It’s pitch black and sweltering. What do you do? Breathe.
People have compared sweat lodges to saunas but they are much more healing and spiritually beneficial than just stepping into a sauna for 20 minutes. Some hav Currently in Ecuador, I recently sat and sweated through my third ceremony, here called a Temazcal, and it was amazing. Let me tell you why.
Every culture and tradition has their own version of a Temazcal but they all have the basic premise: emotional healing and health through song and prayer. Last month I sat in one that was led by a man ordained by the Lakota tradition. This time it was led by Alejandro Beltran, an Ecuadorian Shaman in the beautiful Yunguilla Valley.
What is A Sweat Lodge?
The Temazcal, or sweat lodge, is an ancient form of physical and emotional healing. It consists of combining hot stones that cook in a fire made by the Shaman a few hours ahead of the sweat with herbs and a dome made of poles that symbolize the womb of mother earth.
The stones are quite important. They represent the ancestors. Grandmother and Grandfathers stones are welcomed in by those who sit in the lodge and they are brought in by a special person whose job it is to pass the Shaman the stones with a shovel. The dome, or ‘Inipi,’ is covered with blankets, making the sweat lodge pitch black, further simulating the experience of being in the womb. If the session is co-ed, women enter first, clock-wise, and sit on one side. Then men enter and are seated on the other. The ceremony usually last 1-2.5 hours.
Benefits of A Sweat Lodge
- It hydrates and tones the skin
- Filters airways
- Relaxes muscles
- Helps reduce joint/bone issues
- De-stresses the digestive system
- Helps with menstrual discomfort
- Encourages introspection and reflection
- Improves blood circulation
- Aids weight loss
- Helps reduce size of cysts in the ovaries
- Relaxes the nervous system to decrease stress and anxiety
- Helps reduce liver disorders
Typically, there are four rounds. Each round signifies something that is being healed, prayed, or shown gratitude for. More stones are added after each round when the door is opened. Sometimes instruments are played, sometimes not. This Temazcal gave out many instruments to the participants of the sweat. We got shakers, drums, rattles, flutes, and singing bowls to play as we sung along to Spanish songs led by the Shaman.
I think I’ll take this opportunity to say the songs were absolutely beautiful and fun to sing. I had no idea what I was saying or even if I was singing the words right, but I did know it was pitch black and that I was there, in that moment, singing along with everyone else as hard as I could because it felt good. However, by the third and fourth round I had gone silent.
For this sweat the four rounds or ‘doors’ represented the four elements. Different traditional Temazcal songs are sung in the sweat lodge and everyone is invited to join in if they like. The songs are mostly about spirit, connection, love, and unity.
The first door was earth. We thanked mother earth for all the material things, the body, our parents and families, home, food, and for our work.
Secondly, we thanked water in all its forms — as rain, the sea, the ocean, and tears; as blood in our body and as food. We thanked it for cleaning our bodies and for teaching us that change is constant and that we can change shape just as water does. It also teaches us to let our emotions flow.
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Thirdly, we honoured fire. It provides us light, heat, and passion in our hearts. We thanked it for teaching us to transmute and burn the things that no longer serve us in the pursuit of love.
Finally, the last door was air. No instruments were used during this round. The Shaman said a prayer for air and wind and thanked it for its movement, for voices raised in song and prayer, and for connecting us all through our breath, fueling life inside us.
In total there were forty stones that entered the Tamazcal. There was an inner circle and an outer circle to allow twenty people to enter the lodge. You get pretty close in there. Because it was my third time participating in a ceremony, I decided to sit in the inner circle, closest to the stones. Round four was by far the most challenged I’ve ever felt in a sweat.
There were moments I just couldn’t get comfortable and my mind was racing. Lots of stuff came up for me — self love, parental love, frustration, joy, gratitude for life, praying for others, and then silence. I found this wonderful place inside myself that was still, quiet, and calm. Even though I was dripping with sweat I didn’t feel hot.
Breathing is key in any sweat lodge. The darkness and heat are catalysts for going deep into oneself and finding that comfort in discomfort. Feeling fear and having courage to move right through it with the help of your breath. In fact, I noticed my breath slowed down a lot while I was in there.
People have reported seeing visions and even feeling a sense of freedom after a sweat. We ended this Temazcal with a loud primal scream right before we exited, signalling our birth from the womb of the sweat lodge. That first touch of the cool air on my skin and that first sip of water were amazing, and I was overcome with gratitude.
A lot of the success of the sweat lodge depends on who is leading it. I would not recommend doing this on your own and suggest seeking out places and professionals in your city that run sweats. We are doing another one in two weeks at the Yoga Teacher Training I am doing at the Om Healing Centre in Ecuador, and I can’t wait. It is amazing how much the Temazcal has helped me with my work on the mat.
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