Slathered in green, cool mud and wearing nothing but a bathing suit, I bow at the entrance to the crimson-colored clay hut and prepare for the curative sweat of a lifetime. As the chaman leads a deep-throated chant, I settle cross-legged onto the adobes dusty floor, my feet inches from a fire pit that will house a mound of scalding lava stones for the next 90 minutes. This is sweat lodge detox deluxe Mayan-style.
The Mesoamericans have been practicing the art of el temascal practically since the beginning of time, with the goal of not only ridding physical toxins from the body but also the kind that have a tendency to invade our mental well-being. Although spas throughout Mexico claim to offer the ancient treatment, only a couple of places provide guests with the authentic, old school version which is how I find myself purging my soul to seven strangers in a barebones igloo at the Aventura Spa Palace, located on a rugged patch of coastline in the Riviera Maya.
Before any actual sweating can commence, the chaman (also known as a temazcalero) instructs everyone to dig deep into a giant bowl of mud and go to town, coating every inch of our bodies with the soft, cooling paste. Once inside the hot hut, the mud acts to keep the skin moist and supple. True temascal ceremonies involve paying homage to the four doors of life, including childhood, the often-fraught teenage years, the present, and the future. To further prepare us for this retrospective and spiritual journey, the chaman places a second bowl before us. One by one, we grab generous fistfuls of downy sage and other dried leaves, meditating on what we most want to expunge from our minds inside the sweat lodge, before tossing the herbaceous mix into a blazing, smoky fire.
Single file, seven eager sweaters enter the tight-quarters hut, which will ultimately reach sweltering proportions. Word to the wise: This is no silent schwitz in a steam room. Each occupant is expected to open up about their life, sharing the kinds of innermost ruminations that rarely make it into everyday conversation. Yet somehow, as I sit knee-to-knee with my neighbors, thick trickles of sweat meandering down my spine, I feel an intense kinship with my fellow hut folk. Nothing is off the table, and the words flow from our lips with ease divorces, new beginnings, career snags, even as-yet-to-be-realized dreams. Bits of clay flake off my arms, my thighs, and my cheeks, along with pent-up anger and frustration, all while the chaman gently prods us all to let go.
Our session complete, I emerge into the daylight in a state I can only liken to Mayan nirvana. The chaman guides me to a shallow pool of invitingly crisp water, where I float on my back in silence, blinking at nothing but clouds and cobalt sky overhead. For the first time in as long as I can recall, not a single thought invades this rare moment of reverie.
The Aventura Spa Palace offers 90-minute temascal treatments ($125 per person) every Thursday and Friday at 10am and 2pm.