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  • Heather Rideout

"I don't like saying no to wondrous opportunities."

(Guest post from Heather Rideout, yoga teacher, about her first traditional sauna experience at Villa Sumaya)

It’s Saturday morning at 10:00. We walk with Paola across the land to where we will spend the next two hours together in a sacred purification sweat ceremony known as the Chichimeca.

I don’t like saying no to wondrous opportunities.

I notice there isn’t a cloud in the sky, causing the lake to sparkle and glisten as we approach the handcrafted sweat lodge. Intricacy of unique details is something Villa Sumaya is renowned for, so the beautiful touches with the crystals and flowers around the lodge only add to the specialness of the day.

We start by undressing and Paola smudges us with sage and copal to begin the purification. An integral part of the ceremony is honoring our ancestors, the four directions and the elements associated with them: Earth, Water, Fire and Air. As we faced each one in turn, Paola called the direction in to be a part of our ceremony, so we could learn, release and grow from the greater connection.

Appreciation for that which I am a part of. For that which touches me. For that which I touch.

Paola leads us through four rounds in the sauna, where we reflect on our relationship with each of the elements through songs, sharing words and inspiration. As sweat pours out of my body, I become slick and slippery. I’m hot, to say the least. Yet I smile willingly each time Paola throws water on the piping hot stones and I am flushed in steam ripe with lavender, eucalyptus and sandalwood. My love and awe for heat and warmth grow, the lighted offering of Fire.

After each round, we step outside for a few minutes to rinse and cool off. Never have I appreciated Water so much as when I stand under the outdoor shower embedded with shells and stones, to feel the sensation of cold all over my bare, sun-kissed skin.

Standing before the lake on this picture-perfect day, the outside temperature just right, I look to my friend and say,

“What a way to spend a Saturday morning.”

We walk back inside for more. With the first round, I found it a bit hard to breathe deeply and sing as fully as I normally would. But by the second round I feel more open in my lungs, more space for Air to move in and out of me. To allow breath rather than take breath.

Even this is Yoga.

In that moment, I feel an enlivened respect for Air and the life I have been given. This sweet breath.

Before the fourth round, Paola shares with us a scrub she prepared with sea salt, coconut oil, honey and fresh mint from her garden. Oh the sensuous pleasure of applying that delicious mixture to my skin; we laugh that cleansing should always be so luxurious. I reflect on how the Earth provided these tangible gifts. My feet pressed against the ground, I remember where my roots come from.

The ceremony closes with us walking out of the lodge and down the dock to jump in the lake. I swim laps in Lake Atitlan every other day; I have great love for the way she envelopes me when she is still like glass, or choppy like an excited child.

Atitlan means "at the water" in Nahuatl.

Here I am.

When I run and jump in, I find the water is more fresh and rejuvenating than ever. We smile like children as we play in the water, me diving down deep and pretending I’m a mermaid with fins with my sparkly blue-painted toes. It’s one of those bright, “Ah-ha” moments when everything is alright, just as it is. When you realize you don’t need anything more than the water that bathes you, the fire that warms you, the air you breathe and the earth under your feet.

When you understand how basic and elemental it can be when you break it down to that.

And you give thanks to be in a body, mind and heart that savors every last delicious bit.

(Thank you Heather!)

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