Tlahui - Medic No. 29, I/2010

Women, fertility and temazcal.

Student: Rebecca Jane Hone
Professor: Mario Rojas Alba

Diplomado de Tlahui-Educa
Diploma: Temazcal and Traditional Mexican Medicine
Amsterdam, Het Nederlands, 10th July 2009


Rebecca and her colleagues of the SUIMT-Tlahui. Cuernavaca, Mor., México, 2009


In these modern times, the use of Allopathic medicine has become the common preference of treatment over the tried and tested traditional medicines. Unfortunately society has had indoctrinated into it that alternative medicine is ultimately, taking a risk! Consequently people have become disconnected from themselves, and have given away the responsibility of their own bodies to medical science. This is particularly apparent when looking at women's menstrual and fertility conditions and child birthing; a reliance on contraceptives, painkillers, and numerous different treatments for infertility have made our bodies more dependent on the artificial. Although modern medical practice is advantageous in many different ways, it certainly lacks the holistic approach, segmenting illness from patient, and from symptom and cause, which ultimately leads to confusion and inadequate treatment of the whole being, as a human being.

As a consequence, we can note physiological changes quite clearly when looking at the fertility of women, in an age where there are so many different types of contraceptives, so much stress in general, and expectations on this planet, that many women are falling out of regular menstrual cycles, are infertile, or are having miscarriages.

So many children are being born into the artificial environment of hospitals, surrounded by bright lights, masked people, and alien machinery. Re-birthers have done active research in this field, concluding that the psychological and behavioural differences between those children born naturally, at home or in water, and those born into the sterile environment of hospitals, to be quite astronomical[1].

The Ancient Mesoamericans were one of the first pioneers of gentle birthing in their use of the Temazcal during childbirth, and although the literature available in this field is scarce, there is a recent revival of the practice of the Temazcal, which will hopefully lead to its further usage for the bringing in of new life, as more research is done in this field and more trust is once again given to ancient practices.

I have chosen this topic as I see the need for us as women to take back the responsibility of what inherently belongs to use; our ingrained cosmic connection with the planets, the moon, our inherent nature as life givers, child bearers. That which is so instinctual for us, but in these modern times and with all the scientific jargon given to us, we have become so alienated from. We have given ourselves away to medical terminology and pharmaceuticals, without understanding where they come from or of what they are comprised, and we are missing out on the valuable opportunity to understand our bodies, and creation.

How the Temazcal is related to female fertility can be seen within their symbolic, religious, magical and mythical meanings, which are inseparable parts of this ancient practice. We can also make this connection through the countless practices that assist with women's conditions within the Temazcal:

"Medicine is to a great degree magical, and most current magical practices are also medical. Partly because the rational cure of disease depends on a great body of accumulated knowledge and experimentation, and perhaps partly because the mere expression of a wish to be cured is sometimes effective, magical behaviour persists longer in the field of medicine than in almost any other field of human concern. The separation of magic and medicine is, in a sense, a unique event; and even in modern Western society the separation is yet incomplete".[2]

The central question of this essay is "how is the Temazcal related to women's' fertility?" In order to answer this question I will firstly be looking at how the Temazcal symbolically represents fertility, drawing on ideas of others and my own hypothesis based on my personal inspiration given by the Temazcal, and discussing this in an imaginative manner, as there are no concrete answers, and opinions differ greatly.

Secondly I shall be asking how the Temazcal is used to assist with women's fertility, concentrating on the physiological symptoms and how the Temazcal functions in helping these.

Thirdly I shall conduct an interview with a contributor who is already working actively with the Temazcal, to ascertain how this is interpreted into modern day society. Finally a conclusion will be drawn on how the Temazcal is related to women's fertility in a symbolic, physiological and practical sense.

It is important to state that for the purpose of this essay, I have focused only on the feminine derivative of Ometeotl, Omecihuatl. This does not in any way signify that I do not recognise and acknowledge the importance of both the masculine Ometecutli as well as the feminine Omecihuatl, and respect the principle of Duality; Ometeotl!


In almost all Ancient traditions there has been worship to the Goddess; Egypts Hathor, India's Shakti, the Maya's Ixchel, and the Nahuatl Tonantzin, to give just a small example. This has led to many ways of expressing the importance of this, through art, symbolism, and temples, which in various ways revere the Goddess, the female anatomy, fertility and woman's power of her sacred womb space.

In the ancient Mesoamerica, the Goddess Temazcalteci was revered; she is a manifestation of Tonantzin, the Grandmother and patron of the Baths, and was found depicted above the entrance way of all those that had a Temazcal. Sahagun says of her that "...this goddess was the goddess of medicine and of the medicinal herbs; she was adored by doctors and surgeons, and bleeders, and also by midwives... She was also adored by those who had baths or Temazcals in their houses. All placed the image of this goddess in their baths".[3]

Temazcalteci was worshipped throughout Mesoamerica and yearly festivals were made in her honour, in which women were dressed as her and offerings were made to the Goddess.

