Perhaps you’ve heard of using steam for health and beauty. There are many ways to use steam therapy, from saunas to herbal steams for the face and sinuses. Many people add herbs or essential oils to baths or showers so they can breathe in the vapors. But have you ever heard of a yoni steam?
Yoni is a Sanskrit word that refers to the creative, life-giving energy that fuels the world. It is a symbol of the goddess Shakti and the concepts of “source, womb, and women’s genitals,” which is why people use yoni to mean vulva.
This tradition has many names and has its roots in many cultures. “Yoni steam” or the more modest “v-steam” are the terms used in popular culture and posh spas these days. They are called “bajos” in Spanish from the Mesoamerican tradition and “chai-yok” in Korea.
I first heard about yoni steams from friends and from folks I follow online, and then I did a bit of research on my own. According to the “news” outlets, some celebrities tried it at fancy spas out west and made a big deal about their experiences. This led to a growing awareness of vaginal steaming by the general public, but much of the general exposure (pun intended) is from people joking about it.
Ha! Yeah, yeah. I get it. Bodies are funny. They make noises and smells and confuse us sometimes. They are also funny because body things are taboo. As I get older, I am growing less and less interested in the taboos of my society. So let’s talk about steaming our vaginas, coochies, hoo-has, ladybits, whatever you want to call them. I don’t even mind if you giggle, so long as we can talk honestly for a minute.
The idea of the veneration of vulva is not a common one in American culture, nor is there much acknowledgement of sex and pleasure outside of the realm of cheap entertainment and advertising. I blame our Puritan roots for this crimping off of a vital energy that was so celebrated in ancient cultures across the globe. We are taught, all of us, men and women alike, that our genitals are gross, dirty, and cause all sorts of trouble.
It affects me even though I try to fight it. I am herbalist with an appreciation of different cultures and their practices, but even I had a hard time convincing myself to try a yoni steam. I had a difficult time allowing myself to focus on my core, on my own body. Many are taught from childhood that acknowledging our “private parts” is filthy, wrong, and a sign of a broken mind. From the time we are in the womb, we touch and explore our own bodies. It’s allowed until we are toddlers and being taught the strictures of the society that surrounds us. As we grow older, this makes it hard to focus on our bodies without bearing shame. It is easy to feel as if we are doing something wrong to pay any attention to our genitals at all, much less appreciate something that feels good.
It’s odd at first, to be sure, to allow yourself to draw your focus to your bits. But I haven’t had a lot of choice. I choose not to take birth control, as each kind that I tried made me insane in a different way. Without that planned, pill-induced schedule, I have very erratic periods. In the past few months, I’ve been taking vitex tincture to regulate my cycle, and drinking more nourishing infusions like oatstraw and red raspberry leaf. These measures are helping so far, but the healing process involves more than just taking medicines and herbs and treating the body. It is just as important to treat the heart, the emotions, the less tangible pain that surrounds the “problem” area.
Time to venerate my inner Goddess, y’all.
I was willing to try this steaming thing for the emotional healing aspect, but was not really confident in what it would achieve on the physical level. Then I considered what I knew of the physiological responses at play. (A disclaimer: Damn it, Jim, I’m a well-studied hedgewitch, but not a medical doctor. If I’m wrong, please leave a comment and let me know what you think. There’s no scientifically concise research on the efficacy of vaginal steams that I can point to, only my own experiences.)
Heat causes inflammation. Inflammation is the increase of blood to a particular area. Inflamed areas are red and swollen from the blood surging into the area and coming close to the surface of the skin, into the wee capillaries. Blood carries things around the body – white blood cells, oxygen, nutrients. It also carries topical treatments applied to the skin and transport them through the body. That’s how external applications work on the inflamed area…treatments like poultices, compresses, creams, gels, and why not herbal constituents carried through steam? Considering that womens’ genitals are porous mucous membranes that are prone to inflammation and engorgement, taking in herbs via a yoni steaming session started to seem feasible.
The first thing I did was to research the herbs used in the traditional steams. I cross-referenced with a few of my go-to herbal books (references listed at the end of this post). I was pondering what herbs would be best for me on my steamy adventure when I realized I knew someone who could help. I went to ShaktiStudios to see what Nuit Moore had in her shop, and sure enough, there was a ready-made tea blend. I put in my order and waited for the blend to arrive.
Herbal Reference Books:
Down There by Susun Weed
Herbal Healing for Women by Rosemary Gladstar