Sweating It Out in a Temazcal
I didn’t really want to go. I had heard about the temazcal, the ancient Aztec sauna, several times before and had always thought, "It’s 35 degrees Celsius outside, why would I possibly want to sit in an infernally hot sweat bath for an hour?" But I knew it would be a good day out with Barbara and Ray, who always provide interesting conversation, so shortly after ten on another glorious Puerto morning we set out for San Gabriel Mixtepec.
After an hour of beautiful scenery we reached San Gabriel Mixtepec, and drove through the highland village to Rancho El Sagrado, a picturesque mountain retreat of comfortable wooden cabins and excellent hiking trails. If you love nature this place has it all: mountains, forests, birds, a coffee plantation and a very inviting river. We drank good coffee and took a hike along a mountain trail with Lalo, the owner, as our guide. We found a clearing in the forest with a view over the valleys and trees, and I stood and gazed and began to feel wonderful. By the time we descended the trail everyone was smiling.
Lalo had been heating large round stones in the embers of a fire all morning, and these he placed in the center of the temazcal. Every time he entered and exited the igloo-like structure, he intoned ‘Ometeotl’, the name of the Aztec deity who created the world. Lalo asked us to do the same and to always enter the temezcal from the left and to exit from the right, according to tradition.
The temazcal is an ancient custom that was very common among tribes throughout Mesoamerica. The sweat baths survived constant attempts by the Spanish to eradicate them, and Indians found using a temazcal were often brutally punished. By hiding temazcals in remote places indigenous communities preserved what they revered as a therapeutic practice, an instrument used in the healing and easing of almost all ailments.
Ancient customs deserve respect, especially when people have risked severe punishment to preserve them. It was with this in mind that I crouched down and entered the temazcal saying ‘Ometeotl’.
Meanwhile Ray noticed that there was a latch on the door and explained to Lalo that he had once had a traumatic experience in a closed space which had made him very claustrophobic. He feared that if he was locked inside the temazcal he would have a panic attack. Lalo assured him the door would not be locked; he showed us that the latch didn’t even work. Barbara was also relieved to discover that there were small holes in the roof that allowed daylight to filter in. She’s afraid of the dark.
Once we were all inside, Lalo poured water and then herbal teas onto the stones. Clouds of steam came up and filled the chamber with intense heat. It was delicious. The scent of the herbs was rich and invigorating, and I started sweating profusely. I kept very still and began to breathe deeply and slowly. I had not expected it to feel so good. Almost immediately I entered a state of true relaxation and my thoughts became focused on everything I had in life to be grateful for.
After a bit Lalo spoke up, saying he hoped we would all benefit from the temazcal and he thanked us for coming. He invited us to say a few words about what we hoped to gain from the temazcal and so focus our minds on positive intentions. We each expressed our gratitude for the experience and spoke very positively about life and the future. Ray was really happy about not feeling claustrophobic and felt the temazcal was helping him overcome it.
We sat and sweat buckets motionless and silent until Lalo began to chant. He began with the Hindu chant of ‘Ohm’ and slowly developed it into ‘Ometeotl’. Some of Lalo’s best temazcals have been with people who joined in the chant. This time his guests remained silent and focussed on positive thinking.
After almost an hour we slowly climbed out of the temazcal and breathed the cool, fresh, mountain air. Things were getting pretty trippy at this stage, and I was so high that I had to go and sit alone in a nearby meadow. Everything made sense; there was nothing to fear or doubt, and I had one of those ecstatic moments of complete harmony with nature. The breeze as it rippled through the grass, the swaying of the tall trees, the rise and fall of the birds and butterflies in flight were all visually enhanced, and every birdsong became a symphony, as I inhaled the vibrant green of the surrounding forest.
This is my lasting impression of the temazcal and its effects. I can’t wait for the next one!
Directions to Rancho el Sagrado: Take highway 131. The clearly marked turn-off is on the right, just a few minutes past the town of San Gabriel. Continue on a dirt road, always keeping right, for 800 meters. The road ends at the Rancho. You can also take a van to San Gabriel, and get a taxi there.www.ranchoelsagrado.com
Phone. (954) 124 62 41 / 100 59 53
*Patrick Sheehy is an English teacher. email@example.com