The practice of the Temazcal was predominantly female terrain especially when it came to obstetrics. Women were as respected in Mesoamerica as men, within the medical field, and sometimes even more so. This shifted during the Spanish conquest, and women's role was marginalized. Most medicine women in Europe at that time were deemed to be witches and sorcerers, and therefore persecuted. The patriarchal society dominated, and feared all that it did not understand, or could not control, such as the power of woman, her sacred womb and connection to the cosmos. Unfortunately these beliefs and fears were also indoctrinated into Mesoamerican culture and from 1521 until 1892 women were excluded from the medical profession [4].

Temazcal originates from the Aztec word "Temazcalli" which comes from the combination of "tema", meaning bath, to bath in steam, cook, put something in the oven, and "calli", meaning "house". It is within this house that I would like to draw upon the connection to the feminine, making a link to the Ancient Nahuatl world view, and more specifically their "flower of the four directions", their interpretation of the Earths plane.

According to the Nahua's, the Earth's surface was divided into four different segments, each representing a different direction. All were attached at the centre, the navel, by a green precious stone, the divine stone of the ancients that connects the four petals of this flower together. Each petal had a colour and symbol, and these were black - "Flint/Tecpatl" (in Nahuatl) - to the North; blue - "Rabbit/Tochtli" - to the South; white - "House/Calli" - to the West, red - "Grass/Acatl" - to the East. This order "establishes a double opposition" [5] of on the one hand life and death/South and North, the symbols which represent "inert matter and extreme mobility" [6], and on the other hand male and female/East, West, with the "sexual symbols of house and reed" [7]. The very definition of that house is a symbolic representation of the feminine. So by name alone, Temazcal is associated with the feminine.

In his chapter regarding the Cosmo vision of the Ancient Nahuas, Jose Alcina Franch connects the Temazcal with the flower of the four directions through the central point, the navel, designating it as "the uterus where the son of man is conceived and developed, the "flowers", in the symbolic language of the Aztecs [8]. "Franch places the Temazcal as a central anchoring point within the universe. The Temazcal represents the Macrocosm, on a microcosmic scale. Found within it are all of the elements of the different ages, or "suns". Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Movement, movement is the fifth sun, which we are currently moving through. Along with these elements the construction of the Temazcal is also built in agreement with the four directions.

The fire that heats the stones is placed towards the East where our father, the Sun, the God Tonatiuh arises; he is the light, the masculine, the warmth, which comes and fertilizes the womb of the Mother earth (the chamber of the Temazcal itself), and so life is conceived. The doorway through which the bathers enter and leave is oriented toward the South, "the pathway of the dead", (the female direction) which begins with birth and ends in death, to the right of the path of Sun. The air or vapour represents the different levels, or skies, within the different levels of temperature existing within the Temazcal. The highest point of the space, closest to the ceiling is the hottest spot; it represents the celestial world, and the lowest point, the coldest, represents the Earth. The movement is generated through the leafing action of the Temazcalera, moving the cosmic forces in order to be able to assist those that she is treating. The ever present duality of traditional Mexican thought is manifested. Just as there are mother and father, sun and earth, hot and cold, so we are born and, in being born, we begin our path towards death.

In the world view of the ancient Nahuas this duality played a fundamental and important role; "the dual opposition of contrary elements, dividing the universe to explain its diversity, its order and its movement" [9]. Life-death, hot-cold, male-female, sun-moon, earth-sky, light-darkness, strength-weakness, above-below, all these are polar, yet complimentary pairs. Here is the original dual division according to the ancient Nahuas:

Mother / father
Female / male
Cold / hot
Below / above
Ocelot / eagle
9 / 13
Underworld / heaven
Humidity / drought
Darkness / light
Weakness / strength
Night / day
Water / large fire
Ascending influence / descending influence
Death / life
Flint stone / flower
Wind / fire
Sharp pain / irritation
Minor / major
Night stream(death) / blood stream(life)
Foul smell / perfume

When considering these primary dual oppositions in relation to the Temazcal, one can see similarities with the physical space of the Temazcal and the female opposition. The Mother, female and the womb space are below, as sitting close to the ground within the space of the Temazcal. The humidity caused by the vapour within the space, and the water that creates that vapour, the darkness that one is absorbed by, the ascending influence - because ultimately that's what heat does, it ascends - and death, in that one kills off old waste, be that physical, emotional or spiritual, in preparation to make way for new life. One could say that the ultimate intention could be to create what is seen as the male counterpart qualities, to be heated, gain strength to come back into the light and be reborn into new life through the female space.

Where there is life, there is inevitably death and re-birth. The womb is the place where life is made manifest, it can represent both life and death, where life grows if fertilized and where death can be represented in the monthly cleansing if the seed has not been fertilized. Ultimately the womb is a container, a protective space that remains in infinite potential of holding life. A space that offers a protective, nourishing space for all that resides within it. Creation works through the womb, taking its necessary nourishment from its surroundings and in turn affecting those self same surroundings, in a constant motion until that life is ready to enter into an even larger womb space, the protective surrounding of our universe.

