Temazcal III/III - Preparation of the Temazcal
Dr. Horacio Rojas AlbaInstituto Mexicano de Medicinas Tradicionales Tlahuilli A.C.
Temazcal method.If the Temazcal is the type that has a fireplace on one side, the fire is made there. Otherwise, the stones are heated in a pit by placing them on firewood, covering them with more wood, and stoking the fire until they are as hot as possible. Meanwhile, the Temazcal is prepared by placing leaves, mats or low benches inside for the people to sit or lie on. A tea is prepared with which to make the steam. Herbs that may be used for purpose include eucalyptus, rosemary, mugwart, or other warming or stimulating herbs (pericon is one of our favorites), and the bucket of tea is placed, still hot, inside the Temazcal along with a cup with which to dip it out. A couple of buckets of cold water are also placed inside at the last minute, along with a dish with which to dip it out and pour over the bathers to bring down body heat and make possible several cycles of sweating. An herbal tea should be prepared for drinking afterwards. This may be a tea selected for a specific condition or may be a general tea for all, such as chamomille, sassafras, horehound, or milfoil. We often use palo de brasil or toronjil.
Aloe juice spread on the body and face just before entering the bath does wonders for the skin and should be made available if desired.
Finally, herbal branches must be gathered to be used inside the Temazcal for directing the heat. The choice depends on the season and region, but eucalyptus, mullein, or the leaf of the castor bean plant are some examples of plants that may be used. A vegetable or chicken soup may be prepared to be eaten after the bath and rest period. Sheets must be gathered and placed near the entrance to the Temazcal to receive the bathers and the resting place must be prepared, with blankets, if necessary. When all is prepared, it is time to arrange the stones. In the case of a Temazcal with a fireplace, the remaining fire is usually pulled out in order to prevent any smoke from entering the Temazcal through cracks that might exist in the internal wall, and the entrance to the fireplace is covered to prevent loss of heat. If the stones were heated outside, they are picked up with a shovel and carefully placed inside the Temazcal in the hole that was prepared to receive them. Often, a piece of resinous incense (copal is traditionally used) is dropped on at least the first stone to ritually purify the inside of the bath. When all this is done, the Temazcal is aired to remove any vestiges of smoke that may remain. This is done by opening the airhole at the top and leaving the door open while someone enters and fans the upper part in a circular motion.
Now, with the teas prepared and in place, the bunch of the herbs and buckets of cold water inside, the fire punt out and the stones in place, the Temazcal aired out, and sheets at hand near the door, the Temazcal is ready to use.
In preparation for the Temazcal, we often fast for a day, or half a day. Certainly, one must not enter the bath until a couple of hours have passed since eating, and never after a heavy meal. The Temazcal is entered naked. Cotton underwear may be used for modesty's sake, but it does prevent the heat from reaching the covered parts with the same intensity. Inside, the bath may be taken sitting on a low bench or lying down. The floor of the Temazcal may be covered with a woven straw mat (known as a petate) or leaves such as banana leaves.
Inside of the TemazcalWhen the bathers have settled down and have begun to feel comfortable with the dark and the warmth (and not until then), the temazcalera will throw a cup of hot herbal tea on the hot rocks to create a blast of fragrant steam which deliciously envelops the body. Those who had still not begun to sweat now begging. Initially, it will take a series of throwing tea on the rocks to create and maintain the heat and level of humidity of the Temazcal. Once this is reached, the temperature and steam are maintained or manipulated in the same manner with more occasional dousing of the rocks, it is important to wait for steam to abate a little before throwing more tea on the stones, both in order to gauge the temperature and effect attained, and in order not cool the stones too much.
There are some who feel uncomfortable at first with the reduced space and the heat inside the Temazcal. Usually a few deep and relaxing breaths will help to allay this initial reaction. Lying down also helps, in part because the floor is cooler than the upper parts and in part because the prone position helps to relax. If is the job of the Temazcalera to put bathers at ease, but it is strongly recommended that the Temazcal be a quiet place where one is drawn back into oneself.
After a short time has passed, the Temazcal being to manipulate the heat with branches of herbs. By passing the herbs near the ceiling, he or she can bring down the heat in order to make it uniform throughout the Temazcal or direct it towards a certain part of the body by fanning. Or the herbs may be used to do what is called a 'leafing', where the bather is gently beaten with the herbal branches. The heat that these herbs bring to the body is remarkable! Although it already felt very hot in the bath, these gentle herbal beatings bring much more heat. In the case of eached and pains, this additional heat feels very sooting. In this way, the affected area of the body is treated specifically by directing more heat to it.
Sometimes an herbal tea is used to wash the affected area, or a massage may be done. Col water may be used over the body, including the head, while inside the Temazcal. This may be done therapeutically to cool off the outside of the body, shrinking superficial blood vessels in order to exercise them, and allowing them to swell again with the heat. It is often recommended just before leaving a Temazcal that has been very hot in order to assure that the heat does not rise to the head afterwards (the head should also be doused with the cold water). This 'closes the pores' white at the same time facilitates intense sweating afterwards.
The length of time spent inside the Temazcal varies greatly, depending on the heat of the bath, the constitution of the individual, and the condition that is being treated. It is entirely an individual matter, and even may vary from bath to bath for same person. When one feels impelled to leave, it is best to do so.
After the TemazcalTraditionally, one leaves a Temazcal by crawling our backwards, to be received by a cotton sheet and led to a place to lie down and rest, well covered. Now, one of the most therapeutic parts of the Mexican sweatbath beings. While the bath may have lasted twenty minutes (or ten or thirty), sweating may continue for another hour, thus increasing the therapeutic detoxifying effect of the bath. As much warm herbal tea as is desired may be drunk at this time.
Only when the body has stopped sweating should one get up and get dressed. Here, it is important to be well covered and to avoid 'aires', as the Mexicans say, or drafts (open car windows, for example). As the 'pores' of the body have been opened, care must be taken not to get cold during the succeeding twenty four hours. It is also important not to sat or drink col foods nor to eat too heavily. Finally, some recommended not bathe for a day after wards, others say that it is permitted as long as it is done with warm (no scalding nor cold) water and care is taken with drafts afterwards.