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Sweat It Out

The sweat lodge is no place for a hangover.


It sounds too good to be true: Climb into a sweat lodge and start off 2003 with a renewed spirit and a freshly detoxified body. But what might have been perfectly natural to American Indians may sound suspiciously New-Agey and unattainable to people who still haven't recovered from all of the stuff that's so festively toxic this time of year: booze, junk food and unbridled debauchery.

It's one thing to kick off the New Year with a steam bath and two aspirin, but quite another to attempt the challenge of the purification ceremony at the Holistic Therapy and Training Center, a two-hour (sometimes longer) sweat-a-thon inspired by American Indian and Hawaiian Huna sweat lodges. Chanting and getting hot -- really, really hot -- is only part of the deal.

Vee Osborn, owner of the center, grew up in Honolulu and attended her first sweat lodge as a child. "I've been adapting and changing the ceremony ever since, integrating everything I've learned over the years into the process so that it becomes a powerful vehicle for people to come and let something go," she says.

Something, but not hangovers. It's best to be in relatively good physical shape for this ceremony, held in a modern sauna in which temperatures climb to well over 200 degrees, and the mood -- depending on the chanting, the drumming, the storytelling and the guided meditation -- can be either wildly euphoric or deeply emotional.

"Not everyone is comfortable being in the dark, naked, with a bunch of strangers," Osborn admits. She's seen it all, from frightened people dashing out of the sauna after a few minutes to powerfully emotional releases as participants burst into tears.

For some, it's as grueling as running a marathon. "I've never been so hot, so physically drained and so empowered in my life," says a detoxer named Rick, who has attempted it twice. "I swear, I saw auras after the first hour and was ready to pass out after the second."

Osborn leads the ceremonies herself, packing her sauna with as many as seventeen people or as few as four, each with distinct issues. "It all comes down to facing fear," she says. "It really is a test, on many levels. And some people don't make it through, which is fine. It's all about harnessing your own spirituality."

She asks that participants bring two towels and a dish for the post-purification potluck. Osborn suggests vegetarian food, but she won't frown on anything, even greasy chips or sugary snack-food cakes. "People are usually ravenous after it's all over," she says. Body inhibitions usually aren't a problem, either -- the sauna is so dark that people can't see one other.

And Osborn prefers a tidy indoor sauna to the traditional bent-wood-and-tarp sweat lodge. "I don't like getting my fanny dirty," she says.

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