The Sweat Lodge Experience

Sweat lodge is a physical and spiritual cleansing ceremony created by Indigenous peoples of the Americas. There are similar traditions of ritual sweating in other cultures around the world. I started going to sweat lodges on the Tuscarora Nation with Tahwehdahqui, (Native American elder, my friend and one of my spiritual teachers) in 1997. Since then, I’ve participated in sweat lodges in about ten different places, mostly around New York state and once in Hawaii; and I’ve been in a sweat lodge ceremony close to a hundred times.

Some physical and spiritual health benefits of participating in a sweat lodge include: decrease in muscle and joint pain, increased relaxation and flexibility of muscles and joints, cleansing / detoxing of tissues / body, cleansing of spirit, bringing presence to the mind through heat, sweat and ceremony, opportunity to connect with the Earth, each other, the words that are shared and songs that are sung, opportunity for a shift in consciousness / a heightened awareness, building community, building relationships / friendships, learning how to speak ones truth, learning how to listen, learning respect for each other, elders and our ancestors… The list goes on. I have heard it said that the lodge energy starts three days before and lasts for three days after the sweat occurs. During this time, you may have moments of clarity or other things in your life to pay attention to.

The lodge is very special to me. It is my church, in addition to the Unitarian Universalist church, both of which welcome people of all faiths or no faith at all. Depending on where the lodge is and who is pouring the lodge, this may or may not be true. Some places are very strict about only allowing Native people of that culture to participate in the lodge. On that note, it is an honor, where ever the lodge is, to be invited and welcomed to participate. Please treat it as such with respect.

Sweat lodge guidelines, as far as I have learned. Different places have different guidelines, however, the following is true of most:

– Do not consume drugs or alcohol within 24 hours before or after the sweat; at the very least, be sober before going into the lodge. The energy of drugs and alcohol, simply does not mix with the lodge energy and could result in you or someone else in the lodge getting burned or otherwise creating an unpleasant experience. If you have a question regarding prescription medication, feel free to ask the water pourer, or your doctor. However, some doctors may not approve of sweat lodges in general. Listen to your guidance and do what feels right for you.

– Women who are menstruating are not permitted to sweat, and some recommend to not even be by the lodge, or look in the direction of the lodge during this time (I agree with this). The reasoning is that during this time a woman’s energy is very powerful as she is on her own cleansing ceremony. That energy doesn’t mix with the lodge. It can be dangerous for the water pourer or anyone in the lodge, (someone could get burned).

– All people who enter the lodge need to be smudged. This is usually done with white sage, or other sage, but if joining at the last minute you could smudge yourself with the smoke of the fire. Smudge is a Native American way of cleansing the energy / aura on and around the body… or any object. Inside the lodge and lodge area will also be smudged.

– Typical procedure for before the lodge: After everyone is smudged, a bowl of tobacco will go around for everyone to put their prayers into. This is done by passing the tobacco around and stirring it with your fingers, with intention and prayer. Then the water pourer will say a prayer before anyone enters the lodge, using the tobacco that all participating have “put their prayers into”. The tobacco is then often put into the fire and all the prayers go up with the smoke.

– Entering or leaving the lodge, out of respect for our relations, it is polite to say, “All My Relations”. Walk, or crawl around the lodge, (the direction depends on the tradition) and sit as close to the person in front of you as you can. Two rows are often needed if there are more than 8 or 10 people coming in. When the door shuts, please be respectful that it’s time to let the water pourer speak. One person speaks at a time, and the water pourer will let everyone know if the floor is open for someone else to speak, pray, or sing. If you share, please let it be known when you are finished by saying, amen, thank you, nyaweh, I’m done, All My Relations. When a song is shared, all are welcome to sing along, or clap, or drum if you have a drum inside the lodge.

Take notice when the heat starts to go up and you feel a desire to leave the lodge. It is often the words that are being shared that are too hot, rather than the temperature in the lodge. This is where the healing is. However, if you need to leave, that is ok, take care of yourself. Wait for whoever is speaking or singing to finish if you are able, and then let it be known that you need to leave. When the ancestors (the rocks) are brought in, welcome them with either “welcome ancestor” or “welcome Grandfather”.

Some places have a tradition of not walking between the fire and the lodge unless you are entering or leaving the lodge, or unless you are a fire keeper (tending the fire). Be mindful of this.

Find out before you go to a lodge if there is a dress code. For the Lakota and Onondaga traditions (possibly others as well) women wear long skirts or dresses and have their shoulders covered so that the men can stay focused on the ceremony.

If you would like to be included in the invite for spiritual or wellness gatherings that may include a sweat lodge, feel free to friend me on Facebook. Send me a message with your email address if you would like to receive my monthly newsletter, or go to this link and click “follow”:

I recommend if you feel healthy enough to be in the lodge, that you try one at least once in your lifetime. It is not for everyone, but you will know if it is for you, and it will call you back if it is good medicine for you. I will never forget my first lodge experience. I only did one round, there are four total, and sometimes a 5th is in order. Be gentle on yourself and listen to what your body needs. “This isn’t a tough person competition.” Similar to a sauna, the sweat lodge has many health benefits as well as risks. Please mindful and review the risks and benefits on the links below if you are considering a sweat.

Facebook event page for Ehk-wheh-heh-weh Spiritual Weekend Gathering September 27-28, 2014:


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