Steaming into Purity: The Ancient Temazcal Ritual for Mind and Spirit

Discover the ancient pre-Hispanic ritual of Temazcal, a steam bath that purifies the mind and spirit. Learn about its history and benefits. Experience the traditional practice in various destinations in Mexico today.

Steaming into Purity: The Ancient Temazcal Ritual for Mind and Spirit
Traditional temazcal spiritual healing from the ancient Americas. Credit: Generadores de vapor

The Temazcal is an ancient pre-Hispanic ritual that is still practiced in various parts of Mexico. It is a steam bath that played an important role in social and religious life in Mesoamerica. The ritual is performed in a place similar to that of palaces and temples, as they were considered buildings of great importance in ancient times.

The Temazcal bath is believed to have many benefits, including purification of the body, treating insomnia, and rejuvenating the skin. It is important to note that there are safety measures that should be followed when performing the Temazcal bath, and it is not recommended for certain individuals, such as pregnant women and those with certain health conditions.

What are the benefits of Temazcal?

The ritual is done with water that has been infused with herbs that smell good and are good for you. The priest also says chants and words that are meant to renew and cleanse the soul. However, it represents more than that. The word Temazcal derives from the Nahuatl temazcalli, which means "house or temple of a steam", where some relate it to the womb and all that is pure inside, so we will tell you the benefits derived from this practice.

1. Purifier

By going inside the temazcal, you can breathe in the vapors that come from the burning rocks. These vapors help to clean the lungs, stomach, and nervous system.

2. Aids in the treatment of insomnia

It is a relaxing area where your body and mind will be cleared, to the point of detoxification of harmful elements, so you can have the easiest way to fall asleep and prevent episodes of insomnia.

3. Rejuvenate your skin

At high temperatures, the skin sweats copiously and seeks to cool itself through sweat, so in this way, we release toxins that help your skin look fresher and younger because the pores are unclogged.

What is the temazcal bath?

It is a full-body bath where the person can sit or lie down in a space where hot stones are used to make steam. Sometimes, the person's body can be washed in this bath with water from medicinal plants.

What is a steam bath?

It is a sauna-type bath where the person remains seated under a wooden structure or covered with sheets, covering only the body and leaving the head clear, generating heat using medicinal herbal water. In some regions, it is known as "sitz bath", "herbal bath", "blood wash" and even "steam bath".

Why talk about temazcal baths?

Due to the deaths of pregnant women in Mexico that have been linked to temazcal and herbal baths given by people who didn't know how to do it right, it is important to set up the safety measures that are needed to make sure that these baths are used correctly and to help reduce the number of deaths.

For what ailments are temazcal baths used?

Milk secretion
Contraction of the womb (womb contraction)
Closing of the hip
Tension release and muscle relaxation

What are the general recommendations for the temazcal bath?

Any person who would like to take a temazcal or steam bath should follow all the indications to avoid any accidents.

The temazcal must be built in an open or clear area due to the smoke that is generated.

The size of the temazcal varies by region, but it should have enough amplitude for at least two people to manipulate inside (the user and the therapist).

Inside the temazcal, they should not use any metal, plastic, or any other material that can heat up and cause burns. In the case of clothing, it should be exclusively cotton.

For safety reasons, people who have consumed alcoholic beverages should not take the bath.

Before entering the temazcal, rest for 15 to 30 minutes.

It is possible to get burned by the hot stones inside the temazcal, so it is recommended that you take precautions not to touch them.

Do not stay in the temazcal bath for long periods; we recommend a maximum of 20 minutes.

After the temazcal bath, take care to avoid sudden temperature changes by resting for 40 minutes to 2 hours, wrapped in blankets up to the head, to release toxins and normalize body temperature.

When medicinal plants are used in the temazcal bath, do not use essential oils in the massage because they can cause skin burns.

In what ailments should we be alert to the temazcal bath?

Many people are unaware that they have diabetes or blood pressure problems, so this is a risk that should not be overlooked. The user should be asked questions, and their vital signs should be checked to see if they are normal. If the person's blood pressure is too low or too high, they should not enter the temazcal.

The temazcal bath can cause heart problems such as myocardial infarction, cardiovascular decompensation states, and symptoms of lack of circulation (they turn purple). People who take the temazcal bath should be aware of the first signs of illness and get medical help right away.

The dark environment of the temazcal can cause mental imbalances, so it is not recommended for people who are claustrophobic (afraid of small, enclosed spaces). If any symptoms appear, the person should leave the temazcal with care because the temperature will change.

High temperatures can cause problems with the heart or lungs, so the person providing this service must keep an eye on the temperature and make sure it stays at the right level.

Participants in the temazcal bath (both the user and the therapist) should be told that if they feel overwhelmed, dizzy, weak, have trouble seeing, are dehydrated, have trouble breathing, or are in any other kind of pain, they should leave the temazcal, take the appropriate precautions, and go to the hospital right away.

During the bath, they should stay hydrated, so it is essential to provide them with water, tea, or an oral saline solution. As a recommendation, the liquids they drink during and after the bath should not be cold.

For safety reasons, temazcal baths should not be given to people with migraines or frequent headaches.

What are the necessary recommendations for pregnant and postpartum women for the temazcal bath?

Pregnant women should not be given the temazcal because there is a risk of severe dehydration and cardiovascular problems.

Newborn children up to 6 years of age are not allowed in the temazcal.
Births in Temazcal have a high risk due to a lack of cleanliness, severe dehydration problems, and possible burns, so in no case should they be allowed.

For safety reasons, postpartum women who have ingested alcoholic beverages (pulque, beer, liquor, hot water, etc.) should not take the bath.

Temazcal baths are given 40 days after childbirth if it was normal to allow the body to regain strength and stability, and between 80 and 90 days in the case of a cesarean section to allow proper healing.

Postpartum women who had an easy delivery and don't have any wounds can take the herbal bath up to three times, for no more than 30 minutes each time. They can do this from 3 to 9 days after giving birth.

For the herbal bath, you should be very careful to make sure the water temperature is right so you don't burn your skin.

Source: Secretariat of Health of the Government of Puebla