Certified Women’s Health Coach/ Menstrual Health Expert
Understanding Your Period and Unpacking the Stigma Around Vaginal Steaming
Jessica: [00:00:02] Hi everyone! I’m Jessica, co-founder of Leiamoon, which is a group dedicated to spreading awareness about positive menstruation mindsets and essential feminine self-care practices–namely vaginal steaming, as you learned from last time. We’re working to share as much information as possible about how we can all better know our bodies and ourselves and take best care of them on our own terms. Today I am extremely excited to be interviewing women’s health expert Nicole Jardim a.k.a. the “Period Fixer.” Nicole’s mission is to help women reclaim their health and feminine vitality naturally. She is a certified women’s health and functional nutrition coach and host of the amazingly smart podcast, the Period Party, which I love–thank you. Hey Nicole, hi! I’m so excited that you’re here with us. I have lot of questions [about things] that you’re an expert in. But first I thought we should talk a bit about your story as the “Period Girl,” how you came to take on this superheroine title, and how you got into this work.
Nicole: [00:01:10] Yes. Well first of all, Jessica, thank you so much for having me. I love doing interviews like this and I really, especially love to just share this information with potential new audiences, because women everywhere need to be educated about how their bodies and their reproductive organs function. I got into this work about eight years ago now, and initially I just wanted to study to be a health coach. I had no idea what I was going to do or what I was going to focus on. I had had horrific period problems when I was a teenager and into my early to mid 20s. My period started to do something weird probably around age 14-15, which is pretty normal–it happens, especially as you’re progressing through puberty. But at that point I remember experiencing really heavy periods that were super painful–again, quite common. And I always say this: It’s… statistically normal but not biologically normal. And everyone else was kind of experiencing these problems so I thought, “Okay, this is just normal.” And then a couple years later it started coming like every three or four months. And I had no idea what that meant. And finally my mom was like, “OK, I think we should go to the doctor and see what’s going on.” I remember [the doctor] listening to what I was saying about it and immediately I could kind of see her brain working and she was just like, “OK, well I’m going to just prescribe the birth control pill for you.” And she pulled out a prescription pad and wrote a prescription for it. I was psyched because I thought I had found my silver bullet for my period problems. And in fact I felt like I almost did in a way, because my period got lighter; it stopped being so painful; it came consistently every single month; so I had all of these boxes checked off [and I thought] I was good to go.
[00:03:08] I was on it for about five years and eventually I started to have all of these other issues. In fact, I recently thought back to when they really started and it was actually–I’m pretty sure I got Epstein Barr Virus, which is the virus that causes mono, in college. I was sick for about 2-3 weeks, and you know with mono you just can’t get out of bed, and you’re exhausted–all that stuff! And that was really sort of a turning point…. I was starting to have some issues with my hormones while on the pill and my gut health and things like that. That was really I think the precipice, and I fell right over it. And then I really started to have issues being on the pill. So, you know–digestive problems, and my hair was falling out, and I developed this melasma all over my face, and… I was chronically sick. I mean I just felt–I just didn’t feel well. I had these chronic UTIs; I had yeast infections. It was just a disaster. So fast forward a couple of months, I’m finally able to see an acupuncturist, and he was the person who really shifted my perspective on my health. That was a complete turning point for me in this journey. Then fast forward a few years later: I decided I really wanted to do this work. But I didn’t know how to do it aside from just becoming a doctor, which obviously was not feasible for me–I studied film production. I was far, far away from having any prerequisites, so in the end I studied to be a health coach and then I really decided that I wanted to focus on women’s health…if I could help one woman not go through what I went through then [that would be great].
[00:04:45] I did a lot of training, in addition to the health coach certification, with Dr. Sara Gottfried, the Integrated Women’s Health Institute, and Chris Kresser of the Kresser Institute–so there was a lot of women’s health/functional nutrition training. And here I am today!
Jessica: [00:05:02] So what was it that the acupuncturist you met with had you change?
