Healing Benefits of Sweat Lodge Ceremonies

Spiritual Experience Beyond Detoxing

Sweat Lodge Frame
Sweat Lodge Frame. Marilyn Angel Wynn / Getty Images

The sweat lodge is a Native American tradition where individuals enter a dome-shaped dwelling to experience a sauna-like environment. The lodge itself is typically a wooden-framed structure made from tree branches.Hot rocks are placed inside an earthen-dug pit located in the center of this man-made enclosure. Water is periodically poured over the heated rocks to create a hot and steamy room.

The sweat ceremony is intended as a spiritual reunion with the creator and a respectful connection to the earth itself as much as it is meant for purging toxins out of the physical body.

  • Mental Healing - The sweat lodge ceremony gives its participants the opportunity to free their minds of distractions, offering clarity.
  • Spiritual Healing - The sweat lodge ceremony offers a place for introspection and connection to the planet and the spirit world.
  • Physical Healing - The sweat lodge ceremony gives anti-bacterial and wound-healing benefits.

A full Medical Review of the health benefits and risks of Native American sweat lodges were published by the Indian Health Service in 1998. http://www.ihs.gov/provider/documents/1990_1999/PROV0698.pdf

Sweat Lodge Stories Shared by Our Readers

Traditional Ceremony - Two men came out: one I "knew" was CrazyBear! "You have great power, this will be great sweat!" he said. On New Man Lane in hills outside town, youngest son and I arrived to 50' rock circle with opening to N. "Spirit Pole" Altar at opening, coal-burning hole filled by "rock people" in center, clawfoot bathtubs filled with water to E & W & deerskin covered lodge at S.

Mexican-American Indian "Traditional" Ceremony began dressing down to underwear; we entered. Herbs & chant greeted each rock-filled shovelful added to center stack; mud forming on earth floor from steam; heat grew in each door! Icy tub cooling, drinking water a-plenty, we did 4-doors; last, hardest & hottest - body scalded all exposed areas!

Son "mudded" self. I forgot, too worried of him & suffered. Learned: common sense teaching of son worked, failed me! Memorable, mystical. Would go again. ~Mikey3air

Rules Must Be Followed - I think key to all of this is that in order for a sweatlodge to work, rules must be followed. In the case of the mishap (Sweat lodge deaths at Angel Vally Retreat in October 2009), rules were not followed, was this man who conducted the ceremony a native? For certain too many people were in the lodge. Also charging large amounts of money for people to be in a sweatlodge is not tradition and brings negative vibrations. It is about spiritual cleansing and growth. I have had the honor of being in a sweatlodge ceremony, one done correctly according to native law. It validated everything about who I am; and was the single most life changing event I have ever experienced. May Peace Walk All ~CloudDancer

Sweat for Crones - I attended and participated in a crone's sweat lodge in Lakeland FL a few years ago. It was an interesting experience. We prayed and went into the sweat lodge constructed on a friend's property (he is a Native American.) It was very dry so he insisted on having 2 hoses from the house nearby - very long distance and was extremely careful about both safety and following the American Indian rituals.

It was in the summer so it was very hot and while I am not sure I would do it again, it was a worthwhile experience. We made and released "prayer bundles" into the fire after the sweat lodge ceremony. All in all the ceremony lasted about 4 hours but only about an hour inside the lodge. He also made sure we knew that we could lift the bottom edge of the "tent like" structure if we needed to to breathe. ~Kathy

Sweat Lodges are Sacred Ceremonies - I've participated in sweat lodge ceremonies. These are sacred to the Native American community. I am Metis - part Native American and part white. I did not have the privledge of knowing native cultures when growing up and my father's parents wanted their children to "fit in". . . as many parents learned to do as a way to survive in a white man's world.