The archetype of the womb is one of connectedness, interconnectedness, unity and community. There is a birth from, and a return to, the nurturing womb, rendering blood and darkness, a sacred mystery. This mystery is held within the womb. If we were to view the universe and cosmos as a womb, we would become aware of a series of wombs held within a larger womb space, an infinite nesting of wombs within wombs. Carefully held contained space creating more carefully held contained space. The Universal womb enables the galactic womb, solar system womb, solar and earth womb, ocean womb, community and village womb, mother womb, daughter womb, cellular and quantum womb.

When this archetype has a living presence, a natural sense of belonging is prevalent, a consistent reliable place in which one is held, and can always return to. The place of birth and death, the before, during and after. There is a deep trust in knowing that this womb space, this container, holds us all together, all life, all systems, and all realities. There is no outside, we are all held within.

The Temazcal is a recreation of that womb space. It is a small, dark, warm and humid space. The entrance way is low, and so one must enter on ones knees, a humbling position upon which to enter into this small sacred space. Darkness is often accompanied with fear, fear of the unknown, fear of that which we cannot see….until we become accustomed to that darkness, and are able to embrace it with familiarity as that safe place from which we have come, and are able to feel safe within it rather than hold it as an enemy. That darkness can be confronting, we are stripped of distractions and come face to face with ourselves and have to look within. This window into ourselves empowers us to clean ourselves of that which no longer serves us, to come back to ourselves, and our connection with all that is. The warmth and size of the Temazcal offer a motherly embrace, and in the release of the vapour one hears the breath of the Grandfathers, and a remembrance of one's own first breath. Along with all the physiological cleansing attributes that the Temazcal holds, it is a space of emotional and spiritual cleansing. The exit from this small intimate space is again on knees; head first, facing down, as a child is born. This exit is the act of rebirth, clean and refreshed into the physical world once more.

Ancient practice also suggests the connection that the Temazcal has to the womb, fertility, and the place where life is made manifest. Franch tells us that within some indigenous groups, the umbilical cord of a new born is buried beneath the ground of the Temazcal [10], perhaps this is a way to maintain that child's connection with the safety of the womb and their intimate connection with the Mother Earth, or possibly to pay homage to their having been born within that space.

The Temazcal is also known to have been used in soul retrieval work. The ancient Nahuas believed that part of the luminescent body, the Tonalli (what we would today name as the soul, or spirit) can abandon the body in different situations. This can occur whilst one dreams, during sexual intercourse, through fear/fright, it could have been intercepted by witchcraft, or captured by the spirits of a particular place. Sometimes the Tonalli does not come back into the body and it is necessary to retrieve the soul. The Temazcal was utilised for this by placing the patient within the Temazcal, then the healer would remain outside, and call through the hole at the top of the Temazcal, for the Tonalli to come back "Come back (name of person), COME BACK!!", calling from the terrestrial plane into the darkness of the Temazcal, as if it were the representation of the place in which the soul disappears to, the place where all exists that does not yet have form, where all comes from and returns to, the sacred womb.

As we can see from the above text, the Temazcal symbolically represents women and fertility through a variety of different sources. I have made a connection through the Aztec World view, the reverence of the goddess Temazcalteci, and more specifically the physical attributes of the Temazcal construction and the practice that takes place within it.


In Ancient Mesoamerica it was seen as woman's role to procreate. It was an equivalent to the warriors fighting in the wars; woman's biggest challenge was to successfully reproduce. This was her own personal battle, woman's ultimate ritual, and it is said in some texts that the souls of fallen warriors and the souls of women that died in childbirth would have the same destiny, to follow the sun Tonatiuh on its journey through the sky to the West, the place from which he passes to the Underworld [11].

The Nahuatl verbs that mean "to conceive" or "to become pregnant" also reveal a different viewpoint shared by the Nahuas on reproduction, and a basic understanding of how it was physiologically perceived.

Itic motlalia in pilzintli, "the infant is seated in the womb".
Itetia (nite), "to shape someone's womb".
Itetinemi, "to live in the womb".
Ococox, "to become ill".
Itlacahui, "to have been harmed".

The fourth verb shows pregnancy to be perceived as an imbalance, a time when woman is weaker and more susceptible to "attack from damaging forces" [12]. So woman's health during this period was carefully and closely administered to, almost as if one was treating a sick patient. The fifth verb, "to have been harmed", draws on the process of actual conception. In Molina's "Vocabulario" it is translated as "something damaged or corrupted, a woman recently impregnated, or an empty or hatched egg" "to become corrupted, damaged, or ravaged somewhat...or for an egg to hatch" indicating the belief that "conception was initiated by a process of corruption, supposedly by semen". [13]

This does not necessarily have negative connotations but it does present the idea that corruption is the initial state necessary to enable the physical form to evolve. 'It was the death that preceded life'. It is a physiological change, which, if scrupulous care is not taken, could lead to a pathological condition.

