Isa Herrera, MSPT, CSCS was interviewed for this recent article in Martha Stewart Whole Living Magazine written by Kristina Girsh
Known in Central and South America as “bajos” (ba-hoes), and in Korea as “chai-yok,” the vaginal steam is a centuries-old technique that’s been gaining popularity in holistic practices, physical therapy centers, and spas in the United States. Most of these “uterine lavages” use water steeped with medicinal herbs to address a slew of ailments including bladder and yeast infections, hemorrhoids, infertility, and irregular and painful periods. The technique is also thought to help heal uterine fibroids, perineal tears, and scarring from C-sections, hysterectomies, and laparoscopies. V-steaming boosts circulation to the pelvis — which means increased oxygenation, dilation of blood vessels, and a relaxing of the pelvic floor muscles that tend to cramp or spasm before or during menstruation.
And though steams aren’t exactly controversial, they’re not yet conventional either. Some of the doctors I spoke with seemed to find the idea downright silly, but when I mentioned the technique to Charles J. Ascher-Walsh, M.D., director of gynecology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, he said he could see its value. “It’s reasonable to think that steam could soften the cervix and cervical mucus to make fertility-related procedures easier,” he said. “And the herbs may even have an aromatherapy-like effect.”
While some of the physicians I spoke with said they doubted that medicinal mists travel much beyond the cervix (in a reversal of the phenomenon that sees mucus blocking outside “hazards” from entering), the integrative experts tended to disagree. “The steam thins the mucus, in much the same way that it clears a congested nasal passage, so the herbs can then do their job,” said Isa Herrera, the author of Ending Female Pain and a clinical director at Manhattan’s Renew Physical Therapy Healing Center, which has been offering this type of treatment for years. Vaginal tissue is epithelial and mucosal, she explained, so it’s very muscular and stretchy, but also absorbent and porous, like skin. “Healthy vaginal tissue is used as an effective vehicle for the administration of medications like antibiotics, antifungal creams, and hormones, so I suspect the herbs in the steam can be easily absorbed this way, too,” noted Katherine A. Thurer, M.D., a gynecologist at the Raby Institute for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University, in Chicago.
Ancient healing in the modern privacy of your bathroom.
FIRST: Consult an M.D., herbalist, or certified abdominal massage practitioner before using and combining herbs. (Do not use essential oils, as quality is hard to regulate, few are pure, and they are generally too concentrated and strong for internal use.)
THEN: Boil 8 cups of water, add a handful of fresh herbs or 1/4 cup dry ones, and steep for about 10 minutes. If you don’t have a vagistool, pour half the water into a bowl (leave the rest of the water on the stovetop, covered, so you’ll be ready for a second round) and place the bowl in your toilet. Let the water cool for a bit to be sure the steam is warm and not scalding. Tent yourself with a towel or blanket and sit down on the toilet. Stay there for about 10 minutes, until all of the steam has evaporated. Dump the water; if you still want more, replace it with the hotter stuff from the stove.
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