The Native American Indian sweat lodges have been used for thousands of years and are still popular with many health retreats and self awareness programs today. Native Americans use sweating for two means: first to cleanse their skin; secondly to purge their bodies. In addition, with the assistance of Medicine Men and Women, Sweat Lodges are believed to repair the damage done to the spirits, the minds and the bodies and as a means to express gratitude to the Creator and give thanks for a personal gift of rebirth.
The Sweat Lodge is a place of spiritual refuge and mental and physical healing, a place to get answers and guidance by asking spiritual entities, totem helpers, the Creator and Mother Earth for the needed wisdom and power.
A traditional Sweat Lodge is a wickiup made up of slender withes of aspen or willow, or other supple saplings, lashed together with raw hide, or grass or root cordage, although in some areas the lodge was constructed of whatever materials were at hand, from a mud roofed pit house to a cedar bark and plank lodge. The ends of the withes are set into the ground in a circle, approximately 10 feet in diameter, although there is no set size for a Sweat Lodge. That is determined by the location, materials available and the builder. The withes are bent over and lashed to form a low domed framework approximately 4 – 5 feet high at the center. The pit in the center is about 2 feet in diameter and a foot deep. The floor of the lodge may be clean swept dirt, or natural grassy turf, or may be covered with a mat of sweetgrass, soft cedar boughs, or sage leaves for comfort and cleanliness, kept away from the central pit.
In many traditions the entrance to the sweat lodge faces to the East and the sacred fire pit. This has very significant spiritual value. Each new day for all begins in the East with the rising of Father Sun, the source of life and power, dawn of wisdom, while the fire heating the rocks is the undying light of the world, eternity, and it is a new spiritual beginning day that we seek in the sweat ceremony.
Common to all traditions, and the sweat, is the ideal of spiritual cleanliness. Many sweats start with the participants fasting for an entire day of contemplation in preparation for the sweat while avoiding caffeine, alcohol and other unhealthy substances. Prior to entering the sweat the participants usually smudge with sage, sweetgrass or cedar smoke as a means toward ritual cleanliness.
A Sweat Ceremony in many traditions usually starts with the loading and offering of the sacred chanunpa ~ “peace pipe” ~ in prayer, that the participants may know and speak the truth in their supplications of Grandfather, Earth Mother and the spirits. In other traditions, when you are called upon to go into the sweat lodge you will have some tobacco to offer to the sacred fire, saying a prayer or asking a question, the smoke from the tobacco carrying your request to the Great Spirit. As you prepare to enter the lodge the sweat leader smudges you with the smoke of burning sage, cedar, or sweetgrass, wafting the smoke over you with an eagle feather. You then crawl into the lodge in a sun-wise (clockwise) direction, bowing in humility to Great Spirit and in close contact with Earth Mother, and take your place in the circle, sitting cross-legged upright against the wall of the lodge.
There are many different forms of sweat ceremonies in Native American Indian country. Each people has their own tradition and this is especially clear when it comes to the sweat lodge ceremony. Many differences, depending on the people participating, occur during each ritual. For instance, many times rounds are held in complete silence and meditation as the participants feel the need. At other less intense times, a round may be devoted to storytelling and recounting of the clan’s creation stories. This is all part of spiritual and emotional healing and growth. Respect, sincerity, humility, the ability to listen and slow down is all key to the way you approach ceremony.
The most popular type of North American sweat baths is the hot rock method which involves creating either a temporary or a permanent domed structure made from branches and mud and covered with blankets or skins. A hole is then dug near the door, which always faces east. This hole is filled with rocks, which are heated outside and brought. Steam is then produced by sprinkling the rocks with water. Another type involves using fire instead of hot rocks. Sweat lodges have great spiritual significance to the American Indians. The Sioux, for example, see the interior of the sweat lodge as representing the womb of Mother Earth and the steam as the creative force of the universe being activated.
Some spas offer actual sweat lodges, while others interpret the benefits of heat with hot mud wraps, tub soaks, or hot stone therapies including foot massage.
Skaná, The Spa at Turning Stone borrowed from the past and will help you to renew your spirit in an interpretive American Indian sweat lodge ceremony. Skaná is proud to be one of the few spas in the world to offer an authentic sweat lodge experience. Built by the Oneida Indian Nation with the Oglala and Lakota Sioux tribes of South Dakota, buffalo hides drape the red willow foundation and lead to a memorable experience.
Turning Stone’s three-hour sweat lodge experience features interpretative storytelling, drumming, chants and prayers.