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"How I ended up standing around a campfire with a bunch of naked strangers."

Image: Smoobs/Flickr

Standing around a campfire with a bunch of naked strangers is the stuff of most people’s nightmares. For me, it was a regular occurrence during my 20s.

This collection of random private parts being warmed by an open fire wasn’t a bizarre sexual ritual, nor was it a gathering of disciples ready to gulp down a glass of Jim Jones-style Kool-Aid. This was a sweat lodge, and despite providing the comedy for most of my dinner party conversations during the early 2000s, this Native American ritual was one of the most significant things I’ve ever done.

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For the uninitiated, a sweat lodge is a purification ceremony designed to help give the Universe (and yourself) a kick in the arse. It’s easy to go through life knowing you’re not really happy without ever taking the time to work out why and a sweat lodge is all about giving you that time.

So if you’re feeling a little lost or underwhelmed with life and you’re comfortable with armpit hair (on women) and phrases like ‘the Universe will provide’ then here are the answers to a few questions you may not realise you wanted to know…

Why is it called a sweat lodge?

Because you’ll be sweating your arse off. It’s all part of the purification process and it’s also why nudity is embraced. If you go into this thing dressed like the Amish, you’ll be cursing the wagon you rode in on in five seconds.

 Is it an actual lodge?

No. It’s a small dome-like structure made of sticks that isn’t tall enough to stand up in but that’s fine because everyone crawls in anyway (this is an eye opener when you’re naked….eyes down people, eyes down!). The lodge is usually covered in blankets with a pit in the middle that’s filled with heated rocks that create the steam (when they’re doused with water, not by magic).

Do you have to be naked?

Nope. You can wear whatever you like but you’re with a pretty open-minded bunch so if you’ve ever wanted to let go of your inhibitions there’d be no better place to do it. At my first one I thought there was no way I’d get my kit off with people who hadn’t even bought me a drink but once I saw how comfortable everyone was in their own skin I was sans strides in no time.

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What happens inside the lodge?

There are usually four rounds with a break in between, and in each round you could be singing, chanting, talking about why you’re there, anything. If the thought of that makes you break out in hippy hives, remember this is all about individual experience so you only have to do what you want to do but it’s pitch black in the lodge so no one will have any idea what you’re getting up to anyway. It’s also important to remember you’re in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of naked strangers, so singing is the least of your worries.

What happens outside the lodge?

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There’s usually a period of about an hour before you go into the lodge where everyone goes to a quiet spot on their own to focus on why they’re there. For me this was one of the most powerful parts of the day. The woman leading us gave us some sage and said we should tell it everything we wanted to change in our lives. Then we burnt the sage so the smoke could carry those thoughts up to whoever was looking down to help us (stop rolling your eyes). No matter what you think of that whole process, for me, merely articulating the things I felt were missing in my life was such an important step to help me go out and get them that I didn’t care how ridiculous it sounded.

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Will it do anything?

While I didn’t go home the day after a sweat lodge to find all my problems were solved, it did significantly change my life for a number of reasons….

It put me in the company of amazing people.

A sweat lodge introduces you to people who are totally OK with the fact you’re not perfect. This isn’t a collection of people crying into their lentil soup, it’s just a bunch of open-minded, kind souls who understand that being truly happy is bloody hard work and for me, at that time, realising there were people out there like that was invaluable.

It gave me the opportunity to think about what I really wanted from life.

Sitting with my thoughts and articulating what was missing was incredibly important because I’m not sure I knew what I was looking for until I said it out loud.

It helped me feel comfortable in my own skin.

Standing around a campfire chatting with a bunch of strangers while your boobs are hanging out is a pretty liberating experience. It also makes you realise your insecurities are a big part of what’s holding you back. If you’re a woman, the other thing you’ll realise is that no matter how unruly your pubes are, there’s always someone with a bigger bush than you…and they’re probably rocking it.

So if you feel like the rudder has fallen off your ship, keep your eyes and mind open to the idea of a sweat lodge.  Because while we all know you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff, the big stuff requires some heat.

Would you ever try a sweat lodge? 

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