Native North Americans constructed steam-infused sweat lodges as part of spiritual rituals.

Navajos call theirs tacheeh, the process of losing water. The Lakota word is inikagapi, which means to make alive. The more common Lakota word inipi is also used, which loosely means for their life.

In Mexico the Aztecs built beehive-shaped steam baths called temazcalli. A fireplace was built outside and shared an adjacent wall with the bath. The raging fire would heat the bath walls. Once inside the small room, bathers would throw water onto the scorching walls to fill the room with steam.

The Finnish sauna tradition also relies on low levels of steam to create loyly, which is the wave of hot, moist air that envelops bathers when water is splashed on heated rocks. Some Finns once believed that loyly drove out evil spirits.

In Japan one of the first baths was a natural cave in which dry leaves were burned to create heat. The ashes were discarded and straw

mats were spread on the ground for bathers. Seawater was then sprinkled on the cave walls to fill the void with steam. Later, in the Edo period, a closet bath was used. This bath was a narrow wooden box containing shallow hot water and a lot of steam. Today the traditional Japanese bath, ofuro, is actually a descendant of the Japanese steam baths. And the public baths, sento, are still popular.

In Thailand herbal steam baths are a tradition passed down through generations of skilled practitioners in rural temples. Thai herbal medicine incorporates components from various other traditional healing arts, including Indian Ayurvedic remedies, Chinese medicine, and Buddhist traditions. The medicinal steam vapor typically was used to treat skin ailments, muscle stress, and respiratory problems. Another benefit of herbal steam is to prepare the body for a massage. Whatever herbal oil or warming rub the massage therapist applies will be absorbed more readily after the herbal steam, which also makes the muscles more pliable.

4 An engraving by J. Fumagaili depicts ancient Aztec steam baths. For centuries, steam bathing has been an important tradition for many cultures.

Steam Room vs. Sauna

While a lot of people enjoy both steam baths and saunas, some people prefer one to the other. Besides the simple fact that steam baths are wet and saunas are dry, here are a few additional points of differentiation:

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