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Temezcal Sweat Lodge Spa – Mexican Style

Story and photos by Lynn Rosen   February 1, 2010


The temezcal or Mexican Huichol sweat lodge is a traditional native aboriginal cleansing ritual where water is poured over hot rocks and steam is enclosed inside an igloo-like shelter.

“Temezcal. It was a way that all the Indians here in Mexico used to cure themselves spiritually and physically and mentally. It helps for lots of things. It’s a clean thing. Because they say when you’re sick in the physical part, that means that the problems started spiritually. It’s gonna be very rustic. Here in Mexico, we have many temezcales….But this tour – not many people would do it.”

Red flag. We should’ve known when Esmerelda, our tour guide, in her delightfully fractionated English, gave fair warning.

Huichol woman
Theresa Rivas Salcido, Huichol medicine woman

We were a few dozen or so unsuspecting and perhaps vulnerable souls, eager and willing – even in light of this morning’s headlines of “sweat lodge spa deaths” in Arizona* – to experience what she described.

“We wanted you to really feel what it was – the experience like the Huichol Indians have. To be with the muuuuuuuuud and not be afraid of nature.”

We poked along in our tour coach through early morning Guadalajara traffic as Esmerelda gave us some deep background over her tour bus mic.

“We’re gonna have some mud baths and then some cold water to get fresh. To get all the mud out.”

Esmerelda, a charming local guide who had obviously been through a number of these sweat lodge experiences and knew her stuff, emphasized how fortunate, unusual and special we were to have chosen this spiritual adventure.

“There’s gonna be two inipi. One is mud. The other - they put the arches made of branches and cover it with cloth. It’s like the womb of the mother. What you’re gonna do is like to be reborn. Get rid of all the bad feelings.”

Forty-five minutes outside the city, we turned off on a rocky, muddy dirt pathway into remote farmland. Off to the left was a neatly groomed grassy patch with a couple of inipi or igloo sweat lodges, a thatched roof shelter and a bonfire in the center fueled by the Huichol natives who lived, farmed and practiced temezcal here on their land.

  Huichol Nayeli   Huichol hut   Huichol Nayeli  
Huichol family farm, mud inipi or sweat lodge, Theresa's daughter, Nayeli Stubbs Rivas
Huichol family farm, thatched hut enclosure
Huichol family farm, bonfire heating stones for sweat lodge, Nayeli prepares for ceremonies
  As we clambered through the mud and entered the Huichol compound, the medicine woman, Theresa, and her 17-year-old daughter, Nayeli, cleansed each of us with sweeps of sacred feathers and fumes of copal incense.  
  Huichol feather cleanse   Huichol feather cleansing  
Sweat lodge participant is cleansed and blessed with traditional feathers
Another sweat lodge participant is cleansed and blessed with traditional copal incense upon entering the family farm
  Huichol sweat ceremony   Huichol sweat ceremony  
17-year-old Nayeli, daughter of Theresa, is studying traditional Huichol medicine practices
Theresa, medicine woman, daughter Nayeli and Rosalio Albarran Perez, medicine man, welcome the group
  “The average tourist – they do go, but it’s not the majority,” Esmerelda told us as she passed out huge garbage bags. “It’s gonna be very hot…and it’s gonna be very small, very rustic. Cut a hole in the middle for the head and you have your own changing room.”  
    Changing clothes in a garbage bag
Our group enjoys private changing rooms

We kicked off our shoes, changed into swim suits and shorts, then slathered one another with warm mud, glopped from buckets prepared with herbs by the medicine woman, Theresa, and her colleague, Rosalio. Julio, the true shaman or mara’akame, who has eight wives and many children, sat nearby with some of his family. Theresa and Rosalio were to be our guides inside the inipis or sweat lodges. They talked about our spiritual journey to come and promised rebirth.


Theresa and Julio (shaman)


Rosalio and Nayeli welcome us

  Huichols Theresa and Julio   Huichols Rosalio and Nayeli  
  Huichol drums  

After encircling the bonfire and throwing our negative feelings in the symbolic form of tobacco leaves onto the burning logs, we each, one by one, got down on our knees in the mud, gave a prayerful thanks to our mother earth and ancestors and backed into our make-shift sweat lodge.

Sitting cross-legged, we were about 15 muddy, sweaty, anxious, near-naked and curious journalists, sitting in a claustrobhopic circle around an open pit, waiting to undergo our spiritual rebirth. The tent flaps closed around us. Darkness, heat, no air, wet ground. No cameras, no recorders, nothing but us allowed inside. The gasping muddy woman to my left leaned near and whispered that she’d prefer to be a preemie.

Rosalio beat his drum, chanted, and continued his native teachings and cleansing lectures as mud-clad, cross-legged, sweating Esmerelda translated his wisdoms.

Local Huichol drums, feathers, incense, corn and other traditional items used inside the sweat lodge ceremony

“There is no race. Only the human race. We will soon be reborn. Dip your head to mother earth and breath. You will breath fresh air.”

The flap opened and a red-hot pitchfork laden with red-hot lava rocks thrust into the tent and dumped the molten-hot rocks into the pit. Rosalio threw water, which caused immense clouds of blinding, searing hot steam. He admonished all of us to cast off our foibles, faults and follies.

As this pitchfork/lava rock/water spray ritual went on and on and on, seemingly forever, mud melted, sweat poured and tears flowed. The emotional temperature elevated as, around the circle, each participant in turn was urged to belch out prayers and hopes and secrets and wishes.  

Physical temperatures also elevated as several members of the group began to feel faint with racing hearts. Rosalio admonished them with a message of “Strength. Your body is strong and can do this.” We moved one in our group to a spot near the open flap where the fresh air seemed to revive him.

After what seemed an eternity but was only about three hours, the flaps were opened, the fresh air whooshed in, we backed out one by one into the grassy Huichol compound and were each greeted with soothing buckets of cold water drawn from a cistern to rinse off our residual caked body mud.

Refreshing tea, fresh papaya and a myriad of other local fruits rewarded our tribulations. After a flat-on-our-backs rest and meditation respite, no one bothered to use the garbage bag changing room to strip off muddy, wet suits, hastily towel off and change back into dry, clean clothes before scrambling back onto our bus. We were now the newly reborn and forever-bonded mud sisters and brothers for all time.

Huichol drum
Traditional Huichol drum used in sweat lodge ceremonies


“OK. If you want this kind of tour, contact Vision Tours,

"They call me because they know I’m a naturalist. I’m a vegetarian. I like all this kind of crazy stuff. Because it’s not common. Because not everybody can do this tour. Vision Tour offers it, but it’s not a very often offered tour. It will cost 350 pesos ($28 USD) per person not including transportation.” Reach Esmerelda Aubert de Prieto at or call 52-1 (33) 3482-2016.

*”Prescott, Ariz. (AP) 3 dead. 18 hospitalized. Three people died following the Oct. 8 (2009) sweat lodge ceremony …of (James Arthur) Ray’s five-day ‘Spiritual Warrior’ event at a retreat he rented near Sedona.”  Note: These people had already been in the desert for two days before with no food or water.

  Lynn Rosen can be reached at  

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