A Nahuatl text states"...oacico in imiquizpan: in ye mixihuiznequi.../ (the woman's) time of death arrived: she is about to give birth" [14].

Any woman that did not reproduce, through either a pathological condition or through personal choice was said to 'suffer punishment in the other world.' This is still said within some of today's Nahuatl communities. [15]

So it is obvious that special care was taken to ensure women's health, fertility, her ability to carry child, and to deliver it safely into the world.

One of the most common therapies practiced for this was the use of the Temazcal. It was utilised for all matters relating to women's conditions; menstruation, fertility issues, the gestation period, labour, the mandatory forty days of quarantine following childbirth and the lactation period.

Most symptoms related to female conditions are traditionally classified as a "cold" ailment, and are connected with the planet Moon, according to ancient beliefs, the Temazcals warming effects are more than effective for treating these conditions.

In traditional thought, foods, materials, herbs, food, even people and pathological conditions are thought of in terms of the classifications of "hot" and "cold". These are best understood as referring to the qualities at work in whatever is being talked about. "Hot" is used to describe that which is energising in its effect, active and stimulating. "Cold" on the other hand is used to describe that which have the reverse characteristics, they slow things down and reduce activity, hence the correlation to fertility issues being of "cold" nature, as they represent that which is inactive or not properly functioning.

In many indigenous and Traditional medicines sweating has been recognised for its therapeutical qualities. The Scandinavian sauna, Turkish Hammam, Japanese Sentoo, the covering with leaves in India, but of all of these techniques, the Temazcal is perhaps the most effective. Its basic advantage is the combination between high heat and humidity, which reduce and impede the body's own cooling mechanism for temporal balance, it's Thermal Homeostasis. The high heat promotes sweating, and the humidity does not allow for the evaporation of the sweat, therefore this increases the blood circulation, allowing for a deep cleaning and elimination of toxins. The Temazcal is directed by a Temazcalera/o working for the specific needs of the individual patient, therefore the heat can be increased / decreased and directed to the ailing area of the body, it is utilised in conjunction with the use of medicinal plants to make the vapour, which are also administered for the specific ailments of the patient. There is a mandatory rest period after exit from the Temazcal, to assure that the body has cooled down naturally of its own devices, before the patient drinks a prescribed herbal infusion and the session is over.

When speaking physiologically of women's fertility there is a broad area in which to cover. Beginning with menstruation.


Each month the female body prepares itself for possible pregnancy. During the first part of the cycle, the ovary prepares to release an egg. In this time the body increases its production of the hormone Oestrogen, which in turn cause the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) to grow, pending the fertilised egg. At the same time the Pituitary gland is secreting a follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) that enables the egg bearing follicle to develop in the ovary. Ovulation occurs about half way through the cycle and an egg is thus released from the follicle. Following this, there is a rise in the Progesterone levels which causes the endometrium to become rich in blood vessels and glandular tissue, creating a soft nesting space for the fertilised egg. However, if the egg is not fertilised the nest is no longer needed, and approximately 2 weeks after ovulation, the levels of both hormones Oestrogen and Progesterone drop, triggering menstruation and the endometrium leaves the body as menstrual blood.

Many women suffer from irregular menstrual cycles, this can be caused by stress levels and anxiety, a change of diet or diet related issues, illness or physiological imbalances eg, thyroid condition/ hormonal imbalance, amongst others. The practice of Temazcal can help ease the nervous system, relaxing the participants into a state of well being, induced by the embrace of a warm womb like space. It is a space which enables and encourages an individual introspective journey to work through any emotional issues and anxieties. The induced heat stimulates the glandular system, in particular the pineal and pituitary glands, known as the master glands as they govern the activity of the whole glandular body. It also stimulates the superficial and deep blood circulation and relaxes the muscles, which all helps to balance any irregularities in the patient.

Often accompanying menstruation, are menstrual cramps (primary dysmenorrhoea). These are caused by a series of events. As the endometrium breaks down, hormones secreted by the endometrium called "prostaglandins" are released, and these cause the muscles of the uterus to contract. These contractions restrict the blood supply to the endometrium and the delivery of oxygen to the glandular tissue, so therefore this lining breaks down and dies. After this tissue dies the Uterine contractions literally squeeze the old tissue out of the body. Although it is usually recommended that a woman does not take a Temazcal bath during her menstruation, as she is deemed to be hormonally out of balance and therefore weaker, it is strongly recommended to combat such cramps as the intense heat causes the expansion of the uterine muscles, and along with the stimulated blood circulation enables a less constricted passing of the endometrium and therefore less pain. The Temazcal was also used to relieve pre-menstrual tension, during which a woman may find her mood quite aggravated the psychological approach of going into oneself. Being able to relax and focus on oneself creates a great sense of well being. The Temazcal practice also releases negative ions into the air which help to boost energy, alleviate depression and relieve stress. Negative ions are molecules that have gained or lost an electrical charge. They are created through air molecules breaking apart, this can be due to sunlight, to radiation, or in the case of the Temazcal, through moving air and water. Once the negative ions reach the bloodstream, it is believed that they produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin, therefore the Temazcal can be a powerful tool for any mood or stress related issues.


