Women need not experience their monthly cycle with pain and discomfort. In this article for Birth Institute, Rosita Arvigo, naprapathic physician and teacher of Maya medicine, shares the wisdom of the vaginal steam. A forgotten treatment that any woman can use at home, vaginal steaming relieves everything from menstrual pain to infertility.
Want to learn more about ancient Mayan remedies for women's health? Learn More: Study abroad in Guatemala
Gretta, a fifteen year old Mennonite girl, sat before me in tears. “I hate my period. I hate it. There’s so much pain that I wish I had not been born a woman.” Ever since her menses started three years earlier she was confined to bed for three days of each month, taking strong pain relief drugs that could only slightly alleviate the pain. Her mother brought her to me after all else had failed. Already, Gretta had seen doctors in Merida, Guatemala City and a host of other professionals to no avail.
I asked the most important question: “Do you see dark blood at the beginning of the cycle and dark blood at the end of the cycle?”
She looked surprised. “No one ever asked me that before, but, yes, always. What does that mean?”
“Well,” I answered, “it means that your uterus needs to be cleansed from within. The dark blood at the onset of your period is what did not flush out the last cycle and the dark blood at the end of the period is from many months, even years of accumulation on the uterine membrane. The accumulation hardens, darkens and thickens which makes the uterus work and cramp harder to expel the indurated material.”
I gave her a good Maya Abdominal Therapy treatment and found that, as expected, her uterus was very low and sitting on top of the bladder. It was easy to lift, and I taught her the self-care to do at home every day when not menstruating.
“Do you know what a vaginal steam is?” I asked her mother.
“Actually, yes, I know that my grandmother in Canada used to do them for us, but I forgot all about them. Do you think it will help?” she answered with a quizzical look.
I gave them a good double handful of fresh oregano leaves to do three consecutive vaginal steams at home. Fortunately, the timing was right as her menses would begin in about 7 days – perfect. Also, I took the time to explain to both of them that very likely they will see a lot of dark, thick blood pass with the next menses. It might look like coffee grounds, chocolate syrup or even hamburger meat. And, sure enough, that is exactly what happened on the first, second and third day of her period.
“Thanks be to God that you told us what might happen after the treatment and steams because had I not known, I would surely have taken her to the emergency room. It was absolutely shocking! An entire small bucket of gunk passed in three days time and each day her cramps were less and less until on the fourth day she was pain free.”
Vaginal or yoni steam baths are an old, respected treatment for women used by Maya midwives and traditional healers in Central and South America. The practice is mentioned in early chronicles ofSpanish friars who took time to record the healing practices of the Maya and Aztec. Bajos (ba-hoes) as they are called in Spanish, are a common and effective treatment for many female complaints, especially those of a serious or chronic nature. Midwives give them within 1-9 days after childbirth depending on the personal preference and the woman’s condition. They are excellent for dysmennorhea, amenorrhea, ovarian cysts, cervical fibroids and as a general health aid to prevent any of those ailments. Practitioners of Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy recommend vaginal steams be done regularly. How often depends on the severity of a woman’s condition.
Vaginal steams are also good preventive care. For those who have normal, pain free cycles, we recommend a vaginal steam be done four times each year just before menses. Menopausal women have reported passing clots and dark, thick blood even a year after menses has ceased. “Better out than in,” is our motto. The combination of steam and essential oils from the plants penetrate deeply into the cervix and uterus to dislodge indurated menstrual fluids and pathological accumulations that have not properly sloughed off with each monthly cycle. Induration of the uterine membrane causes the uterus to cramp fiercely to expel the hardened or thickened accumulation.
How to do a vaginal steam at home
Vaginal steaming at home is a very simple process that involves water, vaginal steam herbs, a blanket, a chair and about an hour of time. If you have oregano, basil, marigold and rosemary in your garden, pick a double handful of fresh leaves and stems – about a quart jar loosely filled. Use one herb or any combination of the above. If using dried herbs, you need about an ounce of dry plant material. Other herbs useful for vaginal steam baths include burdock leaves, motherwort, chamomile, yarrow, plantain, squaw vine, lavender and thyme. Please note we do not use essential oils in liquid form for vaginal steams as they are far too concentrated for this purpose. Simmer the herbs in a covered pot with two quarts of water for ten minutes and allow to steep for five minutes.
Remove the pot from the stove and place it under a chair with open slits – a cane, wood or plastic yard chair will work. Some women like to use the toilet by placing a pot inside the commode but others find it slips and slides around too much. The woman removes her clothes including under-wear, from the waist down. Covered with a blanket from the waist down, she sits over the steaming herbs. This keeps the steam contained under the blanket. Be sure she feels comfortable with the steam temperature and is not exposed to cold drafts. If it is scaldingly hot, pull the pot away for a few minutes and try again until the steam feels warm and comfortable. Some women say they taste the herbs on their tongues after only five minutes. Wrap her upper body in a dry, warm blanket and be sure that her feet are resting on a carpet or she is wearing warm socks. Lasting about twenty minutes, the steam bath introduces a lot of healing heat and cleansing plant oils into the uterus, cervix and ovaries.
Afterward, the woman should ideally lie in bed for an hour under warm covers or just be sure to stay out of all drafts and keep warm. Bedtime is the best time to do a vaginal steam. How often? When there is pathology with menses, we ask the woman to do three bajos within the week before her period begins. She repeats this monthly until her menstrual fluids are pink and there is no cramping. For post-partum women the midwife decides when the time is right depending on the condition of the mother. All things being normal after delivery, the steam bath could be performed as early as the first day or sometime within the next seven to eight days. Each midwife seems to have a different protocol, but over the decades I have learned that it is anywhere from one to nine days after delivery and may be repeated more than once. For post-partum women the objective is to cleanse the uterine membrane.
Interested in trying a vaginal steam or recommending it to your clients?
Listen to an Interview with Rosita
Curious to know more about vaginal steaming? We were, too! Birth Institute followed up with Rosita in a recent live virtual Q&A, which you can listen to now for free!
Listen to Birth Institute's virtual Q&A with Rosita to learn more about Vaginal Steams for Preconception.
Rosita Arvigo, DN is a naprapathic physician, herbalist, international lecturer, author and teacher of Maya medicine. She has lived in Belize for thirty years where she studied with more than a dozen traditional healers. Dr. Arvigo is the director of The Arvigo Institute, Rainforest Remedies, The Traditional Healers Foundation and founding member of the Belize Ethnobotany Project. She is dedicated to the preservation of the science and art of traditional Maya herbal healing for the benefit of the people of Belize and the world.
Purchase Rosita's books and wellness products here.