“Give me the power to create a fever and I shall cure every illness.”

                                                                                                                          Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) 




Sweat rituals have been practiced by many cultures throughout the world for thousands of years. Our ancient ancestors established the thermal bath in many forms. They were built from different materials and they used different kinds of heat source, temperatures or rituals but with a common purpose in order to improve social life and to facilitate mental and physical healing, purification and relaxation.

The most known are:

  • Native American Sweat Lodge
  • Mexican and Central American El Temazcal
  • Irish Sweat House
  • Finnish Sauna
  • The Greco Roman Baths
  • South African Sifutu
  • Islamic Hammam
  • Russian Banya
  • Korean Hanjeungmak
  • Japanese public baths and Mushi-Buro saunas

Sweating has components of cultural and geographic features. As we can see from the map, the sweat practices differ by geography and cultures located around the world adopted different styles of bathing. Jewish Schvitz can be similar to Russian Banya or Turkish/ Steam Sauna. On the other hand, along with people's migrations, sweating practices also migrated.


Sweat lodge at Lake Superior, USA by D.Gordon E. Robertson


The sweat lodge is a low-profile hut, typically dome-shaped or oblong, and made with natural materials. The ceremony done inside is called a purification ceremony. Traditionally the structure is simple, constructed of saplings covered with blankets and sometimes animal skins. Originally, it was only used by some of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, notably the Plains Indians. But with the rise of pan-Indianism, numerous nations have adopted it. The Lakota term for sweat lodge is ‘Inipi’ which means 'to live again'.

 It was used for a cleansing of negative emotions, healing of physical ailments, clearing of mental concerns and/or releasing of spiritual blockages.


El Temazcal, Tlayacapan, Mexico



El temazcal is a type of sweat lodge which originated with pre-Hispanic Indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica. The word ‘temazcal’ comes from the Nahuatl word temāzcalli ("house of heat"), or possibly from the Aztec teme (to bathe) and calli (house). In ancient Mesoamerica it was used as part of a curative ceremony thought to purify the body after exertion, such as after a battle or a ceremonial ball game. It was also used for healing the sick, improving health, and for women to give birth. It continues to be used today in Indigenous cultures of Mexico and Central America that were part of the ancient Mesoamerican region for spiritual and health reasons. It is currently being recovered by all sectors of society in Mexico and Central America and is used as a cleansing of mind, body and spirit.


Creevaghbaun sweat house - Ireland


The Creevaghbaun sweat house is probably the finest example of a ‘teach allais‘ in the country (‘Teach Allais’ is Irish for ‘sweat house’).
Irish sweat houses were typically simple structures. Before use, a large fire was lit in the center of the house. When the temperature was sufficiently high the fire was then removed and the users crawled in and sat on rushes or straw until a sufficient amount of sweating had occurred. 

After this, they went out and cooled into cold water, usually in the streams, lakes or artificial plunge pools/wells. The majority of sweat houses appear to occur in the north and west of the island.


Chimneyless sauna building in Enonkoski, Finland by SM

Finnish vihta


The sauna in Finland is an old phenomenon. Its earliest versions are believed to be from 7000 BC. Hundreds of years ago, when bathing was something to be done only rarely or never at all, Finns were cleaning themselves in saunas at least once a week. One reason the sauna culture has always flourished in Finland is because of the versatility of the sauna. When people were moving, the first thing they did was to build a sauna. Finns would use the sauna to live in, eat, address matters of hygiene, and, most importantly, give birth in an almost sterile environment. Unlike many other more densely populated places in Europe, the availability of wood needed to build and warm the sauna has never been an issue. Another reason for its popularity is that in such a cold climate, the sauna allows people warmth for at least a short period of time. However, it is just as popular in the summer as in the winter.

Occasionally one uses a bunch of leafy, fragrant silver birch called a ‘vihta’ (‘vasta’ in Eastern Finland) to gently beat oneself. This has a relaxing effect on the muscles and also helps to soothe the irritation from mosquito bites. When the heat begins to feel uncomfortable it is customary to jump into a lake, the sea or a swimming pool roll in the snow, or to have a shower.