If the egg is fertilised the gestation period begins, the Temazcal bath can be used to soothe the aching muscles of the mother, for general health maintenance, regular stimulation and rebalancing of the circulatory, lymphatic and hormonal systems. By keeping the body clean of toxins, the midwife/partera, within the warmth of the Temazcal, can monitor the position of the foetus, and if need be, take advantage of the muscular relaxation produced by the heat to alter the position of the foetus through external manipulation.


There are numerous factors that can interrupt the fertilisation of an egg, one common factor which occurs with frequency especially in modern days, is miscarriage. In traditional medicine this can be attributed to cold in the uterus, which in some Mexican villages is also seen as one of the causes of sterility. "Sometimes it is necessary to 'heat' the womb in order to conceive. With 'coldness', a woman has no children". [16] The uterus needs to provide a hospitable environment for the embryo for the first 3 months of the pregnancy, until the placenta is formed. It needs to provide a direct link to blood vessels which supply vital nutrients to the embryo. The uterus is fully responsible for those first 3 months, thereafter it has the role of supporting the placenta for the rest of the pregnancy, so it is obviously extremely important that it is in good health, and strong enough to maintain its role.

Weakness within the uterus can result in miscarriage if it has first allowed the egg to nest. Most of this weakness can be cause by the invasion of cold to the uterus. This is not only caused by the endometrium not correctly responding to the hormone progesterone, but also from our own personal actions, of consistently submitting our bodies to extreme changes of temperature. We have a tendency to cool ourselves down once hot, a cold drink with ice, air conditioned houses, cold showers. When we sweat our pores are open, and our body allows its natural cooling mechanism to kick into action. If we expose ourselves to an extreme temperature change, our pores slam shut, thereby trapping moisture under the skin, and allowing cold to enter into our system. Our reproductive organs are particularly sensitive to this if we do so whilst menstruating, as the channel to the womb is more open and it is easier for the cold to go deeper inside. Cold in the uterus will prevent the embryo from fully developing, as the uterus is not strong enough to hold it.

The Temazcalera/o can use the Temazcal to warm the reproductive organs - the ovaries, fallopian tubes and the womb - by directing the monitored heat to that area of the body externally. Certain "hot" herbs can also be utilised such as chapulistle, pericon, cinnamon, rosemary and santa maria. The heat induced stimulation of the blood circulation, the acceleration and extra force of the heartbeats, and the activated lymphatic and hormonal systems, all produce a great internal movement of energy and fluids, similar to the same effect of strenuous exercise, bringing increased circulation to muscles, organs and tissues, encouraging balance and repair to the whole system and it's thermal homeostasis.

One report made on a young woman with an ovarian cyst of ample size, states that after a series of Temazcal baths along with the accompanying practice of acupuncture and herbs that were utilised within the Temazcal but also taken in between baths, the cyst was reduced to a fifth of the size, avoiding an otherwise "undesired operation".[17]

Blood stagnation can also be another determining factor for the loss of a fertilised embryo. If the blood is not circulating freely within the uterus there will not be sufficient nourishment for its development. Anything that stops or slows the blood will result in blood stagnation, which can produce masses in the abdomen and be very painful to touch. These masses can primarily interfere with implantation, and can prevent sufficient nourishment.

The most common cause for stagnations is anger and toxins that can damage the liver. The Temazcal activates the superficial and deep circulation of blood,, by working therapeutically with patients within the Temazcal, you are able to bring them into a more relaxed state, helping the nervous system and relieving them of stress and anxiety that could generate anger. The sweating helps eliminate toxins, assisting the liver as well as the kidney, and the heat activates the metabolism, and increases white blood cells, again assisting the liver in its functions and supporting the immune system.


The Ancient Nahuas had the concept of "birth without violence" long before it has made a comeback in our times, utilising a womb like space that is dark and humid space in which to give birth. The baby can therefore be introduced to its new environment in a much gentler way, not so different from the environment from which it has come. For labour the Temazcal is not made as hot as usual, and is attended by a traditional midwife. The heat helps the muscles as well as the mother to relax, enabling the bones to expand with greater ease. The heat also encourages the contractions to be more regular and labour to be somewhat quicker. The second delivery, the placenta, is also assisted in the same way and with little pain. It also helps to reduce blood loss after birth.