In my opinion - if a ceremony is not conducted in collaboration with an experienced Native American guide - and if the lodge is not done within the sacred and cultural guidelines, the participants are not fully prepared for a positive experience. I've read and heard about how the Native American groups do not like having a white person conduct these ceremonies. I can understand . . . it's one more thing being robbed from them. I believe that when a 'guru' starts offering sweat lodges without significant native culture liaison - the process loses something. ~JoyRae

Cleansing Mind and Heart - I went to a very hot sweat, led by a Midewin elder who was very calming and trustable and I really needed to get bad feelings out of my mind and soul. I thought I would have to get out, it was so hot, I was dripping so much fluid out of my skin, my nose. The smell of the cedar thrown on the hot rocks, the prayers and songs, I couldn't believe how much I needed this type of healing, to cry and pray for my mind and heart to be cleansed. As I prayed, I heard, then felt the flapping of wings over my head; I had to duck to keep away from it. I thought everyone could hear it. After, one person said he heard growling; I didn't. I went with my aunt to a different healer because she was obsessed with a man, and she needed to clear her mind. In a pitch dark basement, her, I and this man sat on a blanket. He said 'Oombe Miskwe Pinoshe Quay'. In English, he said I am talking to you. Your name is Red Thunderbird Woman, and he told me I was free from the guilt I carried in my heart. I just cried. ~Marie Fontaine

Grateful Water Pourer - I am grateful for the grandmother stones, who are at the center of this ceremony. They have been around for millions of years and have seen, known, felt it all. They are in sacred union with the fire created by the standing ones (trees), who give themselves to this sacred ceremony. It is a blessed union between the elements and trees and stones. The heart of the ceremony is the calling and workings of the grandmothers and the spirits that come to do the doctoring.

This happens through the songs and the open hearts of the people. As my elder says as a water pourer we are simply a janitor with keys opening the door to the spirits through our heartfelt intention, through creating the sacred geometry/configuration of the ceremonial space (fire altar lodge). We call and pray to the spirits and they do the work. when we pour water on the stones, the grandmothers speak to us and imbue us with their wisdom. The steam cleanses us and we take in their wisdom into our lungs as we breath the steam.

Inside Lodge - I have been in lodge each month for 12 yrs, lodge singing for 8 yrs, pouring lodges for 6 yrs. I pour lodges for my shamanic community (LightSong School of shamanic studies) and for friends of Hidden Lake retreat, and on my extended Lakota family land. As a water pourer it is our sacred responsibility to track the energy of each person in lodge throughout the ceremony. It is our sacred duty to invite & channel the power and wisdom of the spirits that we humbly invite in to the ceremony, to promote purification and healing of the people. No other agenda should ever exist for the pourer. Every ounce of attention and intention is invested in creating an maintaining a sacred, safe container that will support a healing experience for each person. the songs, the altar, the fire-tenders, the spirits of the land, the spirits of each person who comes in all contribute to the ceremony. I have witnessed long-lasting miracles in & as a result of lodge, I live a life of lodge, & am healthy because of it! ~Lauri Shainsky

Respect the Traditions and Yourself - I've been to one sweat, many years ago in Scotland. It was conducted very carefully, with full discussion of health problems, what to expect, the connect attitude, etc. It was built by the group, held the correct rocks, and conducted in respect for the sacred traditions of all the world's nations. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. If you attend a sweat, make sure the leaders know what they are doing and provide for all eventualities. Most of all, go Within and ask if it is right for you. ~Lorraine

Lakota Sweats - I am a mixed blood American (Native, German, Scot) and I have attended two Lakota sweats in the past few years. Both were poured by a Native (different man each time) who had earned that right/priviledge. In both cases, there were four "doors." Each door grew hotter and more spiritual for sure. There were 5 people in the first sweat (built on my land following the Lakota tradition) and the second was in MN. It was in a permanent structure that held about 12 of us. My first experience was in the one at my home with just 5 of us. We had all prepared as instructed, wore the proper outfits and knew what was expected of us. The experience was unbelievable. I was amazed at what happened to me as an individual and was really amazed that as the sweat pourer sang his songs I just "knew" then and was able to sing along in their Lakota language. Both events were remarkable and very fullfilling. These are not meant to be fun saunas, They are spiritual events. ~SpiritMooseWoman

Learn more about Native American healing traditions

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