Long before modern bath environments offered high-technology steam generators and fixtures, Native American and other native cultures utilized the powerful effects of steam, which they generated in sweat lodges. Native American sweat lodges were typically dome-shaped, circular and built low to the ground. They were made from “living” materials including tree branches and animal skins, and as a result the structures were believed to possess spiritual significance.
In order to power the steam generation within the sweat lodge, rocks were heated up outside, in fire pits, to extremely high degrees. Transported into the sweat lodge utilizing shovels, they were then placed into a pit dugout in the center. The ceremony leader would pour water on the hot rocks, creating steam, elevating the internal temperature of the sweat lodge, and causing participants to sweat. Often traditionally used plants such as sage were placed on the rocks prior to pouring water, adding an aroma and essence to the steam and aiding in purification.