When I asked my sister to take a picture of me for my latest blog post, once she saw the background I had chosen, this initiated an interesting conversation between us.
"Why are you sitting on a toilet?" she asked.
To which I replied, "because this is where I have my sacred steams."
"What is a sacred steam?"
"You know how we do facial steams at home? Well this is kind of like that except it's designed for the vaginal area."
"Why do you do that and do I need to do a steam down there?"
The above is typical of the type of response I receive from women whenever this topic is mentioned. The majority of the ladies I know have never heard of such a thing, much less experienced one. I first learned about yoni steams, as they are also called, over two years ago from the teacher of a private group I belong to. Since then, I have safely performed several for myself and have even facilitated a few steams for interested friends. So if you are curious to learn more, let's dive right in.
A healthy woman will not require any outside intervention to maintain her vaginal balance yet the indigenous cultures of the world handed down this knowledge for it's many benefits. Our reproductive tissue is one of the most absorbent in the entire body. Moist heat opens up the pores and allows the water vapour, which carries the medicinal benefits of the plants used, to warm, soften and heal the tissues of the vulva and all it's parts, the perineum, vagina, cervix and uterus.
There are many benefits of having a vaginal steam, including increased circulation in your pelvic region and internal cleansing of the skin membranes. Another big benefit is relieving of congestion and removing stagnation that can cause cramping, painful menstruation and a host of other more serious complications such as endometriosis and more. They are also useful for soothing, toning, nourishing and strengthening the tissues, invoking juiciness, and, when used in conjunction with Mayan Abdominal Massage, have been known to enhance fertility. Sacred steams are also great for incomplete emptying of blood with each menses cycle.
Vaginal steams may seem like the latest trend these days but their roots run deep in our 'her'story. The Spanish name for a sacred steam is a bajos, which has it's origins in the word 'bajor', meaning to bring down as in the clearing out of old tissue, a deep healing or catharsis. One ancient lineage from Central America dates back thousands of years. In the ruins of Cozumel Mexico, there can be found bowls carved out of stone where it is believed our female ancestors squatted over to receive their ceremonial bajos. The indigenous cultures of Asia, namely the Koreans, call them chai-yoks.
No matter what you choose to call them, there are several ways one can conduct a sacred steam. Wooden stools created for this purpose are available to purchase online or can be made by hand. One can also use a bucket with either a toilet seat or a special wooden seat placed on top. Another idea is to wrap a towel around the edge of a large pot to cushion a seat for yourself. I have even seen women cut a hole into the bottom of a canvas or nylon camping chair and place the bowl of steamed herbs underneath. My personal method of preference is to sit on a very clean toilet. One caveat with using a toilet is to make sure not to pour the hot infusion straight into the toilet as some models, depending on the material used to make them, may crack. What I do is place a flat wooden board snugly inside the toilet bowl - directly over the water line - and then place my bowl of steaming liquid on that.
Now before you foray into the wonderful world of vaginal steaming, there are a few things for you to consider. Firstly, it is not recommended to have a yoni steam while menstruating. Your body is already in a natural detoxification and shedding mode and the increase in circulation may promote more bleeding and she will not appreciate the added work load you are giving her. In addition, do not steam if you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant, if you have a yeast or any other kind of infection, open wounds, sores, blisters, or if you currently wear an IUD. Also remember to remove any genital piercings if you have them to avoid the heated metal potentially burning your delicate skin.
Secondly, make sure to let the steaming water cool to a comfortable temperature before opening up your sacred lips to it. A good way to test it is to place either your inner forearm or the back of your hand above the liquid after you have let it cool for at least ten minutes. If the heat is bearable on that sensitive skin, then it is safe to say it will be alright for your nether region. If still too hot then allow the infusion to cool some more or add a cup of spring water to cool it quicker if you are pressed for time. Always keep a lid firmly on the pot while simmering and cooling the infusion to keep all the medicinal volatile oils inside and only remove the lid to test the temperature and to actually steam your vulva. Ideally you will want to use spring water or filtered water from the start as only the best ought to be allowed to penetrate your precious petals.
Lastly, remember that this is not just another thing to add to your already overflowing, masculine to do list, rather this is a sacred ritual which is meant to connect you deeper with your potent feminine wisdom. This is not something to rush through. Set aside at least an hour for yourself and be intentional when gathering your goodies. It is best to create a loving act of self care that will fill up your well and return you to your parasympathetic. This is your time to honour and nurture yourself while you invite plant medicine deep inside your body. The scents emitting from the herbal blend will invoke all the senses too, which is an added bonus because our olfactory sense is tied so closely with our memories and emotions.
The act of preparing for my first ever yoni steam was a practice in mindful meditation. I gathered together all the dried flowers and made a delicious blend of flower petals to pamper myself with. You can learn more about that here. I then beautified and prepared the environment with some of my favourite items such as beeswax candles, a nourishing drink, my journal, soft music, lovely crystals and fluffy towels (or blankets) to cover myself with as the idea is to create a cocoon that will keep the heat in. I put on my special ceremonial gown that I use just for these occasions along with my coziest socks and slippers. I thought kind and gentle thoughts about myself and my life while preparing the herbs and wrote out my intentions for this ritual while the steam was cooling.
As much as I love essential oils, I choose not to use them in my steams as the volatile oils are quite potent. I opt for dried or fresh herbs instead. Flowers, petals and leaves need only be simmered for 10-15 minutes. If choosing roots or barks, then allow for 30-45 minutes of simmering time. There are a great many herbs which can be used for a yoni steam, and several of them are probably already stocked in your kitchen cupboard, or may be found growing in your garden if you have one. Use caution here and do your research as some herbs are much stronger in their properties and can have a direct effect on your next menstrual cycle. It is safest to start with a gentle blend of flower petals like the one I have formulated. To target specific ailments of concerns, I recommend you consult with an herbalist to formulate the perfect blend for you.
How often would you want to have a sacred steam? If you're using them therapeutically, once a month is fine. If honouring your womb is why you've chosen to have a bajos, staying in tune with the seasons is a great idea, equating to four times a year. Ultimately you are the boss of your body so feel it out. Use your intuition to guide you with when to have them, what herbs to use, how long to steam for and how often. You may wish to seek a professional to assist you with your first sacred steam. To enhance your practice even more, pick your own herbs from a trusted source (preferably organically grown) and set the herbs out in the moonlight for a night before using them. Remember that the water and plants will hold intention and prayer so be deliberate with your thoughts, infusing as much love as you can into your ritual.
Happy steaming Ladies!