Podcast Transcript | Temazcal: Sweat, Song & Spiritual Rebirth

[Lupita Medicine Song]

[00:00:00]

[Yasmin Shahmir]

[00:00:49] That voice you just heard is Lupita Maldonado. Lupita comes from a matrilineal line of curunderas or healer's, and she's the guardiana of Temazcal Ba’duhiini in Guerrero, Mexico.

[00:01:03] Hello and welcome to Roots and Ritual. This is a Trippin podcast exploring the spirited practises, lifestyles and ceremonies that connect cultures across the world. I'm Yasmin Shahmir and I'm a co-founder of the travel and culture platform Trippin and I'm going to be your host throughout the series.

[Robyn Landau] And I'm Robyn Landau. My work explores the neuroscience of well-being, so I'm going to be taking us a bit deeper into the science of what's going on in our brains and bodies when we're experiencing these rituals.

[Yasmin Shahmir] And together, alongside some incredible guests, we uncover the origins and delve into the science behind traditions that have inspired our modern pursuit of physical and spiritual well-being.

On today's episode, we're going inside a Temazcal, the pre Hispanic Mexican sweat lodge used for healing and restoring balance in mind, body, spirit and community. Our special guest on this episode is Lupita Maldonado, Lupita is a shaman and the master of ceremonies at Temazcal Ba’duhiini on Mexico's west coast.

[00:02:14] Lupita speaks about the origins of the Temazcal, the ceremonial rituals that surround it, and the power of both sweat and song to be a source of healing.

[00:02:28] The Temazcal has been used across time for his healing benefits, both physical and spiritual, and continues to be practised throughout Mexico and other parts of Central America to this day. A Temazcal is an enclosed space circular or dome like with one small door for entry, it’s completely covered on the outside so as to block out the light but retain heat inside. The heat is generated by large volcanic rocks that are brought inside the space, and steam is created by throwing herbally infused water on the rocks. The shaman or the guardiana of the Temazcal is responsible for guiding the ceremony, leading song and increasing the heat throughout the experience. Mexico's Temazcal tradition dates back to the 1500s in precolonial times. The word temazcal originates from the word temāzcalli, which means ‘house of heat’ in Náhuatl, one of the native languages of Mesoamerica.

[Lupita]

[00:03:22] I really believe that the cultures around the universe are made of myths and legends. And the legend of the Temazcal tells that Quetzalcoatl, our spirit guide, gave to the woman the Temazcal, to confront the community’s problems and confront personal problems too.

[Yasmin]

Temazcal Ba’duhiini is an extremely welcoming environment, nestled in a little pocket of jungle not far from the Pacific coastline.

[00:03:54] you can hear the call of birds and waves in the distance, and the sunlight filters in through the palms… it's truly a magical place. And you enter into Lupita's garden where she grows and harvests a lot of the herbs that she uses for the Temazcal. And Lupita herself has this inner and outer confidence that comes from having such a strong connection to her roots, her ancestors, her history. She's so wise, it’s in what she says and how she says it, how she embodies it, how she sings and holds a space. You feel incredibly supported by her strong mothering energy. And so much of the temazcal mythology is to do with this concept of being reborn and going back to the womb, the womb of Mother Earth. And Lupita really is the perfect person to guide you through such an experience.

In the past few years since living in Mexico, I've been incredibly fortunate to frequent Lupita's Temazcal ceremonies, which take place every Sunday. And when I first attended, I knew very little Spanish so my understanding of the roots and the rituals of the Temazcal was fairly limited at the time. So initially it was just the physical benefits that I enjoyed and I received. And it was this amazing feeling of total rejuvenation. All the airways and the pathways feeling super clear, I had a great night's sleep and all that kind of stuff, and all that kept me coming back. But despite the initial language barrier, there was definitely an overwhelming sense of connection and community between everybody inside the temazcal. You know, sharing that experience in such an intimate setting, demands that you be really present inside your body. And when you share an experience like that with someone else, the sweating, the song, you get so charged up off this group energy, and you really do kind of feel like you're buzzing after you come out. Now, the more time I've spent in Mexico, the more I've learnt to speak the language. And then my visits to the Temazcal have had a lot more depth to them, you know, really being able to connect with Lupita's words, her prayers and her songs, hearing the folklore and the history surrounding the Temazcal has allowed me to be a lot more conscious and intentional when I've had the privilege of taking part.