Nicole: [00:05:06] Oh my gosh. This man had me change everything. He was a traditional Chinese acupuncturist. And you know, he was probably in his 60s or 70s– he’d come from China with, like, nothing to his name and had built this thriving acupuncture practice. So he was super traditional in so many ways. And one of the first things he said to me was, “I think the birth control pill might have something to do with your symptoms.” Meanwhile I had seen probably 12,13…. 15 doctors (I mean, who’s counting?!). And nobody had said anything about that. Nobody had ever said, “Oh yeah I think the birth control pill could be causing your digestive problems, or your chronic infections, or your hair loss, or your skin problems….” I mean I could go on. And finally, I had really horrible joint pain too so I’d seen a rheumatologist. And again, nobody had made the connection. So that was his first statement to me really and I just thought, “OK well I’ll go off this thing,” which was terrifying in and of itself, and we can definitely get to that…
[00:06:04] But he also had me, over time, change my diet. I started to shop at Whole Foods–I had never done that before. And I started to [do] exercise that was more in sync with my cycle vs. just like hard core running five miles every single day, which was kind of what I was doing. So yeah I like all of these really small kind of obvious changes. I had no clue about my early twenties and that was really I felt like the catalyst that helped propel me into better health.
Jessica: [00:06:33] Wow. So, talking about about periods in general, it’s kind of become accepted as normal to have these types of PMS symptoms like severe cramping and irregular bleeding. We all just happened to have these unique cycles and accept that truth. I was curious from the work that you’re doing and from your own personal experience: Are these things to be accepted as just being normal or healthy? Is there such thing as an ideal period? Is it achievable for all women?
Nicole: [00:07:06] Oh yes. So many good questions. So I’d say the first thing is that we know our bodies better than anyone else does. We’ve been told otherwise. But we really do. Inherently, we do. And, I think that that’s the thing that I try to reiterate for women, is that you have a divine wisdom and your body does. And you are tapped into that, whether you believe it or not! And I think that from such a young age we’re kind of discouraged from tapping into that and really tuning into that inner voice that’s telling us that there’s something wrong or that things are OK or not or whatever. And so I feel really strongly that we need to tapping into that. And by the time we get to adulthood, I think that it’s almost like a whisper, to be honest, because we’ve been told for so long to either ignore our body or ignore the symptoms. We’ve been told to distrust our bodies. We’ve been–our periods have been medicated away in many instances. We’ve been given medications or have been suggested surgeries that are going to again move us further away from that natural intuition. And so my words for women around this is that you have to start paying attention to these symptoms. Our bodies don’t speak English or the language that we speak. They speak in their own language and it’s basically a language of signs and symptoms. And so if we can put our detective hats on it and start to really take a magnifying glass to what our bodies are doing on a monthly basis, we will get so many answers. Far more than we may get if we–obviously, if you go to the doctor and you have like something severe you want to deal with that–but like, far more than you would get if you just went the doctor and they’re telling you, “Well you have heavy painful periods, you should go on the pill” or, “You have no period you should go on the pill,” or “you have irregular periods, you should be on the pill.” I mean that’s basically the standard procedure now for a whole host of menstrual problems. So ultimately, like I said before, I think that statistically speaking, all of these issues that we see all the time are considered normal but biologically they’re not.
[00:09:28] And…I think we’ve been ignoring them for far too long and I think women are really collectively waking up to the fact that their bodies are not operating the way they were meant to. I just don’t buy into the fact that we were all just born to have painful periods or heavy periods or irregular periods or what have you. I don’t believe that we were designed to function that way. And I don’t believe that we were designed to have to be on some sort of medication or have medical intervention in order for our bodies to work optimally. So that’s really what I start with women. I really try to help them understand that the way that we’ve been doing things, the status quo, is just it’s not working it’s this one size fits all approach. And I think women’s unique biology–you know the way our bodies work individually, has been completely taken out of the equation, which is kind of crazy because we have unique circumstances, we have different genetics, we have different diets and lifestyles and stress loads. I mean the list goes on. So we have to start now to look at ourselves individually and rather than spot-treating symptoms that we’ve been doing for so long. Hopefully that answered all of that!
Jessica: [00:10:47] I agree. These period symptoms, or “P.M.S. syndrome” as we’ve been calling it. It’s more of a language to be learned and interpreted so that we know which shifts we can make to help ourselves and our cycles feel more comfortable each month. So it’s almost like a way our body is trying to communicate with us to tell us like “Hey, this isn’t working for me.” But yeah, we’re definitely way oversold on medications to kind of mask that voice and make it more distanced. And you’re right it’s kind of more like a surface layer or veil that kind of keeps us from really being in touch with what it is that our bodies need to feel good.
