A sweat lodge is used for its purification purposes. The concept is to purify the mind, the body and the soul and reconnect with mother earth. An integration of the physical with the spiritual a ‘sweat’ can be a single ritual or in conjunction or preparation to other important ceremonies. This is achieved by the use of intense heat with is generated when water is poured over very hot rocks. This is a widely practiced and honored healing ritual of the American Indian communities.
The heat generated in this tradition can cause body temperatures to rise to as high as 106 degrees. A body temperature this is not conducive to viruses and bacteria. The act of sweating will flush toxins from the body. Salt is flushed from the body which is a benefit for those with hypertension. The sweat and heat are also beneficial in circulation by dilating blood vessels which improve the flow of oxygen rich blood to the skin. Another benefit is the ease of stiffness and pain of arthritic joints.
A Sweat Lodge differs from a sauna. A sauna provides the heat only. A ‘sweat’ is a ritual for healing and therefore is spiritual ceremony. Practically every part of a sweat lodge has a symbolic meaning. They are usually round or oval in shape symbolizing the womb. The opening to the lodge is usually very low which causes persons entering to stoop, crouch and at times be on their knees to enter. This is a gesture of respect for the earth as being sacred and a show of humility to its living entity. The rocks are heated outside in a fire pit and then carried inside with ritual fashion. When the water is first poured over the heated rocks causing steam to rise, it is thought of as the release of ancient knowledge. Some sweats are conducted in silence while others have song or drums or speaking. Many take place in complete darkness.
People who have heart disease or are pregnant or taking certain medications should always check with their doctor before entering a lodge. There is excessive sweating which can interfere with medications or aggravate certain conditions. Persons who are claustrophobic or have post traumatic stress disorder may need to consider the closed dark atmosphere of a lodge before participating. Other considerations would be people who faint in the heat, anyone who has difficulty regulating their body temperature and those who are over or under weight.