Insight into Mayan Heritage: Temazcal Ceremonies
One of the best things about visiting Mexico is its unmatched cultural heritage and fascinating traditions. Throughout this region’s history, it has been home to five major civilizations including the Mayan civilization and the Aztecs. Temazcal ceremonies have been around for at least five thousand years, originating with the pre-Hispanic Indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica. To this day, many indigenous peoples continue traditional practices while still evolving and adapting to the modern world. While many temazcal structures were destroyed during the Spanish conquest, some were in hidden locations that helped to preserve this beautiful tradition and keep it going up until this day.
What is a Temazcal Ceremony?
For those new to temazcal ceremonies, it is an old tradition of connecting to yourself and to Mother Earth through prayer that involves the basic elements of fire, water, earth, and air, and the vibrations offered through chants, and songs.
Historically, temazcals were used for improving health, healing the sick, and purifying the body. The word temazcal is thought to come from three Nahuatl words: Tetl "rock"; Mazitli "hot", and Cali "house", which literally translates to "house of burning rocks".
A temazcal is essentially a sweat lodge in the shape of a circular dome (think igloo-shaped) constructed from volcanic rock, mud, and cement. The structure represents a woman’s womb, since after the ceremony, you are thought to be "reborn". There is a small entrance, facing east, that is covered with a cloth, which participants use to enter the dome.
Inside the dome, there is a pit in the center in which volcanic stones are placed. A spiritual healer, either a shaman or a temazcalero, pours water over the heated volcanic stones to produce steam inside the confined area. The reason that volcanic stones are used is that they will not crack or explode like other rocks when heated to a high temperature.
While a temazcal is a kind of sweat lodge that helps to eliminate toxins in the body, it holds a much deeper spiritual meaning than that and is thought to have healing powers.
The ceremony typically lasts two hours with a few breaks where participants can go outside of the dome if they need to, to cool off, since the heat does get intense.
While each temazcal ceremony is unique, typically the ceremony begins with the fire keepers asking permission to the logs that will be burned to heat the volcanic rocks, which are heated
outside the temazcal structure. The hot rocks are then placed in the pit inside the temazcal. When entering the temazcal, the participants are asked to honor the ceremonial steps of the ancient ritual including bringing their forehead to the ground to "kiss" the earth to give thanks for the rebirth they are about to experience and enter or leave the temazcal in a clockwise fashion. During the ceremony, participants can kneel or sit cross-legged.
The shaman asks them to set an intention about what they would like to get out of the ceremony and which aspect of their life they would like to focus on. Next the shaman pours water over the hot rocks and burns different herbs such as sage or copal to help the cleansing process. Throughout the ceremony, the shaman says prayers, chants, sings, may play a drum, flute, or other musical instrument, and continues to create steam by pouring water over the heated rocks.
The aim of this ritual is to cleanse both the body and mind. Through intense purification and meditation, you should feel more connected to yourself and to Mother Earth.
You may be offered an herbal tea or cacao to drink during the ceremony. Cacao is thought to open your heart to the higher frequencies of love and compassion.
When the ceremony ends, participants will be asked to exit the dome and will have a chance to relax and cool off. You will feel tired after the ceremony, so take some time to relax and lower your body temperature before rushing off.
What are the Benefits of a Temazcal?
Temazcals are good for both the body and the soul. Due to the heat and the steam, physically it will make you sweat and sweating has been proven to help cleanse toxins and impurities from the body resulting in improved health and clearer skin. It also helps with weight loss efforts and is thought to have the ability to heal many medical problems. Mentally, you may notice an improvement in your mood and it can help people with symptoms of mild depression. It can also decrease the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Spiritually, temazcals are thought to heal you from the inside out, while purifying your mind. Since they involve deep mediation, it is like a form of therapy.
How to Prepare for a Temazcal
To make your first temazcal experience as enjoyable as possible, here are some tips for how to prepare for it.
● Drink a lot of water before the ceremony, since you will lose a lot of fluids through sweating and it is essential to stay hydrated.
● Choose your clothing wisely and wear attire appropriate for sweating. Wear a swimsuit with a cover up or shorts and a t-shirt. Also bring a towel and dry clothes to change into after the ceremony. You also may want to bring a blanket or a shawl in case you get cold afterwards.
● While this will be a completely new experience for you, follow what your shaman or temazcalero tells you and commit to the experience wholeheartedly. The heat may get uncomfortable at times, but it is best if you can stick it out. Just breathe deeply and calmy. If you feel like you are getting too hot, bring your head down close to the floor, since it is cooler there. Remember there will be breaks when you can step outside if you need to. Also, keep in mind that you must ask permission before you step out, so that you don’t interrupt the ritual.
● The ceremony is an intense experience that exposes you to high temperatures, to get the most of the experience you need to be well rested and in a good frame of mind. The night before the ceremony try to go to bed early and avoid drinking alcohol or the use of other substances. Also eat light, fresh foods and avoid eating a heavy meal before right before the ceremony.
Temazcal ceremonies are an important part of Mexican culture that give an excellent insight into Mayan civilization. Whether it is to cleanse your body or calm your mind, you will get a lot out of the experience and when you head to Mexico next, participating in this ritual will likely be one of the most memorable parts of your vacation. Temazcal ceremonies are very popular and there should be one happening close to the TAFER or Villa Group resort you are staying at. Ask the concierge team about the nearest ones.