Nicole.: [00:11:29] Yeah, I couldn’t agree more.
Jessica: [00:11:36] How do women know what their bodies are trying to tell them? I mean it is intuition but when you get a menstrual cramp–like, what is that!? What is happening biologically?
Nicole: [00:11:45] Yeah I love that [question] because it’s true. When you’re told all of this: “OK. You have to pay attention to signs…” Women usually look at me very quizzically and they say something along the lines of, “What does that actually mean?” So I think what we want to be looking at is, what’s the baseline? What’s the “norm?” I don’t really like the word normal so much, but it’s helpful for these purposes. And so you want to know what your unique baseline is, what the typical period is [for YOU]… And so when it comes to a menstrual cycle, my determination of what the norm is–just based on my own work–is a cycle anywhere between three and seven days. Somewhere around there… mostly 4-5 days is what I’m really looking for a in an actual period. And the length of your menstrual cycle–as in like how long your entire monthly cycle is–should range between 25 and 35 days.
[00:12:43] And I don’t think there should be a lot of fluctuation in-between that– as in you know one month you might have 25 days and then the next month it might be 35 and then the next month you go back to 26, say…. That, to me, is a lot of fluctuation. I prefer to see like a one to two day fluctuation, so you have a 25-day cycle, next month a 27-day cycle, then you go back to a 26-day cycle. Something Like that. Otherwise it could be a sign that your body is responding to stressors–whether that’s not the right food or psychological stressors in a way that is causing these big fluctuations, which you don’t really want. And so when it comes to your period I’m always saying that there should be no spotting leading up to your period. A lot of women are told that spotting is completely fine–that you can spot for five or six days before your period and it’s totally normal. I’ve had so many clients tell me that that their doctors have said that… and then eventually they can’t get pregnant or something like that. So to me spotting before your period is a sign of potentially low progesterone in most cases because progesterone holds your uterine lining in place. And if there’s not enough progesterone… bits of your lining are going to essentially break off and that’s what causes this spotting. So we don’t really want any spotting I’d say like maybe one, maybe two days before, not a huge deal. Don’t worry about it. And then for your period itself, it really should start as a fresh red color. There really shouldn’t be a lot of that dark, brown, rusty-looking blood.
[00:14:21] That’s really just a sign that there’s older blood that’s being released from the previous cycle. It also could be a sign that your blood is moving slowly, and blood that’s moving slowly oxidizes and turns that rusty color. But I do find that it’s more that it’s older blood…. The other thing that I think is important to note too is that when it comes to period pain, I say this–and I think again we have to check in with ourselves and what this actually means–but I say, “if it’s disrupting your life–as in, you can’t leave your bed, or you have to skip work, or you have to leave work or school early, or it’s painful to the point where you can’t think straight, or you need to take a lot of medication like Advil or Midol or something like that…then I think you’ve got to look deeper.” Otherwise, if it’s just cramping on day one for instance, and you just go about your day–maybe use a hot water bottle–you know, that isn’t a big deal. It’s something to definitely look at because to me that’s potentially a sign of an inflammatory response happening in the body–like food allergies, for instance, or chronic stress. So your body’s stress response is triggered and it’s causing this underlying inflammation. So I always think about again coming back to what your baseline is. So if you’re experiencing any of [these things], then to me you have to start to look deeper.
[00:15:45] And if your period is longer than seven days, that’s usually considered a heavy period and that is also something to look at. If it’s shorter than two days or if it’s just a day or it’s just spotting, that’s also something to look at, because you ultimately want to make sure that you’re ovulating consistently every single month, and then getting a consistent period. So if you’re ovulating, then your period is likely to come anywhere from 10 to 16 days after you’ve ovulated, because that luteal phase–that second half of your cycle–can’t really be any longer than that. So it’s really important for us to be looking into whether we’re ovulating, and then paying attention to what our period is doing every single month. Like the length of our cycle, the length of our period, and the actual physical characteristics… as well as the emotional! That’s the other thing too. P.M.S.–I had to come up with a new terminology for P.M.S. or premenstrual syndrome: I call it “period related symptoms.” Those symptoms, like the emotional and the physical, and the bloating and the extreme fatigue and the anger… And your significant other doesn’t know whether the happy you or angry you is going to walk in the door. Like all of those kinds of things… I think you really have to pay attention to that too.
