Arvigo – Maternal Treatment Inspired by Ancient Mayan Legend

Wang Yan

Global Courant

A sacred practice perfected over thousands of years, this powerful herbal steam bath takes you on a journey that mediates through the body, gentle moves the mind and frees the spirit. Steal away to a colorful world of energy and invigoration.

A rich reward for each of the senses, this practice (found among select Mayan Riviera spas and oasis) preserves the ancient traditions of Mayan healers — rejuvenating visitors through a harmony of mind, body, and spirit. It is here — at secluded resorts bathed in calming Caribbean breezes — where guests can indulge in traditional healing remedies and massages and the restorative powers of the Temazcal.


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Standing within a sand circle — just outside the entrance to a small, rounded sanctum-like structure covered with blankets or intricate patterns — you’ll hear a conch shell horn echo in the air to signify the beginning of the ritual.

You’ll then be unobtrusively purified in a puff of smoke as you’re guided inside a dwelling where the light dims and temperatures flitter around the triple digits (for those familiar with fahrenheit). The entrance way is low and small, and through it you enter a small, dark, warm and humid space. In this way you’re recreating the uterus; cutting off the outside world and allowing a chance to look inside and discover yourself again.

Womb Room Therapeutics

Contemporary use of the Temazcal has carried with it almost all of the conceptions, beliefs and practices that make it nearly impossible to talk about the Temazcal or understand how it works with out invoking these ancient concepts. In the native tradition, the heat and darkness is meant to simulate a return to the womb. And in a rhythmic pattern, about every 20 minutes or so, a container of herb-infused water is poured over hot volcanic rock, eliciting a relaxing cloud of steam and a burst of negative ions. It is and was, as far back as can be traced, a therapeutic instrument, an arm of the medical practices developed in what we anthropologists like to call, Mesoamerica, that vast area that now includes Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. Recognized best, in its ancient forms, through the Aztecs, and Temazcal (as it is still called in contemporary Mexico) is a Nahuatl word, taken from their language.

Interconnectedness: the Motherly Compassion of Teteoinan and Kwan Yin

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In the Nahuatl culture of central Mexico, the goddess of the sweat bath was Temazcalteci, “the grandmother of the baths.” She was one of the manifestations of the goddess Teteoinan, “the mother of the gods”, or, as she is also called, “our grandmother”, the principal goddess among the higher Nahuatl divinities. In truth this goddess was the goddess of medicine and of the medicinal herbs; adored by doctors and surgeons, bleeders, and also by midwives. Teteoinan evokes the name “Kwan Yin” as a derivation of a Chinese name for the goddess that is this energy of motherly compassion. So it should be no surprise, then, to discover an interconnectedness with the way the healing bath conforms to the terms, ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ that are used by traditional healers around the globe. These principles are understood n quite the same way and for quite the same purposes in traditional Chinese medicine. And in her subtle presence, Kwan Yin appears to be one of those very rare deities who quietly imbues multiple manifestations at once.

Better than an Incubator

By extension, it’s easily understood the Temazcal is usually directed by a specially trained healer, most often a woman (called in Mexico, the Temazcalera). She examines the patient, makes her diagnosis, chooses the herbs indicated, decides on the levels of heat and humidity to be used, prepares the Temazcal, and then enters the chamber with the patient to oversee and manage the course of the bath.
Many mothers instinctively know their bodies are able to control an infant’s temperature within a very narrow range. This is accomplished by a “maternal source” core temperature that can rise to two degrees Centigrade if a baby is cold, and fall one degree if baby is hot. As clinically demonstrated, it is a procedure now practiced around the world that has been adopted – from Columbian midwives – called Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC). Skin-to-skin contact (SSC), as it is more generically recognized, is better than an incubator for re-warming hypothermic infants. NICUs routinely employ SSC to regulate body temperature and manage aspects of “infant despair response”.

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A Resourceful Temazcalera Taps This Maternal Intuition

She can raise or lower the intensity of the heat during the bath through ventilating the chamber using the entranceway or the vent in the roof of the Temazcal, or by fanning with a fan made up of branches of a suitable herb she selected. Amazingly skillful in handling her herbal fan; she can bring down heat for the upper parts to the lower parts of the chamber at will, and if she wishes, direct currents of heat to whatever part of the body desires special consideration. Extra heat can be put on a leg, for example, to deal with sciatica, or on the back to ease back pain. She will use her fan to beat gently on any part of the body to increase circulation at that spot, should it be necessary.

Oftentimes, a Temazcalera is trained to do massages using a variety of traditional techniques, in the Temazcal, for any condition that might require such treatment. For instance, a bodywork technique that addresses the position and health of the pelvis and abdominal organs called Arvigo is often done. This ancient feminine tradition is said to improve blood flow to the pelvic organs and improve the uterine lining.
Sometimes herbal tea emollients are used to wash affected area before or during a massage. Cold water may be used over the body, including the head, while inside the Temazcal. This may be done therapeutically to cool off the outside of the body, shrinking superficial blood vessels in order to exercise them, and allowing them to swell again with the heat. It is often recommended that this be done just before leaving a Temazcal that is extremely hot.

A tea is prepared with which to make the steam. Herbs that may be used for purpose include eucalyptus, rosemary, mugwart, or other warming or stimulating herbs and the bucket of tea is placed, still hot, inside the Temazcal along with a cup with which to dip it out. A couple of buckets of cold water are also placed inside at the last minute, along with a dish with which to dip it out and pour over the bathers to bring down body heat and make possible several cycles of sweating.

The length of time spent inside the Temazcal varies greatly, depending on the heat of the bath, the constitution of the individual, and the condition being treated. Generally, many delights are in store as you commence a nearly two hour journey toward purification and self-discovery. Yet when you feel impelled to leave, it is best not to linger. An herbal tea is typically prepared for drinking afterwards. This may be a tea chosen for a specific condition or may be a general tea for all, such as chamomile, sassafras, horehound, or milfoil.

Arvigo – Maternal Treatment Inspired by Ancient Mayan Legend

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