This past winter, I chose to take a trip to Tulum to help navigate trauma in my professional life and heartbreak in my personal life. Despite daily rituals that included meditation and journaling, I knew that the winter solstice would bring a period of extended cold weather and with it, long periods of isolation back home in Boston, MA. I wanted to prepare for this seasonal shift and set careful intentions for my future — my healing heart needed a respite.
After exploring Tulum for a few days, I came across a wellness sanctuary, Espiritu Wellness, dedicated to providing access to age-old ceremonies and spiritual practices native to Mexico. One of these age-old ceremonies, the Temazcal ceremony, is often used to welcome in the summer and winter solstice. Performed inside a makeshift hut turned sweat lodge, it invokes renewal and rebirth. The word itself originates from the Nahuatl word Temāzcalli, which translates to “house of heat.”
Entrance of Espiritu Wellness
The Temazcal ceremony, and this tradition of healing, can be traced back to the Mesoamerican cultures that have inhabited the Yucatan Peninsula and Guatemala for centuries. Pre-Colombian Mesoamericans practiced Temazcal ceremonies as part of curative, healing processes; for purification after physical activity or trauma, overall health, and childbirth. The ceremony has been touted to aid in easing the symptoms of depression and arthritis — and reducing overall physical and mental stress.
For our ceremony, we were instructed to come with light clothing, an altar offering, and to hydrate well. Upon arrival, the shaman walked us towards the altar where we laid our gifts for the land and our ancestral guides. We sat in a circle as participants continued to arrive and gather. As we sat in silence, the urn burned copal into the air, cleansing us and preparing us for the Temazcal while the light shifted into total darkness. The herbs burning at the center of our hut filled our lungs, both purifying us and leaving us with an inner sense of calm.
The shaman initiated the start of the ceremony by setting intentions for each element – earth, wind, fire, and air. Each participant was asked to name their intention while the group echoed each intention out loud, amplifying their power and significance into the shared space. In the darkness, I followed the shaman’s soothing voice as sweat began to build up in my body. As I touched my face to wipe my brow, I could feel the heat from the hut increasing in strength.
In our ceremony, a few prayed for the healing of the land, others invoked their desire for family healing, and all of us set intentions to move towards abundant love. The shaman directed each of us throughout the ceremony, and we all had opportunities to light the fire for the Temazcal. This open atmosphere meant to inspire healing in the community, and the pure darkness effectively created a safe anonymity. In the dark, the sounds of our breathing were amplified. I touched my arms and felt the heat, closing my eyes and meditating on the lessons of the past year.
The Temazcal Hut
Our altar of offerings
I had a chance to sit with my thoughts, all while the shaman sang us songs and invoked prayer from the group. In this meditative state, I asked out-loud to be cleared of my anxiety about the future and my career. I held my breath, waiting for an answer with my heart beating fast, expecting rejection. To my surprise, I was met with joyful affirmations from my new colleagues in ritual. Suddenly, we weren’t strangers. We had made a profound connection in the darkness, sweating out our trauma, and speaking truth into the future we hoped to create.
The shaman poured herbs such as yerba buena and rosemary over large, hot stones, which increased the heat in the hut over time. Once inside the Temazcal, the shaman guided us in folklore songs, and welcomed each of us to sing. Sensing each other only by sound, we cried, shared poems, talked about our angst and worries and held space in silence for one another.
The darkness allowed us to be completely vulnerable even amongst strangers, while the heat of the stones ensured a total purification process. The ritual can span anywhere from 4 to 8 hours depending on the size of the hut and the number of participants. After our ritual, we cleansed our bodies in an outdoor shower. We closed the ceremony with a prayer, thanked the land, and shared fruit and water to nurture our bodies after the intense heat of the Temazcal.
The ceremony left me feeling refreshed, uplifted, and prepared to take any challenge ahead. I felt deep gratitude to be a participant in a practice left by our Indigenous ancestors. That night after the ritual, I slept over 10 hours and woke up the next day with a renewed sense of purpose and gratitude. Since the ritual, I have been reminded of the power of healing in community and how it is our collective responsibility to ensure the wellness of not just ourselves, but of others. It is an experience for everyone, a reminder of the tools left behind by our ancient cultures that still resonate today.
Images courtesy of the writer.
Beyazmin Jimenez is an activist, writer, and creative based in Boston, MA.