[00:17:02] Are you super stressed throughout your entire month? And then your body is just like, “I’m done with this–I am going to rage for the next three to five days, because I’ve had such a crazy month, and this is the truth telling time of the month!” It’s the time of the month when really our hormones are kind of at their lowest and we have a lot less tolerance for things that are annoying. I think it’s really important for us to check in as well and not blame yourself if you are feeling these symptoms, but to really recognize that they are, again, something your body is saying to you. And it usually is something along the lines of what was OK two weeks ago when you were ovulating and all things were good is not okay now–and what is that? I’ve had lots of women say something along the lines of, “I want to break up with my boyfriend,” or, “I want my marriage to end around this time of my cycle,” and so I’m always saying to them well, check in with that! What is that? What is coming up for you? And really pay attention to it, and start to address it if it’s continuing to come up. One day out of the month where you’re pissed at everyone is not a big deal, but if it’s something that feels more out of control it’s definitely something to look at. So that’s it in a nutshell.
Jessica: [00:18:21] Yeah, a very large nut! I think even in my circle of friends or even my family, I know so many women that really try to brush this time of the month under the rug. We have so many products that kind of promote this idea–like ugh, my period’s coming again, like, just take this thing and shut the door and don’t come out for three days…. It’s kind of something to be avoided and not talked about and you just sort of wished it was over so that you can carry on with your work. It’s kind of like this annoying, disruptive thing. When really it sounds like what you’re saying is it’s kind of a time to really listen to what it is that you need to carry on into the next cycle to make those changes or shifts that are going to help you feel good or feel better.
Nicole: [00:19:10] Exactly.
Jessica: [00:19:12] It’s like this time to listen. Even in our culture we’re not always set up that way or given the freedom to really take that time to listen.
Nicole: [00:19:19] Rarely!
Jessica: [00:19:19] But you’re saying we should encourage them to really track what happens every month to try to make space for that time and figure out what these changes are. I guess that leads to another question: What’s a good method that you recommend for tracking moods and cycles and period fluctuations?
Nicole: [00:19:41] Well I’m a big fan of cycle tracking and period tracking and fertility tracking. I use basically all the devices. I’ve used tons of apps and I used a paper tracking chart for a long time too! So I really think that every single woman, from the time you get your very first period as a girl, you should be charting your cycle. I was saying this recently in another interview that my goddaughter got her period last month and I was saying to her mom how cool it is that she is able to track her cycle with an app from her very first period! To have that kind of information would be amazing! I only have since my 20s, sadly, but I really believe in that.
Nicole: [00:20:32] I think that when you have a period tracking app and you’re putting in the first day of your period, the last day of your period, you have your whole period in there, you have how heavy or light it was, whether you had spotting whether you had a whole host of emotional symptoms or physical symptoms–you can input all of those… And If you track that throughout your cycle, when you look at the symptoms laid out on the app, you can start to see correlations. So you can start to see, for instance, that your bowel movements change according to where you are in your cycle; and you might be able to see that your moods are really crashing maybe after ovulation, or in those five to seven days leading up to your period. So I think that it’s really, really fascinating information and it’s so empowering for women to have because you can take that information and use it to your advantage. You can use it when you want to potentially get pregnant if you’re going to eventually try to get pregnant. You can use it to have a conversation with your doctor and explain what exactly is happening for your menstrual cycle. I love to use your cycle as a clue into what is going on with your overall health.
Nicole: [00:21:44] I talk a lot about the idea that a woman’s reproductive cycle or menstrual cycle is like the canary in the coal mine…. For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, basically, back in the day, miners would take a caged canary down into the coal mines when they were mining because canaries were very sensitive to those noxious gases that could potentially be released and they would die really fast. And so if canary died, the miners knew immediately to get out of there. And so I always talked about that with our menstrual cycle too. It’s kind of a weird analogy, but I like it because I feel like our reproductive system is kind of the first to feel the effects of ongoing chronic psychological or physical stress. It’s the first to feel nutrient deficiencies, and you will start to see changes in your cycle based on these potential underlying problems. So it’s an excellent way to gauge what’s going on with your overall health.