[00:06:29] Lupita and Robyn tell us a bit more about what's happening inside our bodies when we're in the Temazcal.

[Lupita]

It is scientifically proven that the Temazcal emits infra-red rays because the stones heat directly in the fire. And that infra-red ray is very healthy for the body. And also the water turns to steam, and opens the pores of the skin and cleans all the organism. And a clean body is a healthy body and in a healthy body you don't get sick.

[Robyn Landau]

[00:07:06] So when we sweat, water droplets evaporate from the skin, producing a cooling effect, and that brings our bodies back to their natural temperature levels.

[00:07:21] Now, this is quite similar to birds and mammals whose body temperatures don't actually deviate very much from a set point, which puts the body into an act of homeostasis. Now, homeostasis means that our bodies can function at their optimal levels and the temperature of our body plays a really vital role in this. So not only are temperature levels where they should be, but our greater system is balanced. And in this state of equilibrium, which means that we can regenerate from things like disease, fight off the normal stresses of life that impact us and overall enhance our immunity. But beyond the physical components of the Temazcal, it has some really important emotional and energetic impacts on our system. So our emotions actually live in our bodies and over time they store themselves there and deposit in certain places. And when we detox and purify our bodies, we’re cleansing and releasing a lot of these stored emotions. And by getting rid of some of that build-up that we've accumulated over time in our lives, it allows us to move through the world with a bit more lightness and almost a greater sense of freedom within our own bodies in which we live.

[Yasmin]

[00:08:56] So now we know a bit about what's going on inside our bodies, but a Temazcal ceremony contains many rituals and traditions within it that go beyond the physical aspects connecting more to the ancestral or spiritual wisdom of ancient Mesoamerican culture. And these rituals give us an opportunity to better understand why the Temazcal is such a restorative practise, because it highlights and values the connections between all things and all parts of ourselves, from the physical to the emotional, energetic, so on and so forth. So here's Lupita to tell us a bit more about the rituals and traditions that surround the Temazcal.

[Lupita]

[00:09:33] There's a ritual that happens before we enter the Temescal that not all the temazcales do, but I really like to do it because it's a very beautiful tradition and part of our heritage. And that's the ceremony to ask permission of the four directions north, south, east and west. Here we ask permission of the guardians of each direction to bless this ceremony and be with us. And also we do an offering to Mother Earth with flowers, fruits and seeds.

[00:10:06] And we do a deshumado, a cleansing and purifying of the energy with the smoke of Copal.

[Yasmin]

[00:10:19] The blessing of the four directions is a beautiful ritual that opens a Temazcal ceremony. Gathered in a circle, we salute each direction, the elements and the ancestors, giving thanks for their wisdom, asking for guidance and protection as we embark on our journey. And everyone is invited to bring something for the offrenda or the altar in the middle of the circle. So an offering such as a flower or a piece of fruit, some incense, a token of appreciation for the healing power of the Temazcal, many indigenous cultures have this concept of fair exchange, a gift, token or a talisman offered to an elder or an ancestor before receiving the wisdom they have to share.

[00:10:59] So I love this ritual of the Temazcal because it instils a respect and gratitude for the natural world and those who came before us. And another part of this ritual that I truly enjoy is the cleansing with the Copal smoke, this natural resin which Lupita uses, which comes from a certain type of Bursera tree, more specifically the Torchwood family, which is where we can also find Frankincense and Myrrh and other types of resins used throughout time for ceremony and spiritual purposes. The smoke of Copal has long been used to cleanse and purify energies and bad vibes, making way for better feelings and states of being to emerge. And once you’ve given thanks to the four directions and been cleansed by the Copal, well, then you're ready to enter the Temazcal.

[00:11:46] We'll be back in the Temazcal after this.

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[00:13:30] We enter the Temazcal on our hands and knees, an act of humility. Pausing at the entrance, we ask permission ‘for me and all my relations’. Once everyone is inside, we go around the circle with everyone introducing themselves and sharing the intention that they're bringing into the Temazcal. Then the door is closed and in the darkness the heat begins to rise. You can smell the fresh eucalyptus in the steam and Lupita starts to drum and ignites song. So we sweat, we sing, we let go. And in doing so, we come together.

