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Why do we like to sweat? Within a Temazcal.




Why do we like to sweat?  Within a Temazcal.
II follow a winding path along the side of an open-air area cenote when a dome made of silvery stone with a small wooden door no higher than my waist comes into view, like a man shoveling lava rocks in and out of an open fire oven. I’m about to start a Temazcal ceremony on the Rosewood Mayakoba Sense spa in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico, in which a shaman will lead my husband and me through an hour-long session of sweating, chanting, silence, animal sounds, shouting, reflection and honoring hot rocks called “abuelitas” (little grandmothers) .

The Temazcal is a ritual sweat lodge traditionally used by indigenous peoples of Central America. It was intended to enable moments of change; connect with underworld, water and fertility spirits; cleaning after illness; recover after battle; and socializing, Casey Walsh, author of Virtuous water: mineral springs, swimming and infrastructure in Mexico, says Atlas Obscura. Today it has become a popular wellness attraction in Mexico, which means that lately it has become the subject of many of the same claims that spas make about saunas around the world: that they are purifying and detoxifying for the body and mind.

My experience in the Temazcal and my ravenous appreciation for dry saunas, steam rooms, hot yoga, and the transcendental sweat lodges I attended summer camp as a teenager left me wondering: what was going on with my (or rather, society’s) ) love of sweat? ?

Why We Sweat (And Why It Feels So Good)

Although sweating at inopportune times can be the worst, it feels really good to sweat on purpose—and that’s not a biological accident. Sara Evertsa science journalist and author of The joy of sweat, has delved deeply into the mechanisms, purpose, effects and cultural significance of sweating. She explains that sweating is our body’s way of cooling us down. When our body temperature rises, our blood becomes hot, so sweating moves the watery parts of the blood to the surface of the skin through our sweat glands, which then evaporate when it comes into contact with the air, cooling us from the outside.

“Evaporative cooling is humanity’s evolutionary superpower,” says Everts. “It is a physical process that effectively transfers heat from our body upwards and outwards, and it helps keep our body temperature stable. We need that because we have to exist in a very tight period [of] body temperature, otherwise we will die from heat exposure.”

When you get warm and then sweat in large amounts, your heart beats faster to pump more blood through your body. That extra blood flow is one of the reasons heat can feel so good on your muscles. But the cardiovascular overdrive also prompts the brain to release “happiness hormones” such as endorphins and adrenaline. Scientists don’t know exactly why, but some say it’s because heart training is good for you from an evolutionary perspective: a healthier heart equals a better ability to flee from predators.

“As a result of that cardiovascular workout where your heart is beating fast to move the blood that is very hot in your core to the outside of your skin, you get cardiovascular benefits,” says Everts. “Our evolutionary biology is such that we get lucky, we get happiness hormones when that happens.”

In short: that feeling of sticky euphoria you get in a sauna? That’s very real, at the level of your brain chemistry’s response to your body dealing with the heat. Given this biological benefit, it’s no surprise that versions of saunas (originally a Finnish word) exist all over the world, in places as diverse as Mexico, Korea, Russia and beyond.

“There is a social catharsis that we get from sweating,” says Everts. “That really is something universal about humanity.”

What saunas and sweat lodges do not do is ‘detox’ or ‘purify’ your body, at least physiologically. That’s what your kidneys are for. If you have a “toxin” in your blood, such as the remains of last night’s margarita, a negligible amount may be released when you sweat. But so do all the beneficial things in the watery parts of your blood, like electrolytes, and incidental things, like hormones. Everts points out that if you really purified your body through sweat, you would die, because it means draining all the fluid from your body and drying out your blood. Instead, your kidneys and liver filter out the bad stuff, and your body removes it when you go to the toilet.

“It’s easy for many people to confuse the emotional euphoria you experience in a sauna or other hot place with actual detoxing,” says Everts. “It’s really not a chemical detox.”

That doesn’t mean a hot yoga class, a sit in the schvitz, or, yes, a ceremony in a Temazcal, don’t have benefits. That heart training is no joke: a twenty year old study of Finnish men found that taking several saunas per week was associated with longevity and heart health. There’s the muscle relaxation and the stress-reducing, happiness-boosting chemical effect on the brain. And at the community level, there is the experience of going through an ecstasy-inducing ritual with an entire group that promotes closeness and community.

That brings us back to the Temazcal, tucked away by the cenote.

My experience in the Temazcal

The first morning of my trip I woke up in the Rosewood Mayakoba wellness suite– complete with a reflexology pool, essential oils linked to the phases of the moon, aromatherapy pods in the shower and stunning views of the lagoon – and walked to the Temazcal to meet the resort’s shaman. Rosewood Mayakoba, Director of Wellbeing Emmanuel Arroyo says the shaman comes from a family of shamans, which is one of the ways Arroyo says Rosewood Mayakoba sets his Temazcal experience apart from others. The resort also built the Temazacal using cardinal orientation, which was how the Mayans built their famous pyramids and other important structures. Finally, the domed shape is meant to evoke the feeling of being in a womb, to emphasize Rosewood Mayakoba’s Temazcal experience as one focused on ‘rebirth’.

“Guests tell me it’s a place that, just by walking in, inspires them to breathe again,” says Arroyo.

So many aspects of the Temazcal were new to me and to my relationship. As we crawled into the domed space on our hands and knees, we were told to say, “For me and for all my relations,” which surprised me because I had previously viewed sweat lodge experiences as personal discoveries.

The ceremony focused on four stages of life: being a baby and young child, being an adolescent and young adult, becoming an adult, and accepting death. We got to think about and embody those phases, and the people who were part of those phases, as we endured the heat, felt the herbal-scented steam rising, and even listened to instruments that resembled the sounds of jungle animals.

“Mayans associate fire as a process that transforms things,” says Arroyo. “It’s a place where you come in with the idea of ​​going through this process of transformation and evolution.”

Tapping into my inner child and imagining my future with my husband sitting next to me deepened the experience because I knew I wasn’t going through it alone. My husband told me before we went into the Temazcal that he was nervous because he doesn’t handle heat well. But the heat, the singing, doing something wildly outside our comfort zone, and mutually approaching a new experience with respect and openness, made us feel like we had experienced something together – which shows the power of intentional sweating in a ritual setting. made possible. .

“Social cohesion is achieved when you experience a challenge as a group and overcome it,” says Everts. “There is not only euphoria, but also you [also] feel closer to the people around you. There is something that makes sweating partly a universal hobby.”

Whether my Temazcal experience at all resembled the practices of indigenous Mesoamericans, or whether it was a tourist attraction made palatable for Western consumption, I cannot say; Everts notes that indigenous sweat lodge rituals are often so sacred that they are not talked about much. The pursuit of authenticity in a resort setting is its own form of appropriation, as it suggests that a sacred ritual can and should be repeated for the benefit of white tourists. But my Temazacal ceremony was an experience of its own – and I am grateful that I was able to participate in the ritual as it was.

At the end of the hour we were told to leave and say, “I am reborn.” Dripping with both the condensation built up by steam in the dome and my own sweat, I knew I wasn’t physically “purifying” myself. However, the refrain that we repeated many times – for me and for my associates – resounded in the dome and continues to resound today as my blood pumps and my temperature rises.

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