Jessica: [00:23:52] Regarding the hormone cycle–like, what does happen with each these phases? You were talking before about progesterone and how that helps keep the uterine linking intact. So I’m curious how the hormonal cycle relates to our stress cycle and stress in general. What sort of changes happen?
Nicole: [00:24:16] So the first thing I should say about this is that… women are exquisitely sensitive. Our bodies just are! We’re made that way. Biologically, historically we were designed to be very sensitive to external cues and environmental cues. And that was because we were in charge of protecting our children and elders in our tribes or in our communities. And as a result like we would be–we’re obviously not as strong as men–so we had to be very sensitive to what was happening in our surroundings. And I think that that continues to translate into today’s modern world. Obviously our circumstances are far different, but our bodies don’t really know that. And I think that that’s really the crux of the problem. It’s like 21st century meets evolution from a hundred thousand years ago. And as a result, we find ourselves in kind of a weird predicament where we have an unprecedented amount of not only psychological stress but the physical stress of living in a crazy city or a polluted city or a very loud noise polluted city. And we’re at the point now where we have been focused on you know “reducing” stress or eliminating it, that I think we’re actually creating more stress for ourselves. What women need to really recognize is two things: 1) What is your perceived stress? Meaning how do you perceive stress? Because the way I process stress in the way you process it completely two completely different things, [and] 2) We also need to recognize how it’s potentially impacting us.
[00:26:09] When it comes to the hormonal component: When you think about psychological stress, which is like the stress of your job, your life, whatever’s happening with your relationships, etc., what happens is our brain is taking in all of this. It’s like all these inputs are happening and our brain…And what happens is the hypothalamus takes in all of this external stuff. It then talks to the pituitary gland and tells the pituitary, “OK you need to send this stimulating hormone to this gland.” So what happens usually is adrenals are like the first responders. So we are constantly telling our adrenals to respond to certain situations and this happens basically on an ongoing basis and we’re not even aware of it. But it happens so often for us now that we’re at the point where we’re almost in this stress overload. We’re in this chronic overstimulation, as I like to call it, because there’s just so much happening. Whereas our ancestors would have an acute moment of stress and then they would be calm for a long period of time and then maybe another acute moment. Whereas for us it’s like a zigzag; it’s up and down and we’re pulsing stress all day long. And so our adrenals are responding, as they’re supposed to, and they’re telling the other glands in our bodies to calm down or slow down because they perceive danger. And so it’s like a hundred thousand year old body in the modern day life.
Nicole: [00:27:44] And it’s you know, your argument with your husband or your very crazy work deadline, or whatever… Your body is like, “Oh hell no we’re not having a baby during this. There’s no way!” And so as a result, these stress hormones or the release of them sort of down-regulate not only your ovarian function but your thyroid function too. So you end up in a situation where your thyroid isn’t working as well as it could because cortisol and various other stress hormones can potentially dampen the production of your thyroid hormone. So it messes with the whole feedback loop. Same with your ovaries–like I see constantly women skipping ovulation because they’re stressed. And we’ve seen that so many times, right? You miss a period because you had a really stressful month or you develop amenorrhea even, where you don’t get periods at all anymore. You’re just not ovulating because your body either is in a state of chronic psychological stress or maybe you’re not getting enough nutrients so it views that as a stressful time–it might view it as a famine potentially. And it’s got to conserve energy. And so the first things to go are the non-necessary for life functions… like your ovarian function, your thyroid potentially and other things like digestion. That’s why so many people have chronic debilitating digestive problems. So there’s this whole cascade of effects that happens throughout our life cycle because of this state of chronic stress or chronic overstimulation that we’re all experiencing.
Jessica: [00:29:22] And it’s so interesting too because it kind of all pares back down to the reality that we’re responsible for our own environment. Or for creating an environment for ourselves or finding the right spaces where we can start to eliminate stress or at least destress some level. We’re starting to adopt practices for ourselves. There’s not a pill or a doctor that’s going to be able to help you stress less! That’s kind of up to the individual on certain levels. I know external forces certainly have an impact on that, but I think the turn is really coming towards us equipping ourselves with tools and practices to help lower these stress levels and take care of ourselves on our own terms–rather than relying on a quick fix. It really does seem like from what you’re saying that’s just masking these signals that your body is trying to tell you what it needs.
