Sweat Lodge Safety

Ensuring the Safety, Health and Wellbeing of Participants in Sweat Lodges

The health and welfare of sweat lodge participants has always been the highest priority for SOTEMS and as such, SOTEMS continues to adhere to the strictest levels of safety protocol for SOTEMS sweat lodges throughout Australia since the mid nineties.

SOTEMS also ensure that all facilitators are expertly trained over several years and have current, required and recognised first aid qualifications in order to assess and treat any health and safety issues that might occur.

New participants will be walked through the procedure and what is expected of them before the ceremony begins. Any concerns or health risks should be discussed with the facilitator during this orientation procedure. All new participants must fill in and sign the sweat lodge waiver. The waiver is used to ensure the participant understands what is required of them and also to note any health risks the participant might have.

First time participants will also sit next to the facilitator or other qualified SOTEMS members in order for them to be monitored throughout the ceremony.

Please feel free to discuss any concerns or questions you have with the facilitator before the ceremony.

Sweat Lodge Ceremonies run by SOTEMS have always been run under very strict health and safety protocols mentioned on this page, however if you wish to partake in a sweat lodge ceremony in Australia outside of SOTEMS, for your safety, please take note of the following points:

  • Sweat Lodges can be potentially dangerous if run by unqualified people and SOTEMS encourages all members of the public to ensure that, if they wish to participate in a sweat lodge, that they ensure the facilitator is properly and thoroughly trained and has the required first aid knowledge to treat potential health issues that might occur. Do not be afraid to ask questions regarding their experience and training. A qualified and experienced facilitator will not take objection to the questions.
  • NEVER feel pressure to stay in a sweat lodge any longer than you believe safe or stay in a sweat lodge where you believe your health or safety has been compromised. All participants in SOTEMS sweat lodge ceremonies are actively encouraged to speak up if they are feeling uncomfortable and are able to leave at any time if they feel overwhelmed. Never take part in a sweat lodge that discourages or does not allow participants to leave if they feel unsafe or overwhelmed.
  • NEVER take part in so called 'extreme or endurance' sweat lodges. The aim of a sweat lodge is not to make it as hot as possible in order to just barely survive or endure. This shows a lack of understanding on the facilitators behalf of the actual purpose of the ceremony. There is no room for bravado within a properly conducted sweat lodge. Similarly, sweat lodges should not be performed for hours on end.
  • Always ensure you are adequately hydrated before partaking in a sweat lodge ceremony. SOTEMS recommends drinking 2-3 litres of water on the day of the ceremony.
  • Be aware if you are feeling overly tired, drowsy or yawning constantly. This could be an indication of low levels of oxygen with improper ventilation within the sweat lodge . If this goes for any lengthened period of time, LEAVE IMMEDIATELY. Low oxygen levels for an extended period of time can be very dangerous.
  • The door/flap of the sweat lodge should be opened at periodic intervals to allow excess heat out of the lodge and to allow fresh oxygen to circulate through the sweat. If the air supply is not refreshed periodically at regular intervals, leave immediately. Within SOTEMS facilitated sweat lodges, this is roughly every 15 to 20 minutes.

Sweatlodge Deaths

Unfortunately, a number of deaths have occurred by improper and negligent run sweat lodges both in Australia and also overseas. The tragic events surrounding the death of Rowan Douglas Cooke as the result of dehydration, while doing a sweat lodge in the Adelaide Hills on 3rd November 2004, was not in anyway connected or associated with the Spirit of the Earth Medicine Society, nor with any individual who is a member of SOTEMS.

Prue Blackmore, a SOTEMS member, gave evidence into the coroner's inquest and provided expert advice into the safety measures required of running a properly conducted sweatlodge in order to avoid tragic incidents such as this from ocurring.

Based on the standard practices of SOTEMS and the advice of the coroner that investigated the death of Rowan Cooke, the Department of Health has released a public health fact sheet regarding the health risks and recommendations of safety within sweat lodges.

For a detailed copy of the coroner's findings please go to http://www.courts.sa.gov.au/CoronersFindings/Lists/Coroners Findings/Attachments/492/COOKE Rowan Douglas.pdf (refer to Chapter 9 for Prue Blackmore's evidence regarding properly conducted safety measures within a sweatlodge)