Sweat lodge ceremonies have been used by traditional Indian healers for hundreds of years to integrate Indian warriors back into the tribe, and it is being used today for a new generation of warriors. In both our Men’s and Women’s Long Programs we facilitate a sweat lodge experience for our clients at Round Lake outside of Vernon, BC led by a qualified Native traditional healer. The article below is a summary taken from National Endowment for the Humanities by Amy Lifson:
Traditionally, the ritual of purification and cleansing in the sweat lodge, a domed enclosure formed of willow branches and cloth exterior, was performed before soldiers went into battle and on their return, before they were reunited with their families. The interior is heated by rocks that have roasted for hours in fire. Once the rocks are brought inside the lodge and the door is closed, the healer pours water on them, like in a sauna, and leads a ceremony that lasts for several hours, using ritual songs and chanting. The sweat lodge was one of four steps that a returning new warrior had to complete: First, they were isolated and cared for apart from the rest of the tribe, then they underwent purification in the sweat lodge, next storytelling of victories and losses, and then a final ceremony to welcome them home.
“Native American traditions recognize that the wound is fundamentally a wound to the soul,” says psychotherapist Edward Tick, founder of the support group Soldier’s Heart. “A spiritual crisis and problem that needs to be responded to with specifically designed healing practices for warriors. And it needs to happen in a tribal context or community context.”
The first psychologist to investigate the use of a sweat ritual as a psychotherapeutic intervention was John P. Wilson, Ph.D. Dr. Wilson is an internationally recognized expert in the field of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who has authored eight books and over 20 articles on traumatic stress syndromes. He is a founding member and past president of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS). Included among his numerous awards and honours are a Presidential Commendation from President Jimmy Carter for his work with Vietnam Veterans.
In 1985, Dr. Wilson incorporated the sweat lodge ceremony as part of a comprehensive treatment program for Vietnam Veteran’s with PTSD and examined how the Native American sweat lodge can function as a form of treatment for anxiety, depression, and stress-related disorders (1989). He explained how sweat rituals work to help people with PTSD, (1989, p. 69-70):
In summary, it appears that the neurophsyiological mechanisms of PTSD may be altered by the sweat lodge ritual in several ways that are theoretically discernable. First, the extreme temperature of the lodge and the conditions present to induce an altered state of consciousness, point to a changed state of neurophysiology in the brain. Catecholaminergic (NE, 5-HT, DA) and cholinergic (Ach, cortisol) levels are reduced to promote a neurological condition that results in a greater balance in the ergotropic and trophotropic subsystems. The psychological and behavioural result is a reduction in both intrusive and avoidance symptoms of PTSD. Specifically, there is a positive mood state; a greater sense of emotional stability and expressiveness; low levels of anger, anxiety, fear, and depression; and an increased sense of well-being that is experienced as being calm and relaxed and having a greatly enhanced sense of ego vitality. More importantly, the traumatized individual is able at this point to begin new forms of integration of previously traumatic affect and imagery. In this way the effect of the ritual is allosteric and a form of natural healing.
- Sauna Times by Stephen, April 22, 2012