Nicole: [00:30:21] Absolutely. I know and that’s exactly right. It’s the same with something like the birth control pill. We’re just masking the symptoms. And again, we’ve been told for so long and–it’s the same with stress– that there’s something wrong with us. And why aren’t we adapting? And that couldn’t be further from the truth. Our bodies are not broken. In fact they’re working exactly as they’re supposed to, and we’re the ones who have to change how we live in the environment that we’re in. And again, I get that that’s not always possible for everyone and there are extenuating circumstances for a lot of people on our planet, and so it’s not possible. But if you do find yourself in a situation where you do have control over your external environment then make sure to take care of yourself because the bill comes due now or potentially comes due later. But it’s going to eventually catch up to us if we are taking care of ourselves.
Jessica: [00:31:20] So you work with people around changing and shifting their diets, sleep habits, and general kind of integrative nutrition aspects that can help lower stress levels. Can you tell us more about those?
Nicole: [00:31:35] Oh yes definitely. I think it’s more along the lines of like help to mitigate the effects of stress on their bodies…. I mean I’ve had friends who moved out of New York completely and moved to the country or moved to another state. The first thing we really look at is what the potential client’s most major health concern is and then their subordinate health concerns. Across the board, I always start with tracking your cycle and your symptoms because then you’ll be able to see what they’re correlating with. So they could potentially be correlating with what’s happening in your work, what’s happening in your life– relationship problems or whatever. Or it’s something that you’re eating….
[00:32:41] So we really have to look at how your body is responding to all of these external stimuli. I start with the menstrual cycle tracking and the symptom tracking, and then we start with the food component because that really is the thing that we have the most control over. In most cases–not in every case. Obviously, there plenty of food deserts all over our country in the world. But ultimately fa lot of us do have control over our diets and what we’re eating. And I am a big fan of repleting nutrients. Because we’re so depleted–especially those micronutrients, the minerals and the vitamins. We’re in a state of such depletion that whole systems in our bodies are basically shutting down, are not functioning the way they’re supposed to. That goes for our reproductive system, our digestive function, our liver function, our gallbladders, our pancreases…. All of our different muscles and joints, our thyroid… Everything’s kind of in a state of breakdown because of our lack of nutrients. So that’s really what I’m focused on most–is starting to address not only the nutrient status of someone but also how they view food because the way we eat and our opinions and beliefs around food are extremely important. Almost as important as what you’re eating. So I think we really have to do a lot of work on that as well and as a coach I have found that that is super beneficial. And then we move into the lifestyle component, and that’s obviously a big component of our health as well.
Nicole: [00:34:28] I find that what we do is sort of just ignore that. We say something along the lines of, “Okay, I’ll change my diet and I’ll take some supplements, but yeah that five hours a night of sleep is just going to have to be how it is because my life is crazy.” I really work to remind my clients that in order for them to feel good and to really achieve the dreams that they have for themselves, or to be the person they want to be for their family or their kids: You have to put on your own oxygen mask first! We really focus on bringing all of these aspects of their lives together and in a way that feels good and healthy for them.
Jessica: [00:35:11] Seguing now into other practices that help us focus in more closely to our bodies for information… I want to get to the topic of vaginal steaming and how it can help create space for yourself outside of all these other needs and wants that are constantly knocking on our doors as busy people in a fast-paced, ever-growing society. So can you tell us your thoughts on vaginal steaming and how you see it potentially fitting into her self-care routine?
Nicole.: [00:35:52] Totally….
Jessica: [00:35:56] I know you wrote a bit about this last summer on your blog and had some pretty strong opinions about how the media is portraying it vs. what it really is….
Nicole: [00:36:12] Yeah. I have some strong opinions, usually, about a lot of things!
[00:36:16] You know I when it comes to vaginal steaming I’d always been curious about it, and the first time I did it was it quite a number of years ago actually. And I just remember thinking what a cool experience! This is not something that anybody really knows about and it’s got the potential to really help [women], so why not? And I didn’t see how it could be dangerous or how it could potentially be harmful… I found it to be tremendously beneficial because at the time I wrote the article I was dealing with a couple different things. I still had period pain and sometimes that comes and goes depending on what’s going on during the month prior to my period. And I was traveling a lot because I was in a long distance relationship…. I was starting to get chronic UTIs and I didn’t understand what could be going on, and I assumed I was just super stressed. I was traveling to Europe [a lot]… and I was finding that I was getting bacterial infections again too.
