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Monday, 12 December 2016

Vulva is Steaming! Bakera: Thermotheraphy Herbal Steam

[Image description: a crochet vulva that is brown and maroon in colour is photo shopped onto the body of black stick figure that is sitting on a bench with steam lines surrounding it.]

Oh the dreaded yeast infection! The insatiable itch, the redness, weird smell, thick discharge....I dunno about y'all, but I am definitely not into it. Earlier in my life I had reoccurring yeast infections, and no store bought remedy could get rid of them. I used Monistat, Canesten, suppositories, oral tablets, itch creams, powders, wipes...you name it I tried it. I tried changing the laundry soap I washed my clothes with, not using fabric softener, wearing loose clothing, only wearing cotton underwear and wearing no underwear at all. Then I stopped using tampons, and only used pads. I also I tried yeast infection diets which included only drinking water, not eating any starch, soy, dairy or natural/refined sugar and taking probiotic supplements - to starve my body of the sugars bacteria feed on and produce more flora in my vagina. Admittedly this worked for a bit, but I found the change of diet to be too rigid for me to maintain. After about 2 years of struggling with yeast infections I found out that I am allergic to synthetic materials used in generic pads and tampons! After finally figuring out my yeast infection triggers and using a menstrual cup instead of pads or tampons, still (although faaaarrr less frequently) found myself sitting in itchy crotch dismay and wondering what else I could do to get rid of it.

For the last couple of years I have regularly been doing what are more widely known as yoni steams. They are framed as steam baths for internal genitalia that use specific herbs and plant material to produce different healing benefits. For some internal genitalia physiology; the top layer of muscles are made up of a network of capillaries (tiny branching blood vessels) and the underlying vaginal venous plexus (two veins on either side of the vagina). Since these capillaries and veins are physically located closer to the surface of the vaginal wall, herbal vapours are easily absorbed into the bloodstream and have direct effects that can tone, heal, cleanse and increase circulation in genitalia. For centuries around the world midwives (I <3 midwives) have been using plant material for pre/postnatal care of internal genitals, prevention of illnesses or to cleanse. In search of a more detailed understanding of what steam baths are, I came across an article by Isabelle S. Zumsteg and Caroline S. Weckerle that explores Bakera (an herbal steam bath for postnatal care) in the region of Minahasa on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia (2007). Bakera is traditionally prepared by midwives or mothers for people who have just given birth to prevent illness and restore the body by getting rid of the remaining blood, mucus and placenta.

Passed from generation to generation, knowledge of the healing properties of the plant material used while preparing Bakera differs ranging from lemongrass, cloves, nutmeg to kaffirnlime. 
For always herbs have been used and valued for their medicinal, savoury and aromatic properties. Using heat (thermotheraphy) and herbs is believed to activate and increase blood circulation that restores and recuperates the body. The sciencey part says that the heat causes the blood vessels to dilate (open up) and improve the function of the inner lining of the blood vessels. Similar to aromatherapy, the plant material used in Bakera acts in the same way essential oils do when inhaled with steam. They are easily absorbed into the bloodstream to relax and balance the body and mind, and further stimulate the immune system. You are also benefiting off of the life source of the plant, which is much to be grateful for. For this reason, Bakera is not exclusively for people who have internal genitalia or who have given birth. People who have penises/external genitalia may also have Bakera prepared for them when feeling weak. In short together this is said to reduce clinical symptoms of yeast infections and provides a range of other benefits too. It's also important to remember that people with penises can totally get yeast infections too.

What you need:
- One non plastic bowl or pot (that is only used for steaming purposes)
- Fresh or dry herbs of your choice
- A towel, blanket or floor length skirt

- Whatever else you need to feel comfortable during the process

Prep time: 20 mins                                                     Steam time: until all the steam is gone

The most important warning I can give for trying this yourself is to beware that steam burns. The skin around the genitals is very sensitive, especially inside the genitals where the dermal (skin) lining is much thinner. Unless you are into it, you do not want to burn your genitals in this process. As tempting as it might be, using essential oils is not a good idea because they are too concentrated. The fumes would irritate the genital lining, so a safer option would be to use herbs and roots that are either fresh or freeze dried (both of which preserve more of the herbs active ingredients). Also I encourage you do you your own research on herbs and their usage to make a bundle that is best suited for your own health needs. Learning about herbs and how to use them safely can be really fun and is another way to take charge of your own health. Personally I steam once a week and my bundle switches up depending on what is happening with my body. I normally use the following herbs:

