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sweat lodge

Temazcal sweat lodge in Tulum, Mexico

“I’m not going to do the sweat lodge.” I said.

“No? Why not?”

“I don’t like the heat and I won’t be able to leave whenever I want to and I don’t want to be in there with all those sweaty people.”

As the words left my mouth, I knew they sounded familiar. They were all excuses that someone had given me for not attending a Bikram yoga class. I only needed to say “I’m not flexible enough” and I would have covered everything.

Well, now I had to do the sweat lodge.

I was at this yoga retreat in Mexico and this was part of the experience, right? Daily yoga, vegan food and transformative spiritual experiences. I had to do it.

Just after sundown, about 18 of us gathered in a circle and were smudged in sage smoke — something that felt both spiritually significant and like it might act as a helpful anti-mosquito aid.

The Temazcal is an ancient Mayan tradition and the hut is representative of the womb. The purpose of this whole thing was to emerge reborn. We all crammed into the dome and sat, with our legs pulled up close, our bodies pressed up against the person next to us. There was no room to stand or move around. You just had to be there and get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Then, the rocks came in. They had been sitting in the blazing fire-pit outside and were glowing red. We invited them in by saying “Welcome, Grandmother” in Spanish as they were shoveled into a pit in the middle of the Temazcal. Then, water infused with herbs was pored over the rocks. The steam rose and filled the Temazcal like a sauna.

It was hot. Really hot. Hotter than a Bikram Yoga hot room. At this point you kind of wanted to yell at the rocks – “get the hell out, Grandma” – but that would have been disrespectful.

Then the chanting began. And the singing. And I think some people had instruments but I couldn’t really see them and didn’t have enough wits about me to even shake a tambourine. The light-headedness took over, but at least the people on either side of me were propping me up so I couldn’t fall face-first into the rocks.

The total Temazcal lasted about two hours but it was separated into four parts or “doors.” After each door we had the chance to leave if we wanted to; I left after the second door, sat out the third door in the cool(er) night air, where I laid in savasana and some sort of tamascal assistant offered me water and played drums over me. After my break, I decided I wanted more of this experience, what ever it was. I went back in for the last door.

We sang about showing appreciation for ancestors and all that had come before us. We sang about acceptance of ourselves and letting go of anything from the past that didn’t serve us. We sang about our gratitude for the whole world and something about intergalactic eagles that I really didn’t understand but I was totally digging.

I did feel that when I crawled out, sweaty and dirty and delirious, I was reborn. The whole experience for me was about surrender. It was so similar to my early experiences with Bikram yoga. I was so apprehensive about the whole thing, but the process gave me the chance to let go – of my fear, my anxiety, my baggage. We all went and jumped in the ocean to complete the ritual and celebrate in the waves.

It absolutely felt cleansing and I really do feel changed by the experience, even weeks later. There was a shift. Something happened, but I can’t quite tell you how or why.

But, I definitely left something behind in that hot, smokey hut – something I just didn’t need anymore. It mixed with my sweat and my grateful tears and it melted into the sand and disappeared forever.

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