Take part in a sacred event when visiting the Riviera Maya. The Temazcal, or Mayan sweat lodge, is full of symbolism and history. It is a cleansing and purification ritual often used to heal your body and soul or celebrate an event such as a wedding. Temazcals will be an experience you will not easily forget. If you are being drawn to read this, maybe you are being called to participate in this spiritual celebration found in various Riviera Maya locations.
Temazcals are the Mayan equivalent to the Native American sweat lodge with which most people are familiar. The idea behind this cleansing is to remove energy that blocks that our physical and spiritual bodies pick up in everyday life. The ritual can also be used to celebrate a new phase in life such as getting married or can be used to purify the body of impurities and toxins. It removes past influences so that you can move fearlessly into the future. Who couldn’t use that?
The Temazcal is a dome-shaped structure often made from brick or stone but can be made in a more temporary way with flexible poles and blankets or tarps laid over to keep the steam inside. There is a rounded door to enter the circular interior. In the middle of the dome, you will find a fire pit where stones are heated and water will be poured over often infused with healing herbs to create the sauna effect. The fire pit is referred to as the belly button of the Temazcal. Blankets or woven mats are placed on the earthen floor where the participants will sit Indian style.
The Temazcal dome symbolizes the womb of Mother Earth. The cleansing copal smoke represents the transmutation of negativity and clearing the physical and energetic bodies. The small rounded doorway is a sacred portal to the womb itself whisking you from one realm of the physical to the inner spiritual world. The stones or lava rocks in the fire pit are also known as “grandmothers” giving respect to the ancestral lineage. The “Puertas” give respect to each of the four directions, north, south, east and west and the themes they represent.
To begin, the Shaman will gather the participants to give respect to the 6 directions, north, south, east, west, sky, and earth. The first step before entering the Temazcal is a cleansing with a traditional tree resin, Copal, which is similar to Sage used by the Native Americans. Copal will be lit in a clay bowl or vessel and you will be overcome with its magical fragrance as the Shaman will “smudge” you or blow this smoke over your body to chase away any negative energies before you enter the sacred “womb” of Mother Earth. This is like taking off an armor so that the healing can enter more easily. The doorway is a sacred entrance and is small so you need to kneel to enter the dark chamber. As you kneel, you will touch your forehead to the ground and say “To all my relations”, a reverence to your guides and ancestors. From there, you will enter, always clockwise, all the way around the fire pit to sit closely, cross legged, knee to knee with your neighbor.
Next, herbal infused water will be poured over the hot lava rocks, as a bundle of aromatic herbs is slapped over the stones and sometimes passed around to brush off energies on your body. This is when the participants will state their name and intention for this ceremony. Why did you come? What is your purpose? What do you want to create from this ritual? By now you are getting your sweat on as if you are in a traditional sauna but here comes the rhythmic music and chanting that will help to keep your mind off of the intensifying heat and well as provide a connection between everyone. Cold water is passed around in a half gourd or ladle every so often to avoid dehydration. Some will find their mind wandering or unprovoked thoughts arriving. Everyone has a different experience and it is best to go to this type of a ritual with no expectations. Just let it flow.
There will be four sessions or “Puertas” (doors), one for each direction. This means every 15- 30 minutes (rituals vary from Shaman to Shaman) the door will open and new hot “grandmother” stones will be passed in for the next session to give respect to the coinciding theme of the direction by a “fire man”. As each “Puerta” progresses, the healing deepens and the connection between the participants strengthens. Often, you will feel like you know your fellow Temazcal partners much better once you leave the structure because you have shared in a deeply emotional experience.
As the last door is ending, you will often give thanks to the experience and everyone involved and then exit counterclockwise out of the symbolic “womb”. A closing tradition is to swim in a cenote or the sea or have cold water poured over you to seal the healing. You will feel energized after this spiritual celebration.
Learn more about Mexican traditions in the Riviera Maya.