Temescal/ sweat lodge- a wellness treatment or a spiritual pursuit
I have always been interested in alternative therapies. I believe they have an important role to play not only in physical healing but also mental and spiritual. Your body is the physical world that you represent. In the end it’s your responsibility and the body will respond accordingly.
In our march towards an ever more advanced society, we realize that the New Path is an Ancient One, already treaded by our forefathers. I am recounting one such experience I undertook last week, exploring the ancient wisdom used by the indigenous Mesoamericans.
It took me from the foothills of the Himalayas to the seat of Aztec civilization to understand the profound experience. It was inspiring, frustrating and at times emotional. In the East there are similar treatments which acts mostly on physical realms, to open the pores to help detoxify. Not sure whether that acted on the mental and spiritual realms as well.
The Nahuatl word temezcal refers to a type of sweat lodge used by the native Indians. People also know it as temescal or temascal. The ancient tribes during the reigns of Azteca and Olmec practiced an induced sweat ceremony in a ceremonial sauna as a means for purification and penance. For some it can be a physical experience, for others deeply spiritual.
The ceremony unfolds in steps. Fourteen of us sat on the wooden log encircling the wood. Lighting fire is considered sacred in many ancient civilizations. Our own yajna (the ritual performed in front of sacred fire), a Vedic tradition, reveres the Fire god with offerings, chanting and worship.
One aroma stick lit the other, the fragrance wafted gently for some time and lost to the forest nearby. Flat volcanic stones in lines of four sat quietly waiting for their piece of action. The roaring fire took the centerstage, warming the entire body that was merely a handbreadth away. The participants casted sideway glances and released their respective position held earlier with so much gusto around the pile of wood.
How is the sweat lodge get constructed and work?
There is a great care and reverence both to the construction of the lodge and Madre Tierra (mother earth). Natural materials like wood and stones are preferred over conventional construction materials. Some traditional sweat lodges are constructed by planting saplings in the ground and then bending them over a period of time as they grow and finally securing them together. Few traditions construct the lodge in absolute silence, and few with ancient songs and drumbeats praising mother earth and invoking spirits to lend support. The construction culminates in a circular dome shaped building, low height with one entrance which forces people to crawl inside like babies. Even a simple hole dug into the ground and made with wooden planks can be used. The trick is to cover the gaps to prevent the steam from escaping.
The door faces the sacred fire. Stones are heated in the exterior wood fire before being carried to the central pit inside the chamber. The stones are then sprinkled with medicinal herbs and water to generate steam suffused with pleasing aroma.
And the experience continues!
The slow beating of the drum, singing and chanting in the praise of mother earth filled the space. Once the fire settled, the Shaman helped us offer tobacco to the fire as a part of the ritual offerings. This was followed by offering prayers in four directions to the spirits and Madre tierra. It is generally recommended to wear loose cloth to feel comfortable while being inside in hot condition.
Two persons, designated as firekeeper, assisted the Shaman by heating the stones in the fire. They also carried the hot stones and water inside and opened the door four times during our 2 hrs of healing and chanting.
Before entering the lodge, the healer purified us with medicinal incense. The exercise was akin to standing in front of the airport security with outstretched hands and legs. As the healer explained entering the sweat lodge represents a return to our mother's womb, and the rhythm of the drums is her heartbeat. The heat from the stone and the steam are meant to purify those who enter, allowing each of us to emerge reborn.
Once we crawled inside and found our seat, the healing began. And the prayer continued, my silent ones to survive the first experience and for others as a respect to Madre tierra.
The flap over the entry we crawled through has been closed, ushering in darkness and quietude. As time progressed all I noticed was the steam and the silhouette of the healer. Medicinal water infused with herbs was poured over the red-hot volcanic rocks filling the room with aromatic steam for throughout the ceremony. The entire ceremony lasted more than 2 hrs, the doors opened four times to bring in more hot rocks. Opening of the door also allowed us some relief. In the end we took a dip in the river to close the pores.
The entire experience must be conducted by authorized and properly trained traditional Mesoamerican healer.
The experience may result in excessive sweating, dehydration and steam inhalation; hence it is advisable to consult your healer about your medical condition.
Enjoy the images and hopefully the experience some day.
“Namaste” and happy reading.