“Sweat is a fast mode of penetrating deep down to the bones of an individual. This allows all the cells within the body to purge the toxic accumulation we’ve gathered over the years, no matter how well we eat. The sweat pouring off is toxins being released from your body. Through a combination of sweating, chanting, song, and prayer, along with seawater and herbal intake, we can reach higher levels of healing and awareness of the true power within each of us.”
Healing herbs are an integral part of the steam process as triggers of different energy levels. Commonly used herbs and plants include ‘olena, which helps the respiratory system and is good for purification through its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties; ‘awa (kava), which helps to relax the nerves; and ‘iliahi (sandalwood), which calms the system and aids with circulation and digestion.
Native Hawaiians used medicinal herbs along with steam to treat the sick in a hale la‘au, or medicine house. In his writings, Hawaiian scholar David Malo describes “a hut called hale hau, which was done with sticks of hau wood and was arched on top. The sick man was removed to this little hut and given a steam bath, after which he was bathed in sea-water and then nourishment was administered.”
Immersion in water, or hi‘uwai, is another important component. Between rounds of sweating in the hale—which becomes progressively hotter as more rocks are brought in from the outside firepit—participants cool off by plunging into the ocean or nearby fresh water.
Yates, who now lives in Oregon and makes monthly trips to Maui, began interviewing Native Americans about their sweat-lodge building practices. He participated in frequent sweats with them, incorporating Hawaiian chanting.
Using a model that evolved over years of research, Yates began building hale pulo‘ulo‘u in Hawai‘i. In 2002, he invited kupuna from Hana to participate in a ho‘oponopono session followed by a sweat. Each kupuna came with two makua (elder supporters), so there were almost 50 people. Yates conducted the sweat in shifts of 25 people, with Hawaiian chanting by the kupuna throughout the entire process.
Afterward, they told Yates, “This is something we will never forget.”
“There were tears of joy, memories for them,” Yates says. “They remembered when they were children and used to do the ceremony indoors under blankets, due to the suppressive nature of the then-de facto government. When the infiltrators came to Hawai‘i, they stopped this native practice. . . . A week after the sweat, kupuna called from Hana and told me they were writing a chant about their experiences.”
Today, Yates encourages anyone with an open heart to participate in the process: from gathering guava wood in ‘Iao Valley, to building the structure, to fasting and sweating.