[Lupita]

[00:14:05] When we go out of the Temazcal, we have the ritual called ‘mortaja de nacimiento’, ‘the Shroud of the Reborn’ and this is when I receive the people as they exit the Temazcal from the womb of Mother Earth, that’s what the Temazcal represents, And then we take them to lay down in the grass and they have the time to finish the process of sweating and then we give them a tea. And in that process of mortaja de nacimiento, the people also connect with their centre, with the navel, with the mother. And in that ritual, there's also singing like a mother sings a child to sleep. And that emotion helps the desire to start all over again. From that moment it’s like you have a new opportunity.

[Yasmin]

[00:14:57] One of the most magical parts of the Temazcal is the singing, the percussion, the raising of voices in the total darkness and intense heat. When Lupita initiates music, you're encouraged to join in and sing, shriek, wail, bang a drum, make a noise, express yourself. And in the anonymity within the Temazcal, your self-consciousness dissipates and you're free to let go.

[00:15:22] And in doing so, you become one with the group inside, with all of you contributing and raising the vibration of the space. Everybody receives the benefits.

[Lupita Singing]

[00:15:35]

[00:16:18] When I asked Lupita about the essential elements of the Temazcal, she was quick to dismiss the concept of form and structure as creations of the ego.

[00:16:27] She emphasised that was most important in a Temescal ceremony is the intention.

[Lupita]

The fundamental thing that every Temazcal has is the steam, the steam and that you can feel like you are in the womb. The ambience has to be dark, warm and watery and there has to be a drum because it's the heartbeat of the mother and the singing because the singing helps you to flow. In every pre-hispanic, indigenous ceremony there's always song and prayer. Even sowing seeds and collecting harvest are considered ceremonies to these indigenous cultures where they always have songs, dance and prayers.

[Robyn]

Sound itself is a form of energy which is produced by vibrations.

[00:17:20] And all of those vibrations come directly in contact with our body, impacting the mental, emotional and spiritual levels, it interacts with all of the organs of the body, all of the cells, resonating with them in different ways. And so sound relates to our entire body building our nervous system and, you know, helping us resonate on different frequencies that our body is attuned to. So science actually shows us that drumming for really brief periods of time can even alter the brainwaves and help us get into this alpha wave state that is associated with relaxation. So the steady beat of the drum is actually a really powerful tool for brain health, not just our body health. Of course, everything is one connected system, but this constant rhythmic pattern permeates the whole brain and it brings our hemispheres into balance, just like it brings our bodies into balance as well.

[Yasmin]

[00:18:19] The physical benefits of heat and steam have travelled the world and are seen across cultures worldwide, from Russian Banias to the Turkish Hammam.

[00:18:28] Maybe you've experienced an element of it yourself in a spa or a sauna. But the beauty of the Temazcal is that it recognises this connection between the physical body and the spiritual self.

[Lupita]

[00:18:39] The indigenous medicine has been in America since the beginning of time. The medicine of the Temazcal is a pre-hispanic culture and the Temazcal symbolises a womb, it’s the womb of the earth. The important thing is that inside is a dark space, a warm water space. When you enter to the Temazcal, you return to the womb and you enter with a purpose. And that purpose is healing your relationships.

[Robyn]

[00:19:12] Sweat lodges have been used in various traditional indigenous cultures to also help with substance abuse problems and this powerful kind of group energy, this group cohesion that it forms, research actually shows that the effects of it are complementary to group counselling sessions. And you get this sense of being together or connected and interpersonally close with one another. And that allows us to have more trust in our neighbour and form a sense of community where you are bonding.

[00:19:44] So being with one another isn't just about social or psychological contexts, but it's actually central to the way our our physiology functions and our bodies, circulatory and digestive systems work. So it actually allows us to have a greater strength. You know, when we're all experiencing something together, our bodies sync up with one another. Literally the rhythm of our bodies and our brains connect match and entrain. And we're all vibrating at the same place. And it allows us to have more strength to get through something. You know, parts of the Temescal aren't easy. And when you're with somebody else doing it, that actually is happening on an unconscious level in your body and mind as well. You know, when we can match other people's rhythm and entrain to the rhythms of others, it allows us to form this sense of of a social glue and it enables groups to work together more effectively, move together in time, cooperate and experience feelings of togetherness. And when we feel more together versus apart, we can of course, accomplish so much more. And it's this form of human connection that is so fundamental to our wellbeing, and it's an aspect that often gets overlooked.

