Not long ago I was working in Maya communities located in the southern part of the state on a regular basis and, of course, it changed the way I perceive life.

One change was the way they respond to physical pain. It was a constant struggle for me to sleep in the middle of the jungle because of my asthma; the humidity triggered discomfort that I could not escape. Another unnerving thing was the variety of bug bites! In that setting it’s a fact of daily life.

However, as I was getting to know more about the way of life of the people I was working with, I started learning how they heal themselves. I discovered that a good remedy for asthma is the “cebollina,” what we know of as scallions or green onions. The moringa plant is another good treatment for asthma, and it’s also helpful for the control of diabetes and is full of nutrients. One day I had hives on my body due to an allergic reaction, and with the extract of a plant called “Xcacaltún” (wild basil) the hives eventually dried and healed.


The story doesn’t end here. Not only did I learn that the Maya go to the bush or even their backyards to look for medicine, but also that the healing process is very important for them. In every community there are many “yerbateros” (herbalists), people who know how to heal with plants. They don’t charge for their services; instead they trade for objects (if the person who is sick is able to give something in exchange). The families go to them for healing and also to learn how to do it themselves. Why don’t they charge for their services? Because for them healing is a gift, bestowed upon them by their ancestors, which comes along with the responsibility of taking care of people’s health.

This is only a part of the health picture in Maya life. They believe that someone gets sick when there is no balance between mind, body, heart, and soul: “Toj óolal” in Maya. Illness isn’t only connected to the body; it goes further than that. Therefore, the path to health is not only through medicine, but is a process of introspection and daily inner work.

Fascinating! It might seem like I’m describing a religion. And indeed, Maya people have a deeply spiritual day-to-day life that reflects on the way they are, and the way they see the world.

Editorial by Valentina Álvarez
Photos by Valentina Álvarez for Yucatán Today’s use

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