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Temazcal: the practice of being “reborn”

Temazcal: the practice of being “reborn”

If you’re a fan of steamy saunas or hot yoga classes, trying out temazcal is a sweaty and detoxifying experience you won’t want to miss.

The term “temazcal” translates to “house of heat,” and that translation couldn’t be more accurate. A temazcal is a tiny terracotta sweat lodge heated by a pit of natural volcanic rocks. Temazcal rituals usually include a small group of attendees and a “temazcalero,” a shaman who guides the experience. It’s a spiritual experience and not just a spa treatment (though we’d counter that our weekly tub soak is most definitely a ceremony, too).

Despite the fact that temazcal is just now being discovered by many, it’s been around for thousands of years. The ancient Mayans used temazcal as a way to purify the mind, body, and spirit. Today, this long-standing tradition is gaining popularity at resorts. Though experiencing temazcal at a spa is different than experiencing it in prehistoric Mexico, we were curious to participate in this modernized cultural practice. To learn more about the emotional, physical, and spiritual benefits of temazcal, I tried it for myself at the J.W. Marriott in Los Cabos, Mexico.

The emotional release of temazcal
As soon as the temazcalero closes the door to the sweat lodge, you’re sitting in complete darkness, aside from the occasional spark from the pit of volcanic rocks. I found myself momentarily frantic because I couldn’t locate an exit. Plus, I didn’t know the other people in the lodge. Total darkness with complete strangers? Cue anxiety.

But as the shaman began to chant and beat on the drums, a feeling of steadiness and security washed over me. Most of the 90-minute ritual went like this: we sat (and sweat) while the shaman sang, played the drums, and shook a rattle. Over the course of four songs dedicated to the natural elements (earth, fire, wind, air), I found myself transported into a deep, trance-like state, similar to meditation or savasana at the end of a yoga class.

Twice during the ceremony, however, the shaman asked for participation. He requested that we each stand before the pit of volcanic rocks and name any struggles or regrets holding us back. This was an act of emotional release — the group sent everything from “judgment” to “mommy issues” into the pit, which then burned and swallowed them whole. Towards the end of the ceremony, the temazcalero asked that we vocalize our desires. Words like “gratitude” and “forgiveness” were murmured throughout the lodge.

Afterwards, I felt a sense of relief and emotional lightness. Anything that was previously holding me back was left in the lodge. Speaking my hopes and hearing others do the same left me more inspired to turn our intentions into reality.

Plus, there are physical benefits, too
After 90 minutes in the sweat lodge, I experienced physical benefits similar to a hot yoga class. Because of the sweating, I lost some water weight and noticed my pores were more open and clear — a few stubborn blackheads were nowhere to be found. Throughout the ritual, the temazcalero sprinkled water mixed with herbs into the pit. This released an aromatherapeutic steam, which left my skin feeling supple and hydrated.

The ceremony also gave me a boost in energy, perhaps because of increased blood flow due to the heat. Similar to taking a hot bath, my tight, constricted muscles felt relaxed after spending time inside the sweat lodge.

A spiritual rebirth
While inside the hut, the temazcalero reminded the group that sitting in a dark and warm place is similar to being inside your mother’s womb, where the only sound you can hear is her heartbeat. This was replicated by the shaman’s drumbeat.

Leaving the temazcal is like a type of rebirth: you exit the hut — the metaphorical womb — completely brand new. Your skin is soft and clear, just like a baby. You’re given an emotional clean slate. The negative has been thrown into the pit and the positive has been spoken out loud.

As I walked out of the dark lodge, I found myself squinting in the bright light and struggling to adjust to stimulation. The spiritual birth metaphor, though slightly woo-woo, couldn’t have felt more real in that moment. I walked away feeling physically, emotionally, and yes — even spiritually — rejuvenated.