Written by Elizabeth Stein Feb. 26th, 2015
*Please note I’m not a doctor nor am I a midwife. This article is written for people who are generally healthy and have an intact uterus without slings, IUDs, or other foreign devices such as Mirena’s, Pessary, NuvaRing’s or the like. Do not do a steam if you are bleeding, or are on your period, are pregnant, or suspect you are pregnant. Always consult with a doctor or trained health care professional if in doubt, as by following any of the suggestions in this article, one is assuming his or her own risk and liability.
Vaginal steams are a centuries old home/folk remedy used around the world especially in South America (called Bajas) and in Asia, such as in Korea (called Chai Yok). Traditionally these ‘hip baths’, as they are sometimes called, were used after child birth or for fertility and/or menstrual issues. In Asia, they were also used for beautification as it’s the equivalent of getting a facial for the down there region.
Seriously though, vaginal steams are a wonderful and very nourishing ancient tradition to bring into the comfort of your own home. They are cheap and can be created with household items. One could buy or have made the special wooden steam stool too. Essentially a vaginal steam chair or stool is a seat with the middle cut out that has about 2’ of space between the floor and the hole in the chair, similar to a normal chair or stool. During a steam one sits bare hipped/ bare bottomed over the hole in the stool with a pot or bowl with lid on of steeped, steaming herbs placed underneath the hole in the chair. One would then wrap a towel or sheet around the hips, chair and steaming herbs to seal in the heat and steam. Once the chair is pr epared and the steam towel seal created then one reaches down carefully to tests the steam first by lifting the lid just a little, then, if the temp. feels good, the lid is removed. The steam from the steeped herbs rises up and bathes the vagina and the hips. During a steam, one often keeps their socks on and their upper body clothed as it’s important to stay warm during the steam. If you don’t want to do this at home, you can go and find your local Korean Spa and have someone else prepare the steam for you, usually costing in the ball park around $45 USD.
Some of the additional benefits of steams are helping with mild prolapses of the pelvic floor organs as the steam rising up, and sometimes into the vagina, causes little, micro contractions of the muscles in the pelvis, thus toning the pelvic floor organs (uterus, bladder, pelvic floor muscles). The micro lifts are an instinctual reaction by the body moving away from the heat. The contractions are so small, so micro, one does not perceive them. However, sitting over the steam is often a very relaxing experience for women. Also, steams performed with certain herbs act as a uterine lavage, which is to say, steam acts as a uterine cleanser, causing any old unshed uterine lining to soften and expel with the next menstrual cycle. It is often, this old left over lining in the uterus that is, or in at least part, what contributes to menstrual cramps and sometimes fertility challenges too. For reasons that can be varied such as past accidents and traumas, or even genetics old lining can remain in the uterus for months, years or decades. Steam baths alone prepared with herbs, can aid in removing the old lining and when combined with certain forms of body work such as Arvigo Therapy, are a powerful combination in self healing.
After about 1 to 3 months of steaming a few days before menstruation begins, some women notice extra debris being expelled by the body with their next menstrual flow. These extra debris are usually old lining finally being expelled from the body. Old debris can look like coffee grounds, extra chunks and clots of flesh, and sometimes a thick dark blood more the consistency of chocolate syrup. This might sound gross, but as they say in the Arvigo Therapy world, “a bad tenant is better out than in”. Your body will thank you in the form of feeling lighter, clearer and less cramps with your next menstrual flow.
Ideally one would plan a series of steams, 3 to 10 steams, just before the start of the period for a period of three months, then as needed. This uterine lavage effect is how it helps women who have had a baby. Traditionally a mid wife would decide when the time was right for a mother to do a series of steams to aid her body in expelling all the birthing debris. Make sure if you have had a recent birth, that you work with a birth care provider, such as midwife, as the heat and warmth also causes extra bleeding that is not appropriate at all times. Steams have also been traditionally used for hemorrhoids and mild vaginal infections.
When doing a steam, make sure to have a quiet space and set up a time when you will not be disturbed. If you live with others in the house, let them know and ask them to respect your space. Make sure to test the steam on your wrist similar to testing a babies milk bottle that the temperature is warm and comfortable. There should be no burning, nor should there be any coolness. Once seated over the steam pot, test the steam first by cracking the lid of the pot a little before committing. If the prepared steam feels a bit cool to start with, add a little hot water from a boiled kettle to bring the temp of the water back up. Sit over the steam until it feels cool which is about 10 to 20 min from start time. The total prep. time from collecting herbs to steaming lasts about 45 min. to an hour. Allow yourself time to rest and take it easy after a steam. Ideal times to do a steam are before bed or on a light work day.
On a spiritual and psychosomatic note, it is said vaginal steams aid in the purification of one’s body and soul, similar to a sweat lodge experience, helping a woman claim her own physical and psychic space on her own terms. From my own personal experience, I found my first few vaginal steams to be profound. With warm steam rising up on some of my most vulnerable and tender areas, I found it impossible to be anywhere else but right over my steaming herbs. It’s a wonderful practice for 100% presence. Also, during my first few steams I had memories of two past boyfriends, that were not optimal choices in my life, and with those memories coming to the surface, they disappeared like steam. On one of those occasions, I experience what felt like deep muscle and tendon realignments in my hips and thighs, snapping back into a healthier alignment with those unpleasant memories drifting away. I have felt lighter and freer ever since and still enjoy my steams today.
Common herb choices for vaginal steams are Oregano, Thyme, Rosemarie, Sage, Basil, Calendula, or edible Marigolds. All of these herbs would have been traditionally used by the women of South America. Any edible, organic/spray free mild kitchen herb or flower can be used with the exception of mint. It is advised not to use Mint or mint family plants. Also, when you do a steam keep your feet and body warm after a steam, as some of the traditional healers of the South Americas believed walking on cold and/or wet surfaces and being in drafts caused prolapsing and weakening of the pelvic organs especially in women. Do NOT use Essential Oils of any kind. Essential Oils are TOO STRONG. You might even try using some local and gentle wild herbs such as plantain, yarrow, clover, or dock. Once you have collected the herbs simmer them for about 10 to 20 min. with lid on and let cool for another 10 min. before testing the temperature.
Again I will state some cautions. Do not do a steam if you have an IUD of any kind or the like or if you are pregnant. For women with slings consult your doctor. Do not do a steam if you are on your period and use caution if you are a heavy bleeder as the steam can cause more bleeding.
And lastly, enjoy your steam and let it be a sacred space for self nurturing and honoring. You may even try steaming with a group of girl friends or going to your local Korean spa!