When Gwyneth Paltrow preached about her love of vaginal steams last January, we were pretty sure the practice wouldn't have a terribly long shelf life. But it's been a year and not only are we still hearing people tout the benefits, but the popularity of vaginal steaming seems to be on the rise. If you want to give it a try but are unsure what it entails or how to get started, read on.
Vaginal steaming ... say what?!
You may think this practice sounds painful or Old World or downright crazy, but in reality, herbal vaginal steaming is deeply nourishing and supportive. In fact, throughout the Americas, the practice is known as "bajos," which translates to "down low," and is said to be part of many rituals for connecting with the wisdom that resides in the womb.
So, what happens during a bajo?
Since the main component is steam, bajos warm the inner and outer organs, which helps increase circulation to both the vagina and womb. This increased blood can result in a number of things:
- It can help rejuvenate the reproductive system through fresh blood supply.
- It can bring vitality to the internal and external vaginal tissue (think about how great the skin on your face looks after a facial massage — that's the increased blood flow, and the same thing happens "down low.")
- It can make for greater sensations during sex due to the excess blood flow.
- It can carry the medicinal herbs even farther into the body, deep into the pelvic tissue, cervix, womb, and vagina.
- For new mamas, the increased circulation can help speed up tissue repair necessary after any damage done during labor.
How do you pick the herbs?
Depending on what you hope to achieve during your bajo, there are many different blends you can use for various conditions. If you're unsure where to start, please find an herbalist who can help you in picking a blend. As a menstrual awareness educator, I also craft herbal blends. In my experience, here are some of my most popular herbal blends and the conditions they help:
- To soothe and moisturize, try a blend of comfrey leaves (high in vitamin C and calcium), plantain leaves (antibacterial and anti-inflammatory), violet leaves and flowers (moisturizing), and calendula blossoms (soothing).
- To bless the womb: Calendula blossoms, rose petals, basil (antimicrobial), rosemary, mugwort (uterine stimulant), juniper (anti-inflammatory), and motherwort are a popular fertility blend as these herbs focus on the womb and support it. This blend feels very gentle and soft when used during steaming, which deeply honors the womb and yoni.
- To tone and nourish vaginal tissue: The combination of rose petals (anti-inflammatory), motherwort leaves, plantain leaves, sagebrush (purported menstrual regulator), mugwort (balance), and raspberry leaves work on the vulva and bring deep nourishment, both internally and externally.
- To balance vaginal bacteria: Rose petals, calendula blossoms, yarrow flowers and leaves, oregano (antimicrobial), basil (soothes itching), and chamomile (antiseptic) offer support for an optimal vaginal environment and work on maintaining balance.
- To heal postpartum: New mamas should try uva ursi (antimicrobial), yarrow, plantain leaves, sage leaves, witch hazel leaves (anti-inflammatory), comfrey leaves and root, and sea salt (disinfectant). This blend is mainly used to heal from tears or an episiotomy and supports tissue growth and healing.
Once you've found your herbal blend and are ready to try vaginal steaming for yourself, here's an easy ritual you can do in your own home.
The Ritual Art of Vaginal Steam
What you'll need
- 1 cup herbal blend of your choice
- glass or heat-resistant bowl
- clean towel
How to do it
Optional: Place 1 cup of herbs in a glass bowl or pot of water and leave outside overnight in the moonlight. It is said you can "charge" the herbs and water by moonlight, just like you can with crystals. A full moon is best because the "charge" is most powerful during these nights.
The next morning, bring the bowl inside, and place the herbs and water in a pot to simmer for a few minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, cover with a lid or clean towel, and let sit for about 10 minutes. If you'd like to skip the optional step, you can start by boiling a few cups of water and then pouring it carefully over 1 cup of herbs.
Cover the mixture with a lid or towel and let sit for 10 minutes. While the herbs activate their medicine, take some time to give thanks for them, say a prayer, or ask them for help with the healing or guidance you need. We often forget to take time for ritual and to thank nature for all it gives us, so it's important to offer a simple intention of gratitude.
Once the herbs have steeped, test the temperature of the steam. The steam should be very warm but by no means unpleasant. Let it cool a little longer if you find it too hot. Please be careful not to burn the tissues of your vagina — they're very sensitive!
When you're ready and the temperature is pleasant, start your ritual. Place the bowl under a steaming stool or squat over the bowl, naked from the waist down. (You can place your feet on yoga blocks or a sturdy pile of books to position yourself higher than the bowl if you'd like.) Choose the most comfortable way for you. Then wrap a clean towel or blanket around your lower half so the steam cannot escape.
Now invite the steam to enter your body. Take your time, take it slow, and allow your mind to empty. Focus completely on your experience and your breathing. Listen closely to what's happening inside of you, what guidance or messages might come up.
Everything your body is telling you in this moment can be honored and seen as precious information. Allow yourself to tap into this feeling of receiving.
After about 20 minutes, the herbs exhaust their medicinal properties and the ritual is complete. Place your hands on your heart and womb and notice if anything is happening there.
Please do not steam during your monthly bleeding, a vaginal infection, or pregnancy.
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