A Temazcal (also written as Temascal or Temescal) is a sweat lodge, more or less a type of sauna, which was and is still used by indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica and North America. Today, Temazcal ceremonies have become globally popular, being carried out in many parts of the world.
Temazcal sweat lodges are used alone or in a (small) group setting. In the regions mentioned above different types of constructions are used, but usually it’s a dome-shaped structure or hut made of rock or adobe, and covered with some kind of cloth.
To create heat, (volcanic) stones are heated in an outdoor fire and then placed inside the lodge. Subsequently the door is closed (the lodge is then dark inside) and water is poured over the hot stones which creates steam, while the Temazcal leader or Shaman (if it’s a group ritual) drums, sings, chants, and/or recites prayers. Herbal oils (typically infused in the water that is thrown over the hot stones) and incense may also be used in the lodge, to create a kind of Aromatherapy for therapeutic effects.
To keep the lodge hot, at intervals more hot stones will be brought into the Temazcal. The result of the session is that the Temazcal bather will sweat intensely. After sweating in the lodge, the bathers will wash themselves with cold water outside the hut to cool off.
The purpose of the Temazcal can be manifold, which includes ritual cleansing and purification, spiritual development, curing various health complaints (such as nervousness, anxiety, depression, inflammations, fever, arthritis, and skin problems), relaxation, maintaining health, removing toxins from the body, reinvigorating the body after intense physical exertion, and as a treatment for pregnant and postpartum women. You will also find Temazcal ceremonies during Ayahuasca or other plant medicine retreats.
It’s not uncommon that a massage would be given after having taken the Temazcal session, which is notably the case for ill or tired people and for postpartum women.
To mitigate risks of using the sweat lodge, one needs to be well hydrated before and during the ceremony, and only engage with a competent Temazcal ceremony leader. Moreover, one needs to make sure the heat doesn’t bring adverse results if one has an illness. If at any point one doesn’t feel well, one should always step out the lodge (and not insist to have a “beneficial” near-death experience).