted’ cocoa and ‘raw' cacao".  To retain the benefits, she tempers the chocolate by constantly raising and lowering the temperature, and has learned to feel out when it is done. 

My adventure into her studio at Espace Sattva with two plates of freshly homemade chocolate amongst the yoga mats, was a transformative experience. During the meditation we were instructed to close our eyes and breathe as Sian passed around the plate of chocolate. We slowly placed the chocolate in our mouths and let it melt on our tongues (very counter-intuitive for someone like me, who can clear a jar of Nutella in a night). The ingredients and tempering process caused the chocolate to melt on the tongue like ice cubes on a warm table. As one does in meditation, we observed our thoughts and let ourselves slip into the present moment. In this moment, nothing in the world existed except for the chocolate eternally melting in my mouth.

After the meditation, Sian told us a story to motivate us and connect us to our intention:

“I like telling stories as a way of understanding yoga asana (poses) – so many are named after mythological figures after all. They let us experience an asana or breath exercise from the inside, with a more authentic intention and individual experience, instead of seeing a body-shape and attaching to that."

The story is about Queen Sita, who was captured during the Yamayana war and held hostage by the enemy, Ravana. Although trapped in a harem, she stayed around the women and remained “pure”. When the war was over, her husband rejected her and accuses her of consorting with the enemy. Then, the fire god, Agni appeared and Sita was tested for her virtue in a fire ceremony. She was proven virtuous and the god Agni refused to burn her, her inner fire having trumped his own. 

Sian called us to question what fires us up as individuals, thus asking the key questions in yoga: “What do you want? And what are you willing to do about it?” This applies to every aspect of life. Becoming aware of how we take in and respond to stimulus to overcome challenges, and how much energy is put into each response is one step in improving ourselves.  

She teaches a chocolate themed course every Monday at Espace Sattva at 6:30 pm, and offers an AUP student discount of 13€.

Image credits: Keili Trahan