Heal Your Body and Soul with a Mexican Herbal Steam Bath

| July/August 2000

During her thirty years working as a nurse in an Oaxacan hospital, Mariana Emilia Arroyo Cabrera witnessed Western medicine’s neglect of the whole patient. In fact, she saw it from several perspectives—in the operating room, as a hospital administrator, and at the Universidad Benito Juarez, where she trained nurses.

“There were thousands of beds in the hospital and only a few doctors,” she says. “Their consultations were short; they didn’t have time to ask about the patient’s problems. The doctors filled out lots of prescriptions, but many illnesses are caused by the heart and the mind, and those were not being addressed.”

About six years ago, she decided that Western medical treatments left many patients incompletely healed. Consequently, she began to heal others holistically, using a centuries-old traditional herbal steam bath called a temazcal.

Reviving Ancient History

For Arroyo Cabrera, the temazcal meant coming full circle. She hails from a town south of Oaxaca, called Cienagas de Cematlan, where her Zapotecan grandmother trained her to be a temazcalera—a woman skilled in using herbs to heal in the temazcal.

Arroyo Cabrera and her family now run Las Bugambilias, a bed and breakfast on the northeastern side of Oaxaca, as well as a restaurant, La Olla, next door. Their clientele consists mainly of tourists who come to the city to relax and experience local flavor.

Originally populated by the Aztecs, Oaxaca now has a population of about 400,000 and is the capital of the Oaxacan state. The spectacular Zapotecan archeological site of Monte Alban is within a few miles of the city. The markets in neighboring indigenous villages are famous for their folk art. And the vibrant, cosmopolitan city maintains a firm grasp of its rich past.

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