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Representational image of Maya healing by a medicine man. Source: HaiderShah / Adobe Stock

Unlocking the Secrets of Maya Healing

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At a time when human beings are suffering from a host of illnesses caused by stress and modern-day living, the need for ancient wisdom has never been more important. In fact, many people have become tired of the side effects caused by pharmaceutical medicines and the lack of care shown in mainstream medical facilities and are turning to traditional treatments.

Recent research has revealed the remarkable efficacy of certain ancient Chinese herbal remedies in tackling chronic pain. A 2014 study published in Current Biology highlighted the presence of dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB), a potent pain-relieving compound found in the underground tubers of the Corydalis plant.

This compound, utilized in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, demonstrated significant pain-relief properties. The study, aimed at cataloging active ingredients in traditional Chinese medicines, marked a significant advancement in understanding the potency of ancient remedies in modern contexts.

This discovery highlighted the enduring relevance of traditional healing practices in contemporary healthcare. Moreover, amidst a burgeoning interest in holistic treatments, an increasing number of individuals have been turning to indigenous wisdom for solutions to prevalent health ailments. This trend underscores the significance of cultural heritage in shaping medical paradigms, highlighting the fusion of ancient wisdom with modern scientific inquiry.

Holistic Healing in Ancient Greece and Maya Civilizations

Treating patients holistically is a concept that was well understood by the Greeks. Patients would visit Asklepion, holy temples of healing in ancient Greece, where diseases were cured by harmonizing all the social, environmental, psychological, spiritual, and physical factors believed to interact in the causation of illness.

The early Maya civilizations—which originated in the Yucatán around 2600 BC and rose to prominence around 250 AD in present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, northern Belize and western Honduras—also developed healing systems that have influenced holistic healthcare to this day.

The ancient Maya excelled at agriculture, pottery, hieroglyph writing, calendar-making and mathematics, and left behind an astonishing amount of impressive architecture and symbolic artwork. The Mesoamerican civilization may not have survived, but many of their secrets to good health, healing and living well are still alive to this day. Here are five lessons the ancient Maya can teach us about health and healing:

Maya healing practices incorporated the use of chia seeds. (mira_y / Adobe Stock)

Maya healing practices incorporated the use of chia seeds. (mira_y / Adobe Stock)

#1 Tip for Maya Healing: Harness the Nutritional Power of Chia Seeds

Chia seeds, a superfood rich in protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids, offer exceptional nutritional benefits. The word  chia comes from the Maya word for strength. Originally grown in Mexico and some regions of Central America between 1500 and 910 BC, Chia seeds were an important part of the Maya diet.

Chia seeds were considered to be almost magical because of their ability to increase stamina and energy over long periods of time. Warriors used Chia as their main source of fuel during conquests. Medicinally, they also used it to relieve joint pain and stimulate saliva. They are believed to have been prized more than gold due to their incredible health enhancing properties.

#2 Tip for Maya Healing: Embracing Holistic Healing

For the Maya, health was all about balance. Man was considered as an integral and interactive part of the cosmos and society, and any imbalance would lead to illness. To cure these imbalances, the Maya used a holistic approach to healing that focused on both the spiritual and physical aspects of well-being and recognized their interconnection.

Maya healers sought primarily to balance the flow of  ch’ulel (life-force) in the body, a concept very similar to  qi in traditional Chinese medicine. “Ch'ulel represented that everything was linked and unified,” wrote Bonnie Bley in  The Ancient Maya and their City of Tulum. “The physical and spiritual worlds were at opposite ends of a continuum surrounded by medicine which aided the spirits in the healing process.”

Extensive research has shown that emotional health significantly impacts physical well-being, a fact understood within Maya healing. However, this crucial element is often lacking in today’s medical system.

Within Maya healing the cacao bean served as a potent medicinal remedy. (Grafvision / Adobe Stock)

Within Maya healing the cacao bean served as a potent medicinal remedy. (Grafvision / Adobe Stock)

#3 Tip for Maya Healing: Cacao

The ancient Maya are well known for their love of chocolate. In fact, they could be described as early enthusiasts, consuming the delicacy as far back as 2,600 years ago. Research has found that they regularly integrated the esteemed superfood cacao into their diet, recognizing its profound health benefits.

