Above: Relaxing in a Maya temescal, Riviera Maya

Maya Healing Techniques

The culture of the Maya is rich with religious beliefs related to the cyclical patterns of the earth and a reverence for gifts from nature. The Maya worshipped the four elements of the world — water, earth, fire and air — and believed that a universal force linked all living things. For those looking to connect with these ancient traditions, there are several wellness experiences that should not be missed.

Cacao Ritual

Cacao products for sale in the spa at Hotel Esencia, Rivera Maya - Photo by Andrew Harper editor

Cultivated for more than 2,500 years, cacao was an integral part of the daily lives of the Maya. It was utilized initially as a sacred food believed to cure sicknesses and foster fertility at weddings. Later, it was used as currency and offered to the gods as a sacrifice. The dead were also buried with small pots full of cacao. The wellness benefits of roasted and ground cacao beans include liver and kidney detoxification, increased blood flow to the brain and lower levels of inflammation. Many spas in the Yucatán incorporate ground cacao into their treatments. Hotel Esencia offers a cacao ritual service intended to soften and nourish the skin. The experience started with a full-body cacao exfoliation that opened my pores and left me feeling tingly and refreshed. A massage followed, employing a paste made from cacao blended with water, cacao butter and a little honey. Described as “an invitation to discover the power of this sacred tropical seed,” this superb treatment left me feeling utterly relaxed.

Temescal Ceremony

Maya temescals are low-roofed sweat lodges - Adobe Stock

Ancient temescal rituals were intended to eliminate toxins from the body through intense heat and steam. This purification ceremony takes place in a domed rock chamber and has been employed by Aztecs and Maya for centuries. The low-roofed sweat lodge represents the womb, and participants come out of the bath symbolically born again, with a cleansed mind, body and spirit. There are several wellness resorts in North America that have temescals, but the historical traditions of the ceremony are rarely followed. At Hotel Bardo in Tulum, we sat shoulder to shoulder around a fireplace as a local shaman led us through the ritual. River rocks were heated on a fire outside and then placed in the center of the lodge and showered with water infused with lemongrass, sage, copal and palo santo. Fragrant steam filled the dark space, the rocks glowed orange, and the shaman led traditional chants. Cooling jasmine tea served afterward enhanced my sense of tranquility. These ceremonies are wonderfully intense but not recommended for the claustrophobic.

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Above: Relaxing in a Maya temescal, Riviera Maya

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