You’ve heard of infrared saunas, right? They claim to reduce stress, burn off calories, clear up the skin, lift your mood, and deliver a multitude of additional benefits we’re here for. Sauna studios in LA and NYC like Shape House, Sweattheory, HigherDOSE, and Hot Box are a few places where you could sweat your way to detoxification. What these trendy 'sweat lodges' have done is taken ancient and traditional healing methods and modernized them (think: LED lights for color therapy and an AUX to play music). While I've experienced an infrared sauna—and prefer it to a dry sauna, because it feels as though the heat radiates from within, rather than the classic hot room experience —I've always wanted to try a traditional sweat lodge.
On a recent trip to Mexico, I experienced a temazcal ceremony at the Jasha Spa at JW Marriott Los Cabos. It’s the closest I’ve come to the authentic ritual. The ceremony is 90-minutes and was led by a husband and wife, Jorge Delgadillo and Silvia Gaytan, who have been practicing since they were children. Picture a dome-shaped brick oven. While you may have to crawl into a traditional temazcal, which translates directly to "house of sweat," this particular one is larger and has seats, because it’s at a resort. "A temazcal is good to heal your soul and detoxify your body," says Silvia.
We were given instructions to avoid food for two hours before the ceremony and to drink water. Traditionally, you’d be asked to fast and not drink water one day before the experience. (Fortunately, that’s a thing of the past, because I’ve tried a juice cleanse and that didn’t last very long.) Before entering, we were smudged with sage, which cleanses your energy (in case you’re curious, we were wearing swimsuits). Jorge was hombre fuego whose job was to help the temazcalero—in this case, Silvia who led the ceremony. Jorge shoveled in hot stones and closed the door behind him. There was a small crack in the door that allowed a sliver of light to shine in. In a traditional one, you wouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of you. The idea is that the warmth and darkness is intended to be the womb of Mother Earth. Stay with me, I’ll come back to this.
Silvia asked for permission from Mother Earth to initiate the ceremony. She sang and chanted, and at times we joined in. If this were a few years ago, I might have been timid, but I reminded myself everyone else probably felt the same awkwardness so I just went for it. We went around sharing what our intentions were for the ceremony, and giving thanks. It was the start of the new year, so intention-setting was something I had given a lot of thought to. I thanked the spirits for my health, and for the health of my family and loved ones. My intention was to have a laser-sharp focus on my career. I'm a huge believer in putting our intentions into the universe, and vocalizing it in this sacred space was beyond powerful. Silvia continued the ceremony with more singing and chanting, we were encouraged to play instruments, and I tapped a shaker. There’s something about not only being present but participating that’s deeply impactful to the whole experience.
"We work with four elements: air, water, fire, and ground,” says Silvia of the traditional medicine. "Fire to heat the rocks, water to prepare the medicine tea, the air is the steam, and the ground is at your feet." It was a spiritual journey and one that I’d recommend (unless you’re pregnant, have a heart condition or blood pressure issues). I experienced clarity about my goals and felt overwhelming positivity for the amount of love in my life. "The main purpose is to leave all of our concerns and discomforts inside the temazcal," says Silvia. "At the end when you come out, it’s like you’re reborn."
For what it's worth: the intentions I set during the ceremony ended up manifesting in my life shortly after. How's that for a reason to sweat?
Just in case you need more convincing, check out 5 science-backed reasons why saunas are good for your health.