It was weird.
Upon arriving in Tulum, Mexico, I kept hearing about this ceremonial sauna called Temazcal- and of course my interest piqued, I had to try it.
I bike down one night at 7pm to these little bungalows on the beach, where I see a few people gathered around a lively fire in a large chimenea. I joined them and got the low-down on what exactly a Temazcal was as we waited the arrival of a few more participants and the Shaman, who was to perform the ritual. The purpose of the Temazcal is to cleanse the body, reunite the male and the female energies, and honor the four elements: earth, air, fire, water.
We begin by cleansing out negative energy. This is done by burning copius amount of copal and bathing in its' smoke, as well as by running a stick over our bodies, then launching it into the fire. Then we take a pinch of cacao and tobacco, put our intention into it, and toss it into the fire along with the stick.
We are ready for the Hot Box.
It looks like a stone igloo, and it cannot be exaggerated how uncomfortable it is inside. You can't sit up straight, sand sticks to all parts of your flesh, and the sharp edges of the palm leaves which lay atop the sand dig into your skin as you wiggle to find a sitting position you can maintain for more than 30 seconds .
Stripping down to my swimsuit, I crawl on my hands and knees into the igloo, bowing my head with the word "otuma" (or something of the sort- the truth is I don't remember). Once inside, the fun begins. The Fire Man, Luca, brings us glowing hot stones from the fire and the 13 of us inside the dark dome, welcome the stones in saying "bienvenida abuelita!" in unison. The space is completely pitch black inside. Herbs are placed on the stones as they are set in a hole in the center of our circle. They shrivel and smoke as rich, heavenly smells are released. The Shaman begins splashing water over the stones and chanting in a loud, almost shrill voice sounds that seems nonsensical and frightens me as the water slaps my face unexpectedly in the darkness.
Three times we welcome the little grandmother stones inside our steamy igloo. The singing and chanting continues, we pause to drink tea, and share with each other our desires for the world. We speak of love, compassion, brilliant light, joyous existence, and living in truth.
Hours have passed. I start to become irritated. I can feel the people around me squirm and sigh, telling me they share the same sentiment. Will this man ever stop singing? I find myself with my back on the sand, face in a numb stare pressed against the stones. Like a fish, wide-eyed, mouth agape, I methodically suck small amounts of hot air into my lungs. Doesn't he realize we are all on the brink of asphyxia?
Just when I know I won't last any longer, the singing ceases with sweet relief. We can at last exit, crawling out on hands and knees just as we entered -yet lighter, emptier. Born anew, as baby turtles (the Shaman's words, not mine) we hold hands and stumble on shaky legs towards the ocean.
The experience was most certainly singular, and I do believe I could not have been more thoroughly reset for the new year.