Sweat-Lodge is a tradition which was around in one form or another in many ethnic cultures. It is a process where a group of people build a small temporary bender (tent) which has a pit containing hot rocks.  They sit inside in darkness, sweating together and making prayers or declarations, creating a  ritual with spiritual and healing intent. These days the form most widely practiced derives from that of the North American Indian.
I was first taught the ritual of sweat-lodge by Leo Rutherford using the Indian Twisted Hair tradition.  Since then I have been in sweats led by many different people and have learnt other traditions.
My  intention in the sweats that I lead is to reconnect to the spirit of my own land here in England where my own roots are.  I  focus on the elements: earth, air, fire and water and on the spirit that is the connection and harmony between all things: animal, plant and mineral, past, present and future.
This is the structure I follow:

The fire is lit and we take some quiet time to go inside ourselves and think about what we are doing.
When it is time to go into the lodge we take off our clothes (wearing a towel or bathing suit is fine is you don't want to be naked) and I will smudge (smoke) each person in turn to mark the start of the ritual.  We enter the lodge in a sun-wise (clockwise) direction and sit, taking care to avoid the pit in the middle where the hot rocks will go.
When everyone is sitting, hot rocks will be brought from the fire to the pit inside the lodge.
I will enter and close the door and dedicate the lodge to the elements and to spirit.  I will then initiate a round of prayers (out loud or silently) on a theme that I will suggest. The theme varies with the intention of the sweat (e.g. prayers of gratitude, things we want to let go of  or things we want to draw into our lives.)  People can pray to whatever spiritual force they choose, the ritual is appropriate to any spiritual path that is based on respect for others and our environment.  The prayers will continue over four sections or rounds each dedicated to a new theme.  I welcome singing or even inarticulate sounds as well as prayers. The door is opened between rounds to bring in more rocks and to allow people to leave (if they must) and re-enter if they want to before the door is closed.
It is not my intention to make the sweat-lodge unbearable, but to make the lodge hot enough to be challenging.  I don't want to drive people out of the lodge but if people have to leave they only have to ask for the door to be opened and they can leave at any time, or if they panic they can lift the canvas behind them and roll out of the lodge.
After the sweat we can douse ourselves in water to complete the cleansing process.
I ask people to take responsibility for their own needs and well being, to tell us all if they are having difficulty and not to do the sweat if they are not physically fit enough to benefit from the process.
The sweat-lodge is a sacred ritual with a long history, my experience is that it is a very powerful opportunity to heal our selves: body, mind, emotions and spirit. I feel privileged to be able to hold this space.                         
Chris Southall

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