Burdock (brown looking bark), dong quai (coral looking white lump) and garlic
1. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): Increases circulation to the reproductive organs, aids in clearing out of old fluids, is also antiseptic and purifying. Furthermore it has a calming effect on the nervous system - can be rubbed on temple to reduce headaches!

2. Dong Quai (Tang kuei/Angelia sinensis) pictured above: Has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries and is referred to as the "female ginsing" because it is often used for treating a range of gynaecological issues from cramps to transitioning off birth control to regulate the moon cycle. It also helps regulate hormonal changes as a result of menopause. NOTE: do not use if you are pregnant

3. Burdock root (Arctium lappa) pictured above: Has been used for centuries in east Asia and is diuretic, meaning that it promotes the body to sweat and through that it releases toxins through the skin from the body. It is also a blood purifier, a mild laxative (helps ya poo) and promotes blood circulation. For more details see: Medicinal Qualities of Burdock Root

4. St. Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum): It often used as treatment for mild depression and anxiety, but it also has chemical properties that help the body fight viral infections by inhibiting viral reproduction. It also aids in relieving uterine cramps by relaxing muscles and promotes healing of skin wounds.

Other herbs that are good for steams:

- Raspberry leaves (tightens tones and relieves muscle cramps, great during labour and delivery) Note: do not use while pregnant
- Pennyroyal (induces menstruation)

- Licorice (useful for urinary tract infections)
- Garlic: (helps to fight infections - kills yeast and can also be put inside the vagina)

Preparing your steam:
Normally what I do is put a pot of cold water on the burner to boil at max. I put all my herbs in and let it come to a boil. Personally like to turn the heat down (to about medium) and put a lid on the pot to let the herbs steep in the hot water to make it more concentrated. I do this for about 15 mins. Then I bring the mixture back to a boil to get as much steam as possible before transferring it to my aluminium bowl.

herbs boiling in pot of water
Get your steam on:
Now there are lots of ways to do this depending on your range of motion and physical ability. You can put the bowl into the toilet bowl and then add your steam mixture.You can squat over the bowl on the floor (like I do). You can put the bowl on a stool and stand over top of it. Shoot, you can get you DIT on and make your own steaming chair and place the bowl underneath if you are that ambitious. Really it is about what works best, is most comfortable and accessible for you. Wear a long skirt or wrap the towel or blanket around your waist, which traps the steam. Sit/squat over the steam until it is all gone. Pay attention for steam burns! If it is too hot you can either move further away from the steam or open up the towel/blanket/skirt to let some of the steam out. Make the scene sexy for yourself too. I like to drink some tea, say a prayer/meditate, burn some incense, and read a book...or crochet :)

herbs on the floor in an aluminium bowl
When it is all done the canal is left feeling moist. You may also notice a lot of discharge, or thick brown looking mucus (if done during or just after bleeding on your cycle). The steam loosens whatever has built up in the canal (including thick yeast) which comes out, so no need to worry! If possible, you can also try some kegel exercises to push the rest of the discharge out. I like to keep a bit of the mixture (not used in the steam) and put it in a spray bottle after it has cooled down to use during the week. I spray my genitals after using the toilet to keep myself feeling clean and to counter the drying effects I experience using toilet paper (which I try not to use). After a week it goes bad, so make sure to throw it out. Drinking lots of water, eating less refined/processed sugars (including starch), and steaming have all worked together to help as a yeast infection prevention and treatment strategy, and is totally part of my larger life wellness recipe too.

That's it! 

Note: Bakera is not to be confused with sweat rice where ya squat over a pot of rice and let body juice drip into the food then feed it to someone to trap em in a love spell. Hehe.

To read the rest of the publication follow this jump: Bakera, a herbal steam bath for postnatal care in Minahasa (Indonesia): Documentation of the plants used and assessment of the method