Roman Baths, Bath, England by Diego Delso, delso.photo


Baths for bathing and relaxing were a common feature of Roman cities throughout the empire. The often huge bath complexes included a wide variety of rooms offering different temperatures and facilities such as swimming pools and places to read, relax, and socialize. 
Public baths were a feature of ancient Greek towns but were usually limited to a series of hip-baths. The Romans expanded the idea to incorporate a wide array of facilities and baths became common in even the smaller towns of the Roman world, where they were often located near the forum. In addition to public baths, wealthy citizens often had their own private baths constructed as a part of their villa and baths were even constructed for the legions of the Roman army when on a campaign. However, it was in the large cities that these complexes (balnea or thermae) took on monumental proportions with vast colonnades and wide-spanning arches and domes. Baths were built using millions of fireproof terracotta bricks and the finished buildings were usually extravagant affairs with fine mosaic floors, marble-covered walls and decorative statues.


The sweat lodge at the Jazzfarm, © The Jazzfarm


The sweat lodge itself is a low-domed structure built out of natural materials such as wood and canvas, grasses or mud. Much like a sauna, the lodge is heated using rocks that have been heated over a fire outside and then placed in a central pit with water poured over them to produce steam. The common principle is to detoxify the body and mind through intense heat and sweating to induce healing, to create a deep connection with a higher being and the self, and to stimulate spiritual renewal. Prayers, chanting, and drumming is commonly part of the ritual. This is a health and wellness concept that started in South Africa.


A Female Turkish Bath or Hammam by Jean_Jacques-Francois Le Barbier


The public bath, or ‘hammam’, was a vital social institution in any Middle Eastern city for centuries before the invention of modern plumbing. Hammams played a central role in promoting hygiene and public health, but they also served as meeting places where people could relax and socialize. 

The hammam generally featured a reception room, which led to a hot room, a warm room, and a cold room. Visitors moved through these rooms, where temperature changes stimulated the flow of blood and encouraged the body to sweat out impurities. Some baths included areas where bathers could exercise.


Traditional Northern Russia banya in Mandrogy open air museum.

 bannik, naked dwarf or a little old man



One of the earliest descriptions of the banya comes from the Russian Primary Chronicle of 1113. Most villages in Russia had a bathhouse, usually some way off from the rest of the houses in the village, where possible near water. They were detached, low-lying wooden structures dependent on a fire lit inside to provide heat.

The bathhouse had its own resident sprite, the Bannik, the most hostile of the Russian domestic goblins, and was not a place to visit alone. The Bannik was envisaged as a naked dwarf or a little old man.


Traditional Northern Russia banya in Mandrogy open air museum.


Hanjeungmak is Korean traditional sauna. Intensely hot and dry, it uses burning pine wood to heat a dome-like kiln made of stone. The Korean kiln saunas were used for medicinal purposes. At that time, Hanjeungmaks were state-supported kiln saunas maintained by Buddhist monks. Nowadays, Hanjeungmaks are incorporated into Korean-style spa, ‘Jjimjilbang’ rather than an independent facility.


Onna yu ("Bathhouse Women") by Torii Kiyonaga ( 1752-1815 )


Sentō is a type of Japanese communal bath house where customers pay for entrance. The origins of the Japanese sentō and the Japanese bathing culture, in general, can be traced to the Buddhist temples in India, from where it spread to China, and finally to Japan during the Nara period (710–784). Since the second half of the 20th century, these communal bathhouses have been decreasing in numbers as more and more Japanese residences now have baths. Some Japanese people find social importance in going to public baths, while others go to a sentō because they live in a small housing facility without a private bath or to enjoy bathing in a spacious room and to relax in saunas or jet baths. Another type of Japanese public bath is onsen.


An onsen is a Japanese hot spring and the bathing facilities and inns frequently situated around them. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsens scattered throughout all of its major islands. Onsens were traditionally used as public bathing places and today play a central role in Japanese domestic tourism. Onsens come in many types and shapes, including outdoor and indoor baths. Baths may be either publicly run by a municipality or privately, often as part of a hotel.