In the postpartum period, the Temazcal is recorded to have a variety of different uses; it helps with post natal depression, giving the woman a relaxed state and feeling of well being. Women are often cleaned here in the Temazcal following child birth whether or not labour has taken place therein. The mother was traditionally carried to the Temazcal by the men [18]. Usually, after one week following the birth, women will be treated with one Temazcal per week. Often times these are given with the baby and with any that are caring for the mother in the traditional 40 day quarantine following childbirth. This usage is also beneficial for the lactation period, allowing a comfortable flow of mother's milk whilst keeping the body clean of toxins. It also reheats the uterus which is exposed to the cold during labour, and helps to regain the firmness of the skin. Once more the negative ions created can help the mother with any postnatal depression. As we can see, the use of Temazcal within all aspects of women's fertility is highly beneficial not only physiologically but also psychologically.

This practice enables the woman to really go into her pregnancy within a womb-like space herself, a place of relaxation, a place in which she is able to commune with her unborn. In receiving the one on one treatment with the Temazcalera/o and the midwife, the woman feels empowered in her pregnancy and the whole experience is ultimately more intimate than the clinical approach of modern day hospitals.


Rebecca and María Sabina, in the Temazcal Course-Tlahui. Cuernavaca, Mor., México, 2009

In order to answer this question I asked a fellow student and active worker with the Temazcal about her experiences with its practice. Hello there Maria, for the purpose of this interview, please could you introduce yourself.

Hello my name is Maria Sabina Elena Martinez Santillan, I am 58 years old. I come from Grandparents that were healers, and ever since I was small I wanted to cooperate in restoring the health of people.

Please can you tell me what it is you do Maria?
I am currently developed in rehabilitation, as a massage therapist, teacher, yoga instructor, healing dance, popular dance and fine dance hall, among other things. I also give classes to teach promoters of health and massage therapists within communities.

I understand that you are working with the Temazcal, for how long have you been working with the Temazcal, and how did you begin?
I've been working with the Temazcal since 1996 in an empirical way, and I learnt from the Mexican group. This year I had the wonderful opportunity to take a diploma in Temazcal, from which I can now serve in a more direct and scientific way, with personalised therapies, and the ability to keep the rocks hot for up to 3 hours in individual or group sessions.

How many patients do you treat for female conditions per year?
Most of the patients are women. It is only once their partners have seen radical changes to a little by little healing process that they become open. A colleague of mine who has seven years of experience working within the Temazcal, managed to get her husband along for a session, about 1 month ago, since then he has done two sessions more and has learnt to relax, and take treatment for his own benefit. He told me, and I quote, "I very much regret not having used the benefits of Temazcal earlier. I thought that my wife was wasting her time; that the teas, the cataplasm and therapies were of no use. But since I had a fall on the stairs in my house, I have a (muscle) tear. I came to be treated because the pain was unbearable, I could no longer lift nor bend, I was stuck and I could not take a step, and that was how I was convinced to come and seek treatment. I am in my third session and have almost recovered, I thought that would be impossible. I will certainly return and take more advantage of the benefits of this practice. I will certainly recommend it as I have many friends that are also in poor health." There are about 90% more women coming than men per year.

Have you worked with women and menstruation issues within the Temazcal, and what was your experience?
Of course, young people now believe that vaginal discharge is normal and after their menstruation utilise commercial panti-protectors, occasionally just using one single one per day, creating the perfect breeding ground for bacteria such as Candida. Menstrual irregularities are being caused by malnutrition, obesity and lack of hygiene. Premenstrual pain can be caused by the aforementioned bacteria and owing to the dropping or the "fall" of the ovaries to the right side, but it is more probable that it is owing to the inflammation of the ascending colon, which can cause the inflammation which causes ovarian pain. In the Temazcal, massage and accommodation of the uterus and ovaries can then relieve the patient of this type of pain.

How can the Temazcal assist women with infertility?
A lot of women but also men can be treated in the Temazcal for infertility, there is an increase of men having a low sperm count, immature or weak sperm, so it is important to work with both parties of infertile couples. The Temazcal can be utilised to remove the chill from the woman, using the bath with some herbs such as rosemary or jarilla. The heat can be utilised to reposition their organs if necessary. Both parties would be given advice also on healthy lifestyle changes. They would also be given some type of exercise to help them relax, as they can sometimes suffer from great stress. And above all, they are advised to drink 8 glasses of water per day.

Have you had any experience with treating pregnant women within the Temazcal?
And if so, for what was the practice utilised?

We work consistantly with pregnant women, because some doctors indicate that the women should go to a midwife in order to accommodate the fetus correctly inside the pelvis. With much love, a massage is given in which to do this repositioning. Nutritional information is given, to add to their diets, fruits and vegetables and juices that can help them strengthen their muscles in order to withstand the weight of the baby. Women who come with problems of infertility and achieve pregnancy received parallel treatment with the gynaecologist. The baths are used to provide security and the monitoring of the pregnancy, and sometimes massage is given to avoid back pain and cramps. Eight days after the birth it is normal to bring the child to the Temazcal to take a bath. The practice also includes a "hip closure" for the mother. Then we give advice on certain juices of fruits and vegetables, in which to add 2 teaspoons of seasame oil in order to increase their milk and satisfy the baby.

Have you assisted with child birth within the Temazcal?
If so, how effective a place is it to give birth in?