In the realm of Maya healing, cacao transcended mere culinary delight; it served as a potent medicinal remedy. Rich in flavanols, an antioxidant renowned for its cardiovascular and cognitive benefits, cacao emerged as a cornerstone of holistic health practices. Additionally, its abundance in essential minerals including magnesium, calcium, iron, copper, zinc and potassium further underscored its therapeutic significance.

Revered by the Maya for its purported magical and divine properties, the cacao bean held a sacred status, deemed fitting for inclusion in the most hallowed rituals of birth, marriage, and death.

The ancient Maya consumed chocolate by first harvesting the seeds, or beans, from cacao trees. They fermented and dried them, roasted them, removed their shells and ground them into paste. They often combined this paste with water, cornmeal, chili peppers and other spices. Many ancient Maya artifacts are decorated with paintings of the people gathering, preparing or drinking cacao. It appears to have been a truly integral part of their religious and social lives.

#4 Tip for Maya Healing: Sweat Baths

Saunas are not just a modern-day luxury. They are known to have a number of important health benefits, including flushing out toxins, cleansing the skin, improving cardiovascular performances and relieving muscular aches. 

Seen as a purification method, the ancient Maya used sweat baths, or  temezcal, which were achieved through saunas constructed out of stone. Water was poured over hot rocks to produce steam, thus encouraging the patient to sweat out his or her impurities. Sweat baths were seen as particularly useful for women who were pregnant.

Maya rulers made it a habit to visit the sweat baths because they left them feeling refreshed and clean. In addition, Maya rulers performed ritual purification ceremonies to appease the gods and secure the well-being of their communities.

Archaeologists have uncovered sweat baths at sites including Tikal, Aguateca and Nakbe, but the most impressive find to date is in Piedras Negras, a Classic Maya city in Guatemala. In addition to the recognizable palaces, temples and ball courts, archaeologists have uncovered eight stone buildings that served as sweat baths to the Maya royalty.

Maya sweat lodge or temazcal, in Reserva de la Biosfera Maya, Petén, Guatemala. (Jorge Antonio Leoni de León/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Maya sweat lodge or temazcal, in Reserva de la Biosfera Maya, Petén, Guatemala. (Jorge Antonio Leoni de León/CC BY-SA 4.0)

#5 Tip for Maya Healing: Hydrotherapy

Maya healing practices recognized the properties of water. Herb baths were used to cleanse the body of a particular malady. The herbs were mashed and salt was added to help release the oils. If using dried herbs, hot water was poured over them to make the plant release its vibrational field. The types of plants and herbs used in the bath depended on the illness, and prayers were often said over the individual as they bathed.  

Health and medicine among the ancient Maya comprised a complex blend of mind, body, spirit, and science—a balance sorely needed in today's world.

Top image: Representational image of Maya healing by a medicine man. Source: HaiderShah / Adobe Stock

By Joanna Gillan


Bley, B. 2011.  The Ancient Maya and their City of Tulum: Uncovering the Mysteries of an Ancient Civilization and their City of Grandeur. iUniverse.

No name. 3 January 2014. “What The Ancient Maya Can Teach Us About Living Well” in  HuffPost. Available at:



Jonathon Perrin's picture

Great reminder about the power of Maya healing, thanks Jo!! I’m about to head off the lands of the Maya once again, and I will make sure to take my chia seeds and cacao. 

I have always used sauna to heal any kind of flu or cold, as long as I take a sauna at first simptoms, it work wonderfully

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Susie Holladay's picture

I loved this article.  I hope with time many more doctors will take this knowledge to restore the whole (body, mind and spirit) person.

Susie Holladay

Frequently Asked Questions

In the realm of Maya healing, a traditional healer is known as an aj q’ij or h'men. These revered individuals hold deep knowledge of herbal remedies, spiritual rituals and the intricate balance of mind, body and spirit essential for holistic well-being.

The Maya employed a wide array of medicinal remedies derived from plants, minerals, and animal products. These included herbal concoctions, poultices and infusions, as well as ritualistic practices aimed at restoring harmony and balance to the individual and community.

Maya healers utilized a diverse range of herbs and botanicals in their medicinal practices. Some commonly used herbs included chaya, aloe vera, copal and tobacco, each selected for its specific healing properties and spiritual significance within the context of Maya healing traditions.

Joanna Gillan's picture


Joanna Gillan is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. 

Joanna completed a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) degree in Australia and published research in the field of Educational Psychology. She has a rich and varied career, ranging from teaching... Read More

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