Saeng-Fah Graham leads De Lune's community education initiatives. She is a Menstrual Doula with a passion for empowering humans through knowledge of their menstrual cycles.
Keli Garza has a Masters degree in International Development graduating cum laude. Garza is the owner of Steamy Chick the largest distributor of vaginal steam supplies in the United States. Keli founded the Peristeam Hydrotherapy Institute to train practitioners in the use of vaginal steam for menstrual and reproductive health and to further research on the gynecological benefits reported by hundreds of customer case studies.
SF: Hi Keli! Could you please give us a brief rundown of what vaginal steaming is, and a typical prescription for those in our network who are not yet familiar with the practice?
KG: Hi! Sure, I’d be happy to. Vaginal steaming is the ancient practice of boiling and steeping fresh and/or dried herbs in water, then sitting, standing or kneeling over the pot and allowing the herbal steam to waft over and into the pelvis and reproductive organs. Steaming cleanses, lifts, disinfects, tightens, tones, strengthens and soothes the entire reproductive system.
A common ailment is womb stagnation, which commonly presents with symptoms such as menstrual cramps, menses clots, or absent periods. A basic prescription for stagnation is to steam once per week for 20 minutes with herbs that encourage healthy circulation, such as mugwort, witch hazel, lavender, sage, rose and parsley.
SF: Vaginal steaming is found in traditions all round the world. From the Navajo nation, to China, Haiti, Estonia, Guatemala, Hawaii and more. What was your first introduction to steaming?
KG: My first introduction to steaming was when I attended a talk given by Mayan womb healer Marcia Lopez. I wasn’t interested, to say the least. I thought it sounded a little crazy. The following year, stress had caused my period to disappear for several cycles and I was really concerned. I remembered what Marcia had said about v-steaming so I found a local Korean spa that offered it and gave steaming a try. My period returned the next day.
The attendant at the spa had explained to me that Korean women steam after every period so I started my own post-period steam routine. I loved how it felt and I loved how much healthier my periods became. I started researching it and found out that it is practiced by women all over the world, not just Mayans and Koreans. I haven’t stopped researching since!
SF: You’ve founded and run The Peristeam Hydrotherapy Institute, which is the only vaginal steam institute approved by the Midwifery Education Accreditation Council and the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. You've conducted a survey of 2,871 periods over 4 years with participants ranging in ages 19-49 there!
Results showed that the top menstrual related complaint was fatigue, and over 90% of participants reported old residue (namely black or brown menstrual blood, clots or cramps). What do these symptoms generally mean for someone's period health?
KG: I’ve learned that our bodies have to work a bit harder during our periods: they need lots of energy and blood — 50% more blood than normally courses through our veins — in order to shed the uterine lining.
If we haven’t rested well or eaten well, our bodies have neither the energy nor the blood content for a healthy, complete uterine flush. If we don’t get a complete flush, then old uterine lining is compounded with the new month’s lining which can become quite a heavy buildup of tissues over time. The body knows this isn’t healthy and tries harder each period to rid itself of that stagnant residue, requesting more energy and more blood.
This is why we often feel exhausted just before, during and often after our periods, and it is why we see our menses coming out as dark red, maroon, brown or black. It is why we have clotting and cramping as well as muscle aches. V-steaming is a wonderful way to warm and soften up old residue, nourish the kidneys for proper blood production, and increase circulation to the pelvis so that the next menstrual period will be a full uterine flush.
SF: At Steamy Chick, there are testimonials of cysts and chronic BV clearing up, ‘common’ complaints dissipating, fertility at 43, with steaming even being able to offer endometriosis support. What gives steaming the power to treat such a wide array of ailments?
KG: The power of v-steaming comes from two sources: the herbs and the steam. The uterus is a mucosal membrane, just like our sinuses or our throats or our lungs. We use steam all the time to soothe, clear and disinfect our sinuses and relax our facial muscles, right?
In the shower or over a cup of hot tea or coffee, we usually just take a moment to breathe deeply and allow the steam to waft over us. We’re not unfamiliar with the healing power of steam, or even of herbal steams. Even hospitals will use eucalyptus compounds in steam to clear and soothe the respiratory system. Steam rises, lifting whatever is around or above it, so it works wonders at restoring tissues and organs to their proper structure and placement and reaching organs that seem unreachable (like the ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes).
Steam is warm, so it encourages the release of toxins through sweat and through liquified mucus. Steam is moist, so it soothes tissues and encourages lubrication and repair. Steam is a gaseous form of water, so it rehydrates whatever it touches. There are herbs that grow all over this planet that have properties that heal pretty much anything that ails us, so when we add those healing properties to the steam it becomes that much more potent.
