He said, "For Mayans, cenotes are sacred openings to the underworld. Only royalty were able to swim into them. The Temazcal ceremony is an ancient Mayan ritual that asks permission from the gods to enter the sacred realm."
This ritual began with the lighting of incense. Our guide held a small clay pot that she crushed herbs into. Then, she lit a match and allowed the mixture to begin smoking. When the smoke had begun permeating our group, she called us over, one by one, to surround ourselves with the smoke. She would spin us around in front of her while waving the incense over us. Then she'd motion for us to enter the sweat lodge (which, itself, is called a temazcal).
The inside of the lodge was dark. In the center of the hut was an area for stones to be heated atop a fire. There were simple benches arranged in a tight semicircle, just enough for the 7 of us to sit comfortably.
When we'd all entered, our guide, July, explained the significance of a temazcal. The goal is to sweat out bad energies and illness, even addictions and depression. I was surprised to learn that the practice of temazcal is still widely accepted in Mexico. The guide's own aunt participates frequently for various things.
July explained that in addition to the steam that rises up from the stones, the water used is full of medicinal herbs. Having been allowed to steep in the water before it is thrown over the heated stones, the medicinal benefits of these plants can be breathed in through the steam.
At the end of the steaming, participants are instructed to stand up, hold hands, and shout, releasing any pent up frustration, anger, anxiety or upset. Those in my group chose to let out primal yells twice. John and Frank... characters.
That, in short, was our brief experience with the Mayan ritual of Temazcal. Bonus, for us, was the fact that this was something reserved for Mayan royalty. In effect, John mused we were now Mayan royalty. Ha!