I think it was when the woman next to me started to cry that I became aware of exactly what was happening. There were eight of us seated in a circle on cement around a sunken fire pit, the heat reflecting off the stone walls above and behind us. The ceiling was curved and rounded. We were, to make it short, inside a concrete igloo.
I was wearing only shorts, and the sweat poured over my shoulders and down my back. We were all massaging our feet, rubbing our thighs, and stretching our necks at the leader’s request. We took herbs from a bucket of warm water and rubbed them down our arms and on the back of our heads. We all did this individually and, for the first part of the experience, it felt awfully lonely, and it was horribly hot.
As with most extreme experiences in life, the body adapts. Twenty minutes in and covered with sweat, wrapped up by the humid heat, we chanted together and the breaths came easier. My muscles relaxed. The leader threw another hot stone on the fire, pouring the herb-water from the bucket over it afterwards. The steam rose, and now the breaths were harder again, the air hot as it passed over my tongue and down my throat.
As if he could sense it in each of us, he decided to start the speaking part of the program.