Vaginal steaming may sound a little strange, but this recently revived women’s health practice has been tried and tested by generations. Today, celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow are advocating the V-steam, now advertised in spas. Infused herbal steams are used to soothe and cleanse one’s lady parts, and relieve a range of feminine issues.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a vaginal steaming workshop with Cape Town based Ayurvedic massage and womb therapist Deveshni Naidu of Wise Womban. I was delighted by the invitation, feeling intrigued to experience this simple feminine DIY tool.
Naidu is passionate about women’s health. Nine years ago her life was thrown into a 180-degree flip. “New Year’s Eve, like many people, is a celebration and I danced the night away, only to greet the New Year in pain and agony. My uterus had dropped!” exclaims Naidu.
According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, uterine prolapse is when the pelvic-_ oor muscles and ligaments stretch and weaken. This inadequate support for the uterus can mean that the uterus slips down into, or protrudes out of, the vagina. This can happen to women of any age, but is more common in postmenopausal women who have had one or more vaginal deliveries. Often the weakening of these pelvic muscles can result from damage to supportive tissue during pregnancy and childbirth; effects of gravity; loss of oestrogen; or repeated straining over the years.
If the uterine prolapse is mild, treatment isn’t usually required; however, if this makes you uncomfortable or disrupts your normal life, treatment may be required.
“My gynaecologist suggested that I have a hysterectomy. I didn’t feel the need and I thank God every day for giving me the strength to follow my gut. My daughter was born a year later through natural delivery.”
Even though Naidu managed her third natural birth with a prolapsed uterus, she still needed help, and her investigation took her to naturopaths and traditional women’s medicine practitioners around the globe. One of the helpful tools she discovered was vaginal steaming.
What is The Vaginal Steaming Story?
This soothing and relaxing experience has many health attributes. Its cultural history dates back before the written word. Spanish friars made note of the vaginal steaming technique, commonly known as bajos, while studying under Aztec and Mayan midwives in the 1500s. Similar folk practices have been documented in Korea, where it is known as chaiyok, and in the rest of Asia, Egypt and India.
We Must Take Care of Our Womb
Naidu explains: “Womb care, for me, is as vital as brushing my teeth. These practices are ancient, but somewhere along the line we decided to go to doctors for every single thing, and lost track of our traditional methods of healing.
We forget the fact that we need to take care of our womb, and there are many ways we can do that, including vaginal steaming.”
According to Dr Rosita Arvigo, a Mexican naprapathic (hands-on) physician, herbalist and teacher of traditional Mayan medicine, the tissues of the vagina are exceptionally porous. This allows the warm, herbal steam to absorb into the bloodstream and carry up to the uterus and ovaries.
Traditionally, vaginal steaming is used to increase blood circulation and lymph flow, cleanse out old endometrial tissue, relax the pelvic- floor muscles and tone the uterus.
Arvigo explains: “Vaginal steaming in South America is as common as drinking a cup of chamomile tea.”
Reasons For Vaginal Steaming
Female reproductive organs are complex, to say the least. “As we all know, fertility problems are becoming more and more of a problem throughout the world,” says Arvigo. “My interest is in helping women achieve better health through natural therapies.”
Since vaginitis, menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) and reproductive conditions are a common occurrence, the reintroduction of this simple, yet effective, healing method could be just what the “internal” doctor ordered.
- Cleansing – Many women experience a build-up of stagnant tissue in their uterus, such as unshed endometrial lining, cysts or fibroids. This can easily lead to menstrual cramping. According to an Italian study, dysmenorrhea affects approximately 84% of menstruating women. Steaming with common herbs can be a gentle, yet effective way to encourage a full release of uterine debris. This supports the uterus to function with ease and often relieves discomfort. Steaming has also been known to significantly reduce bloating and exhaustion associated with your monthly cycle, and is a remedy for bacterial, bladder and yeast infections.
- Reproductive Disorders – With imbalances such as PMS, infertility, endometriosis and PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) on the rise, it’s useful to know there is something as easy as vaginal steaming that may well make a difference. More and more women with these disorders are reporting a positive response to steaming.
- Tonifying – Sitting for long periods each day diminishes the tone of the uterine muscles and fascia. During pregnancy, the uterus stretches to nine times its size; birth complications and a lack of breastfeeding can prevent the uterus from returning to its normal state and tone. Vaginal steaming is a great way to increase circulation and tonify the womb area, which can also help to prevent a prolapsed uterus. Plus, toned wombs can improve orgasms.
- Menopausal Disorders – Menopause is not always a smooth transition; symptoms such as vaginal dryness, discomfort and pain during intercourse can be deeply distressing. Thankfully, this simple practice has been used to relieve these symptoms
- Birth – Traditional midwives will administer a vaginal steam within nine days of childbirth. For postpartum women, the objective is to encourage a proper release of the uterine membrane and help to clear any lingering haemorrhoids.
- Scar Tissue – Today, surgeries such as caesareans, hysterectomies, episiotomies and laparoscopies have become normal practice in the gynaecological world. Unfortunately, the scar tissue from these procedures can create many problems. The nourishing and healing effects of a vaginal steam can promote proper healing of the damaged tissue. Even if you have a normal, pain-fee cycle, vaginal steaming can still be beneficial, much like steaming one’s face.
- If you are menstruating;
- If you normally have very heavy menstrual fl ow;
- If you have open wounds, sores or blisters;
- If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant;
- If you have an IUD or Mirena;
- If you have a fever or are fighting an infection; or
- If you have genital piercings, unless you take them out (the steam heats up the metal).
There are no hard-and-fast rules around the herbs you choose. Typically three to four herbs are formulated in a blend specific to the woman’s unique needs. Naidu likes to mix dry and fresh herbs from the garden. Of course, the herbs mustn’t have any toxic elements.
In South America, the women traditionally use aromatic herbs for steaming. The following is a list of the most popular varieties:
- Oregano, the most popular herb used in South America, can help to bring on menses, increase scanty flow and help old endometrial lining to release properly. This herb is used for its antiseptic, stimulating and strengthening qualities, and to assist in preventing infections.
- Marigold (calendula) is often used to promote the healing of wounds and scar tissue, and alleviate fungal and bacterial infections.
- Basil is known to stimulate the return of absent menstruation, and to reduce cramping.
- Lavender is one of the most relaxing herbs, having a calming effect on the mind and body. It nourishes the nervous system and has an antispasmodic effect on the uterus. Plus, lavender is a gentle antiseptic.
- Rosemary is antiseptic and purifying. It increases circulation to the reproductive organs and aids in the clearing of old fluids.
- Motherwort is commonly used in South America to encourage the breakdown of fibroids and polyps.
- Rose petals are relaxing and uplifting, acting as a gentle astringent for internal tissues.
- Other common herbs used include thyme, sage, rosehip,
NOTE: Do not use essential oils in your V-steam; they are too strong and may aggravate the delicate tissues of the genitals. Rather gather the aromatic herbs that you would use for cooking from the garden.