What is a Temazcal?

Image​​: @temazcal.mariana

Spas, hot yoga, saunas, hot tubs, and steam showers are luxury activities raved by participants for the health qualities they possess but did you know many of these activities derive from the ancient practice of heat therapy. 

Heat therapy and cleansing rituals have been around for thousands of years. 

Nearly each culture around the world has their own variation of it and have witnessed the great impact it has on those who partake in them.  

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In Buddhism, there was a great emphasis on personal and spiritual cleanliness. 

Therefore countries which practiced the religion developed forms of cleansing activities. 

In Japan there was the rotenburo, sento, and ofuro. In Turkey, the hammam tradition was central to their culture. 

Traditionally it was used as a wedding preparation, a morning ritual, and for daily social life. 

Today it is a way to embrace history while working on health.

Rooted deep in Mexican heritage is the temazcal ceremony. 

Dating back 1,000 years this practice embodies death and rebirth while the temazcal represents a mothers womb. 

Far more than a simple steam room, this ceremony blends together ancient rituals with medicinal herbs to aid in the purification of the mental, physical, and spiritual well being of each person.

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Temazcal - Nahuatl for ‘the house of heat’ - is traditionally a dome shaped structure made of mud or volcanic stone. 

A shaman or temazcalero will walk participants into the dark room and ask them to sit in a circle. 

Steaming volcanic stones are then placed in the center of the circle and water is poured over them to produce extra steam. 

Stones are progressively brought into the dome to keep the space hot. 

Traditionally, these rituals would be performed before warriors would head out to war or athletes before a big game and after their return. 

Witnessing the effects this ceremony had on their men, the indigenous communities began to believe they held a sort of healing power.

With this knowledge, they began using these sweat lodges as places to give birth in order to protect the mother and her child.

Following the steam, participants will be asked to step out and either take a cold shower or step into a pool in order to lower their body temperature. 

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What are its benefits?

Physical: The use of heat on the body is a natural occurrence when one is sick. 

Bodies are able to increase the inside temperature in order to help flush out any toxins or illnesses. 

Temazcal rituals perform a similar act. Toxins are released from the body as the steam and heat increase in the dome. 

In addition, the steam opens the body's pores and allows for any blockage in the pores to be released⁠—leaving you with clearer skin.

Mental: By allowing oneself to sit and reflect, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to release all of our mental burdens. 

Any negative thoughts we might have, any intruding thoughts, we are able to work through them and leave the temazcal feeling positive, refreshed, and relaxed. 

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Nowadays the temazcal is easier to access.

Many resorts and boutique hotels across Mexico have included them in their spa offerings for visitors to enjoy. 

While participating in one it is important to remember temazcal ceremonies offer a glimpse into another side of Mexican culture, one that steps away from tourist attractions and offers a way to heal. Interested in booking a temazcal? 

We recommend Temazcal Mariana in Oaxaca City, Mexico. 

Founder Mariana Emilia turned to the temazcal practices in 1991 as a way to reconnect with life following her husband’s death. 

Having recently retired from being a nurse and now taking care of her six children alone, anxiety about the future engulfed her. 

The temazcal practices in many ways was a rebirth for her as she found her calling and a way to heal her mind, body and spirit.

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About the Author

Eliana Flores-Barber

Eliana Flores-Barber is a Mexican-American writer and photographer based out of California. She graduated from Emerson College with a journalism degree and an art history minor. Her love of storytelling comes from her grandparents who always shared stories of their family history and life in Mexico. When she is not working, you can find her on the tennis court.

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