You can assist child birth within the Temazcal, but I haven't had the opportunity to do so. It is customary to go to the hospitals because we are located in a small town well ingrained with medical services, but in the provinces that lack health systems, birth and the postpartum period are attended in the Temazcal by midwives and Temazcaleras.

How many sessions does a patient average?
It depends on their illness, but there are many men and women that use the service every eight days, one or two times a month, and some others, every month.

What type of people are utilising the Temazcal for female conditions? (Age, background, social status, ethnicity). We've treated newborn babies through to 24 months old, children from age 2 to 17 years, young people from 18-21 Years, adults from 22-59 years, and older people from 60 through to the oldest at 93 years old. Social status has been of all types, including doctors, nurses, and cosmetic surgeons, and they have been ethnically diverse. Above all they come from many different religions, catholic, protestant, evangelists, Christians, shamans etc.

What feedback have you received from them?
People usually come with some kind of illness that has already been treated by Galenic or allopathic medicine, or by a specialist, they no longer have hope, they are tired of taking medication and are looking for an alternative. They are advised to come and are looking for the hope of healing. We usually begin with a brief chat with the patient and their family, where we can speak honestly about the kind of treatment needed, and the patient and family can decide whether they want to commit to it or not, seeing as they are the ones that have to carry it out. We can only guide and suggest therapies. We make a thorough check through means of massage and then suggest which therapies will be needed, types of nutrition and exercises that need to be carried out. And we prescribe herbal teas. If they accept, they go step by step towards recovery.

Do you use any ritual or ceremony along with the use of the Temazcal?
None in particular, owing to the fact that people come from all types of religion for this.Only mentally I ask for the help of the Supreme Creator- Ometeotl, to help me, give me the strength, to guide me to help the well being of the person coming for my service. I support the herbs and the water, the heat and the good will of the people who have put their health in my hands. When I have finished I give my infinite gratitude to Ometeotl, that until today I have had no complications. I try to help the people express their emotions, and I receive them as I would any of my children. I see that every human being needs a guide to show them what they do well, never what they have done wrong. This pedagogically strengthens the good things that they do, and that should be utilised systematically on the road toward their own development as individuals, mothers, children and sometimes grandparents.

What links have you made to how the Temazcal symbolically represents women and fertility?
Only a great respect for the system of Temazcal, to the father sun, the sister water, the holy spirit of wind, the mother Earth creator of life. Respect for life and for death towards which we all go. In every Temazcal session I always ask that we stop abusing Mother Nature, do not throw garbage and mistreat the trees and flowers, cease our waste or pollution of water, that we recycle materials so that our biodiversity can enjoy new generations, I ask that we leave the planet better than we found it.

In which field do you see that the Temazcal is an effective alternative to modern day medicine?
I believe that modern doctors should be trained in traditional medicines, owing to a great necessity in our world for holistic attention. A view of human beings as a whole-microcosm, rather than the way medicine, with its diverse specialities, separates the patient into multiple pieces. The Temazcal would be effective in whichever hospital, because pain is the symbol of fear, frightening and often very scary. Instead of giving painkillers, we should look at the root cause of that pain to be able to help the patient. The system of Temazcal confronts the pain and is a symbol of commitment to oneself, to make the radical changes in habits, nutrition, and ones personal vision.

I hope that this has adequately explained to you how we use the Temazcal here en Salamanca, Guanajuato, Mexico.

Greetings, that your sun is shining...

Judging from Maria Sabina's response we can see how effective the use of Temazcal actually is, and that it is slowly becoming more popular and appreciated as an alternative therapy. It's usage along with positive lifestyle changes and complimentary therapies such as nutritional guidance, subscription of juices and herbal teas and massage can accomplish great measures to the well being of the patient. It is also clear that it is a flexible practice and very much depends on the participation of the patients as to how the practice is structured, and to its ultimate success. She does not make reference to the Temazcal relating symbolically to women and fertility, nor does she specifically support it, but certainly she has experience with treating female conditions within the space.


The Temazcal relates to women and fertility in such a rich variety of ways. In ancient civilisations this was predominantly a practice led by females, and used most commonly for obstetrics. The Temazcal symbolically represents women as can be seen by the presiding Goddess Temazcalteci, the patron of the Temazcal, who was ever present in the traditional baths, and traditionally prayed to by the bathers. The Aztec world view, their fundamental principle of duality, and the references made under the feminine polar, uncannily coincide with the qualities present within the Temazcal space itself and its practice.

The traditional name of Temazcal itself "Temazcalli" connects to the feminine part of the flower of the four directions through its Calli/House of the south, which was also the orientation of the entrance /exit of the Ritual Temazcal, the cervix.The south is also the direction that represents the "pathway of the dead", and quite appropriately the practice of the Temazcal is to be reborn, an event that can only take place once one has first (symbolically) died. This is a practice of leaving behind old troubles, cleaning the body of old and unwanted waste, to exit once more clean and revitalized. The practice symbolizes that of death and rebirth, the ongoing cycle of life, and that of fertility.