We use six categories of herbs: circulating, disinfecting, deodorizing, nourishing, astringent and aromatherapy. Understanding the categories of herbs plus understanding the categories of reproductive maladies allows us to select the right herbs, level of heat, length of session, and days of the month to treat a client’s ailment(s).
SF: You’ve worked with over 700 clients over four years and found that after three cycles of a treatment protocols, regardless of whether the person has had a long or short period, they would have a period that is “four-day-medium-flow-fresh-red period” or ‘the perfect period’ as you’ve called it. Notably most side effects of periods such as PMS, acne breast tenderness and so on also cleared up. Could you elaborate some conclusions you’ve drawn from this data?
KG: I’d love to! My first conclusion is that the period is a wealth of knowledge. Its flow, color, consistency, length, and attendant symptoms tell us so much about the health of our bodies. If we learn to pay better attention to our periods instead of trying our best to pretend they don’t exist, we would understand our bodies and our health very clearly.
My second conclusion is that most of what causes painful and disruptive period symptoms can be categorized into 4 problem areas: fatigue, infection, stagnation or dehydration. In response to these findings, I developed four herb formulas for my clients: Gentle, Disinfecting, Cleansing and Cooling. These four formulas are readily available on my website, as is a free DIY Tutorial to help users identify their problem areas and select the treatment plan that is right for them.
Every woman should have the information and tools she needs to enjoy a perfect period every single month.
SF: There have been some outspoken members of the medical industry who don’t agree Vaginal Steaming is/could be a serious part gynecological healthcare. How do you respond to that?
KG: That is true. There are also members of the medical community who have begun incorporating vagina steaming into their practices. In my experience, the loudest dissenters are speaking purely from ignorance; they are trained to receive ‘reliable’ information from a single, narrow source and to denounce anything and everything else.
My response is simply to encourage them to learn more. I am also working with some brilliant members of the medical industry to develop data that will communicate what we already know to the dissenters in formats that they are less afraid to accept.
SF: You stock a variety of herbal mixtures as well as options for a personalized mix. Could you share with us a favorite herb?
KG: Rose petals. Rose really is an amazing herb. It reminds me of women: equal parts tough, fragile, and beautiful, while multi-layered and powerful at healing. Rose is great for dispelling stagnation and restoring healthy circulation, which means it is good for healthy digestion, peaceful menstruation, and beautiful skin! Besides making gorgeous-smelling steams, it also regulates qi and supports liver and spleen health. It is an astringent herb so it also tones and tightens the reproductive organs.
SF: Would you recommend steams for teenagers or have any advice for parents or youth to get started with self-led /empowered healthcare for their periods in general?
KG: Absolutely. For girls who begin their periods before the age of 13, I recommend a very gentle, very short steam that is cooler in temperature. Once a young lady is 13 or older, she should steam according to how her symptoms present.
I have two daughters and I really enjoy the conversations that steaming allows us to share. No parent wants to see their daughters suffering from cramps or anxiety or acne or whatever else, and I think we all feel a bit hesitant about the drugs offered to us as our only options for giving them relief.
Steaming gives parents a safe and affordable option that is free of dangerous side effects, plus it encourages the whole family to become more knowledgeable about our health.
SF: What are your thoughts on the #periodpositive movement happening right now, and what does period positivity really mean to you?
KG: I love the #periodpositive movement! And period positivity is a very important part of v-steaming. From working with thousands of women on achieving peaceful periods, I have learned that releasing harmful narratives around our bodies in general and our reproductive processes in particular is key. Clients rave all the time about how v-steaming has allowed them to reconnect with their bodies and heal issues related to dissociation and trauma.
If I think of any part of myself as hideous and disgusting, I will feel hideous and disgusting. But if I think of myself and powerful and beautiful, I will experience myself as powerful and beautiful.
To me, period positivity is a two-part process: learning and incorporating ancient wisdom about the wonders of the female reproductive system plus releasing harmful old narratives about our bodies.
SF: What is one way that those who don’t menstruate can support those who do?
KG: Learn more. Take part in changing the shame-based culture around periods. Be loving and gentle with people who are menstruating and encourage them to be loving and gentle with themselves.
If your mother, sister, partner or friend is menstruating, support her in proper period care. Lighten her load if you can, make her soup or tea. Run her a hot bath. Meditate with her on gratitude for a functioning womb. Make her laugh!