What Is a Temazcal?

A Mexican Sweat Lodge Ceremony

Traditional native sweat lodge

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What Is a Temazcal? 

Temazcal Ceremony

A temazcal is a ceremony steeped in Mexican heritage. It involves participants sitting in a traditional sweat lodge for health and therapeutic benefits. Ceremonies usually last for two or more hours and are typically led by a sort of spiritual leader called a shaman or temazcalero.

History

Temazcal ceremonies originated in South America, more specifically Mexico. It has been practiced by Mexicans in that part of the world and other parts of the world for thousands of years.

However, you don’t have to be of South American heritage to enjoy the benefits of a temazcal. The ceremonies have grown in popularity over the years and are now practiced in different parts of the world. The word temazcal comes from the word temāzcalli, which is Nahuatl (an Uto-Aztec language) for ‘the house of heat.’

Historically, temazcals began as a cleansing ritual for the people to engage in before and after going to wars. It was also rumored to have healing powers.

During the Spanish conquest, many temazcal structures were destroyed by the Spaniards. The native people, however, were able to hide some in hidden locations, helping to preserve the beautiful culture till this day.

Some people think that the temazcal is purposefully shaped in a dome-like manner to represent a woman’s womb. And that when a person steps out of a temazcal experience, they are essentially reborn.

How to Experience a Temazcal

A temazcal is traditionally a small space and can typically fit only a handful of people. The structure, as well as the experience, is referred to as a temazcal.

Even though they were traditionally small, modern temazcals can sit as many as 15 to 20 people in one ceremony.

Temazcal Ceremonies Are Unique

Each temazcal ceremony is unique. Sometimes a temazcal might be led by a shaman and could involve chanting and singing. Or a temazcalero might perform the same function as a shaman.

The temazcals are typically dome-like structures made out of cement, mud, or volcanic stone. At the start of the ceremony, people are asked to step into the sweat lodge and get comfortable where they will typically sit in a circle or a semi-circle. Once the participants are settled in, steaming volcanic stones are placed in the middle of the circle. Water is then poured over these stones to produce steam for the sweat lodge.

The rocks used during the ceremony are heated just outside the structure before the ceremony starts. As the ceremony goes on, more hot rocks will be brought into the dome, at intervals, to keep the space hot.

In some cases, the water thrown over the rocks is infused with herbs that are thought to have healing and therapeutic properties. Some people might even drink some herbal tea while inside the temazcal.

When the ceremony is over, you’ll be asked to exit the dome and you might be directed to take a cool shower or a dip in a pool to lower your body temperature.

Benefits of a Temazcal

Temazcal has proven to have many benefits. You might notice clearer skin and an improvement in weight loss efforts. Some other benefits include:

  • Improvement of depression symptoms: A 2005 study on the effects of thermal therapy on people with mild depression, found that thermal therapy might help improve symptoms of appetite loss and other complaints in people who have mild depression.
  • Removal of toxins from the body: Temazcal ceremonies are thought to help cleanse the body of toxins and impurities. Research shows that sweating has excellent potential in facilitating toxin removal.

Spiritual Impact

For many people, the primary purpose of a sweat lodge might be for its physical benefits such as sweating out toxins. But for many others, these ceremonies are deeply spiritual and hold more meaning.

Temazcals are thought to purify not just the body but the mind and soul—healing you from the inside out.

Traditionally, it is also thought to have the ability to heal many medical problems and aid women during childbirth. 

Participating in a Temazcal

If you are thinking of participating in a temazcal ceremony, here are some tips to keep you healthy and safe and will allow you to make the most out of the experience: 

  • Make sure you are well hydrated because you’ll be sweating a lot and losing a lot of fluids through your skin. Some temazcal ceremonies involve tea drinking, which could help you to keep hydrated during the ceremony. 
  • Don't participate if you have a condition that makes extreme temperatures dangerous to your health. There may also be risks of carbon monoxide exposure. You can ask your doctor before participating in one to make sure it’s safe for you.
  • Try and commit to the experience wholeheartedly because temazcals are stepped in ancient traditional rituals you might be unfamiliar with. Don’t let this deter you from enjoying the experience wholly, just follow the lead of your shaman or temazcalero. 
  • You might participate in a bathing suit or while nude if it’s a very intimate ceremony so it’s better to not wear too many layers since you'll likely be very hot.
  • Don’t hesitate to stop at any point if the ceremony becomes uncomfortable for you. If the dome becomes too hot or you start to feel faint or lightheaded, inform the shaman or temazcalero and step out of the dome. 

Potential Pitfalls 

People’s interest in sweat lodge experiences like a temazcal is ever-growing, causing people to take advantage of the growing trend. It is important to only participate in temazcals under the supervision of an experienced shaman or temazcalero who is qualified in safely carrying out these ceremonies.

If left unattended or not properly supervised, a temazcal could easily go awry. There have been reports of people participating in sweat lodges organized by people who didn’t have proper training and people were, unfortunately, hurt.

However, if performed in the right conditions under proper supervision, a temazcal is completely safe and you stand to gain many benefits from this ceremony. 

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  2. Sears ME, Kerr KJ, Bray RI. Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury in Sweat: A Systematic ReviewJ Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:184745. doi:10.1155/2012/184745

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