The construction of the Temazcal gives us an undeniable link to the female anatomy; it is a small, warm, dark, humid space which reminds us of the womb. One enters and exits with humility, upon knees, exiting head first and facing down, like a baby being born, to be swaddled in blankets for the mandatory rest period that makes up part of the Temazcal session.

The use of the Temazcal to assist women with fertility is extremely effective. It has the capability to regulate the menstrual cycle, and assist accompanying symptoms such as cramps and moods. During the gestation period it is useful for supporting the pregnant woman, relieving her body and muscles, and monitoring the baby. It enables a thorough warming of the whole of the body to help prevent and combat disorders that might interfere with the normal growth of a foetus. The Temazcal is a wonderful tool when used with childbirth, as it enables the body to be more relaxed, to open easier, speeding up the labour, minimizing the pain, and allowing the newly born to slowly become accustomed to life on the terrestrial plane. In the postpartum period it is utilized to warm the body once more and help it repair more rapidly and completely. It helps to eliminate the body of any unwanted toxins throughout the lactation period to ensure that the infant has the purest possible milk from its mother.

Obstetrics is just one area in which the Temazcal is highly effective, it's multi -functional therapeutical qualities can assist our health in an outstanding number of ways. It not only works on a physical level however but also on a psychological, emotional and spiritual level, making it a completely holistic treatment.

As seen in the interview the Temazcal is being utilized more and more, and all ages, sexes, and ethnicities are becoming more open and turning to this as an alternative mode of treatment, often times where allopathic medicine has not succeeded. Temazcal utilized along with other practices such as massage, nutritional information and acupuncture is successful for treating illnesses of a more serious nature. The practice of Temazcal ultimately calls for the patient to take responsibility also, and by their making a choice to take advantage of the benefits of the Temazcal therapy, they are already doing just that. Although they are guided and assisted by the Temazcalera, they ultimately have to have the courage to work through all that may come up, and trust their decision to utilise this treatment, and see it through.

Although the Temazcal is utilised by both genders, it is the natural human state to feel safe in the arms of ones mother, the Temazcal ultimately offers this safe place to all those that choose to enter into her, be nurtured by her, and reborn from her.

It offers a gentle and intimate approach when dealing with female conditions, and allows women to participate in taking responsibility for their own bodies, to know themselves, and their health better, and how to maintain that equilibrium.

The Temazcal has stood the test of time, under much persecution, it is a practice that has survived at least 500 years, and is slowly making a comeback as a powerful healing instrument. With more research in the field of obstetrics, and the more cases of women utilizing this practice once more, I hope to see a growth of its utilisation, especially in child birth, the most important times of our lives, until of course, we die.

Once again I would like to acknowledge the importance of the masculine element, in relation to the Temazcal, the universe and life in general, but realise that to elaborate upon this, would take the writing of another paper.


[1].- Dansby, Binnie A. Benefits of Gentle Childbirth.
[2].- Redfield, R. Tepoztlan: A Mexican Village. 1930.
[3].- Sahagún, Fr. Bernardino de. Historia General de la Cosas de la Nueva España. Porrua. Mexico. 1982.
[4].- Rojas Alba, Mario. Libros Electronicos del Diplomado de Temazcal. Tlahui-Educa. URL:
[5].- López Austin, Alfredo. The human Body and Ideology: Concepts of the Ancient Nahuas. 1980.
[6].- López Austin, Alfredo. The human... Ibid.
[7].- López Austin, Alfredo. The human... Ibid.
[8].- Jose Alcina Franch. Temazcalli; Higiene, Terapeutica, Obstetricia y Ritual en el Nuevo Mundo. 1990.
[9].- Alfredo Lopez Austin. The Human Body and Ideology: Concepts of the Ancient Nahuas. 1980.
[10].- Alcina Franch, José. Temazcalli: Higiene, Terapeutica, Obstetricia y Ritual en el Nuevo Mundo. 1990.
[11].- Alcina Franch, José. Temazcalli... Ibid.
[12].- López Austin, Alfredo. The human... Ibid.
[13].- Molina, Alonso de. Vocabulario en lengua Castellana y Mexicana. 1571.
[14].- López Austin, Alfredo. The human... Ibid.
[15].- López Austin, Alfredo. The human... Ibid.
[16].- Kelly, Isabel. Folk Practices In North Mexico. 1965.
[17].- Rojas Alba. Horacio. The Traditional Mexican Sweat Bath. Tlahui-Medic. No. 2, II/1996.
[18].- Kelly, Isabel. Folk Practices In North Mexico. 1965.
[19].- Avila, Elena. Woman who Glows in the Dark. 1998.
[20].- Tedlock, Barbara. The Woman in the Shamans Body. 2005.
[21].- Michel Ferin, Raphael Jewelewicz, Michelle Warren. The Menstrual Cycle; Physiology, Reproductive disorders and infertility, 1993.

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