At a first glance, the procedure and environment of mexican temazcal is quite similar to sauna. Heating element- hot vulcanic stones, steam is being produced by adding water with different herbs on hot stones, rubbing your skin with different plants and between sessions the participants drink water, tea or water enriched with herbs. Pretty much the same, right? It turns out, that it is not correct and Mexican temazcal is way different than traditional sauna.
What is the purpose of temazcal?
Mexican Temazcal is being used for cleaning your body from inside and outside. Herb soaked water is being applied to hot stones therefore it creates a steam. Since the temazcal is a small round building with very low ceilings, the participant inhales the steam because it has no other place to go. Different herbs like basil, aloe, rosemary, peppermint and more, create an aromatherapy effect which helps to cleanse your respiratory system and will do changes in your current state of mood.
Mud, aloe, hot rock and plant made whisk massages, effectively relaxes your muscles and cleans your skin. These techniques are very similar to saunas in Finland, Russia, Baltic states. All these body cleansing techniques do improve the blood circulation, energize tired muscles, cleans the digestive tract and clear the skin very well. Conclusion- Mexican temazcal is effective body cleansing method.
Besides cleaning your body, temazcal is being used for spiritual needs as well. Many ancient rituals are being used to clean your soul and to make you feel like reborn again. A healer or a shaman (temazcalero) leads the rituals and guide you through them. There are many rituals with different purposes and methods, but the main goal for the ritual is to leave all your isecurities, fear and negative emotions into temazcal and exit it with fresh thoughts and your own beliefs. People often feel enlightened and more connected to mother nature after an experience in Mexican temazcal.
With what temazcal is different from sauna?
Firstly- building itself. It is typically a round building with very low ceilings. It is made out of stones and clay/mud. It has one entrance on a side of the lodge and one skylight hole in the ceiling. In the middle of lodge there is place for pre heated stones and these how glowing stones work as a heating element. During sessions, rocks will be changed to a fresh ones.
Secondly- Process by itself. Temperature can be around 40 degrees celsius, which is quite low compared to Finnish sauna. Duration of one interval can take even up to 1 hour and the whole session can last for 4 hours or more.
When the session starts, entrance and a hole in the ceilings are covered with a thick cloth. Since the only light element is red glowing rocks in the middle, it becomes very dark and claustrophobic. On the other hand, inside the room of sauna, the atmosphere is very calm and relaxing, because of silence, “moody” light and wood elements all over the room.
During the ritual, shaman is playing different sounds, singing and involving participants to tell him/she the pain they want to get rid off and leave inside temazcal. That means that inside temazcal you need to be aware of what is happening and follow the shaman’s instructions.
To get the most from this experience, you definitely need to calm yourself down and just accept everything that will await you. You need to be open minded and ready for new experiences.
The fact, that it is different does not mean that it is bad or a fraud. We have to remember, that it is different culture that lives in different habitat, therefore their beliefs and traditions are not same as for european people or asian people for instance. Mexican temazcals are still widely popular and people do use them regularly, which approves the fact, that this interesting sweating lodge does have a positive and healthy impact on participants and will give you an unique spiritual awakening.