[Yasmin]

[00:21:01] I think any experience where you're gathering with others to sweat is nourishing. You know, you feed off each other's grit and resilience and the Temazcal can push you to your limits.

[00:21:12] And of course, you're free to respectfully ask to leave at any time. Should the heat get too much, but the group energy and dynamic, the music, the song, the sharing, it all gives you the strength to complete the journey. And it's apparent in how many regulars you see at Lupita's Temazcal. There's such a beautiful community that has grown around it, all ages, all walks of life. And whether it's your first time or your hundredth time, you’re treated just like family.

[Lupita]

[00:21:40] We came to this earth to connect with everything, with plants, with animals, with stones, with people. So our life is a constant relationship between me and everything else. So you go inside the temazcal to heal those relationships. But the most important thing is you also go in to remember who you are, where are you from, where is your origin.

[Yasmin]

[00:22:07] In a spiritual context, the Temazcal ceremony is based on a respect for those who came before us and an appreciation of where we've come from. Only with acknowledging these aspects can we receive the full healing that Temescal has to offer.

[Lupita]

[00:22:21] Well, the Mexicans, we are very special and not all the people understand us because they don't know our traditions. But we are the only country that speak with stones, we ask permission to the stones. We're the only country that when we enter to the Temazcal, we ask permission to enter ‘for me and for all my relationships’ because we were taught, since we are young, that we have to respect our elders. But we are losing that tradition… We have to respect our grandparents, our grandmothers, the elders, we owe them respect. All the people that are older than us, deserve our respect. So that's why we do this, that's why we ask permission to enter to the Temazcal, because inside the Temazcal are the elders, and who are they? The water, the fire, the earth…and they are expecting us.

[Yasmin]

[00:23:26] The Temazcal has showed me how to connect with my roots and my ancestors. You know, I now keep a little offrenda/altar in my house, a small table where I light an incense, keep a candle burning and tending to this offrenda and keeping the fresh flowers there and just having a physical space that reminds me to stop and think or stop and give thanks for for what I have in my life. You know, it's helped me to feel that little bit more connected. And also, I'm sure that if you've ever been sick or had a cold or flu, that you've experienced the sweet relief of sticking your head over a bowl of steaming water and just letting it ease your congestion and discomfort. And so now when I do that I try and take a moment just to give thanks for the water, the electricity that allowed me to heat the water. So the Temazcal has kind of infused a deeper sense of gratitude and connection in my life for sure.

[00:24:23] The last question to Lupita was, why are Temazcales done communally, why are they done in a group? Why can't you do them on your own, individually? And so to close this episode

[00:24:34] I'd really like to play Lupita's answer in Spanish as she spoke it, because it was incredibly poignant and quite timely, considering everything that we've been going through this past year. But if you don't speak Spanish, the translation is this:

[00:24:53] A temazcal is not an individual practice, all temazcales are done communally in a group collectively because community is the medicine tool and we need to remember that we are not alone. Solitude is not our origin.

[Yasmin]

[00:25:35] Thank you so much for joining us for this inaugural episode. A huge thank you to Lupita Sara and Robyn for their wisdom and contributions. My name is Yasmin and this is Roots and Ritual, a podcast by Trippin. Follow us on Instagram @trippin.world. And you can email us on rootsandritual@trippin.world We'd love to hear your thoughts, suggestions or any stories you'd like to share. Maybe there's been a practise or a ritual that's been supporting you and we'd love to hear about it. So feel free to reach out.

[Robyn]

Stay tuned for Episode two where we head to the forest to learn about Shinrin Yoku, Japanese Forest Bathing.

[Yasmin]

Until then, stay well and stay Trippin.

If you enjoyed this episode, please do hit, subscribe, follow or throw us five stars on your podcast platform of choice. We appreciate the love. Thank you to Sarah Ene for translating this podcast. Thank you to Ami Bennett for editing this episode. And thank you to Project Gemini for their amazing track, the ritual that you heard throughout the show.