[00:37:50] I didn’t know if it was just the chronic stress and the feelings of just being you know —just maxed out! And my body was basically telling me, “Clearly you’re maxed out; you need to chill out.” So I started doing vaginal steaming, and I was doing it a couple of times a week for a couple of weeks. And I should preface [this] because it’s not the same for everyone and this is my own anecdotal, obviously personal, experience: But I mean, I had so many great results from it that I just I felt like, “Wow I really have to talk about this and I want to share it with all of my clients as well.” I’ve subsequently had clients write me and tell me that there have been so many different [positive] things… So it’s really cool just to see the anecdotal evidence of what a vaginal seeming practice can do.
[00:39:23] So I’m just–I’m all about it. Like I really think that women should try it. You know I had someone when I posted about it the other day on Instagram write me and say that she didn’t think her doctor would approve. And I was like, “Well what does your gut tell you?” And that was something that I even wrote in this article. I wanted to share it here.[It’s a quote from] Dr. Lissa Rankin that really resonated with me. She said “I’m a big fan of checking in with your gut… And your lady bits. What does your body tell you? Is this for you? Do you believe this will benefit you? If not, skip it. But if the wisdom of your body speaks to you and says ‘yes, this is the answer for me,’ pay attention.” And I think that really comes back to what I was talking about [earlier]. About the little voice in your head and that our intuition has sort of been slowly diminished over time… because we’ve been told for so long to do something else or to take these measures instead of just checking in and seeing what feels right. So, yes, I’m a big fan for sure!
Jessica: [00:40:23] I think even on the scale of paying attention to this part of our body– outside of like, “I have my period right now” or “I’m having sex right now” a [vaginal steaming practice] can also really just be about creating a very peaceful, tranquil, meditative environment for one’s self to connect with that part of their body outside of these other functions that it may or may not have. And I think just that paying attention and tuning in is what’s helping these women start to [get in touch with] their cycle or release something that’s… been stuck, let’s say. Even on a basic level steam is promoting warmth. Just on a physical level it’s bringing attention to an area on our body that might need some heat.
Nicole: [00:41:14] Oh yeah, totally. And I was thinking too about the emotional component, and to build on what you said, about the fact that our awareness of this area of our body has been turned off for so long… And I constantly check in with women and ask them about what their period story is. How did they view their reproductive organs or their vagina, their vulva, etc.? All of everything down there–how have you viewed that for the last 20 years of your life? Like, what was your first period like? Was there a lot of shame? Was there secrecy? Were you were mortified? Did you have a period accident where you bled through your clothes as a teenager? I mean, all of these things contribute to our story about how our menstrual cycle is or how those organs function. Or was there sexual abuse? I mean, a whole host of things that could have happened to you in your life that will determine how you view that part of your body… Whether you like it or don’t like it, or whether you just don’t even think about it. And in my own experience and that of many women I’ve worked with, they view that part of their body in a very medical way, in that they just talk to their doctor about it but that’s the only time they’ll ever talk about it. Really. And there is really no connection. And so I’ve found that vaginal steaming is almost like a meditative practice where you’re SO connected. You can’t not be! You’re actually, like sitting there, treating that one part of your body that you don’t ever even really think about. And I think that reconnection to your vagina… or to, you know, your ovaries, your uterus, womb can really be tremendously [valuable] even in just one session.
Jessica: [00:43:24] Yeah definitely…. I started doing this, I guess it’s been about two years now. I usually do it just once a month, maybe three days after my period as kind of a cleansing ritual. I personally have quite regular [periods that feel] normal and healthy for me. But even still, I like to integrate this practice. It’s not like there has to be a problem there to feel like you want to do this or try it. It can just be like what you’re saying: We haven’t really developed a story around our periods that’s happy, healthy, excited, or even GRATEFUL that this miracle even happens every month. It’s kind of incredible.
Jessica: [00:44:03] We have these 28-day cycles that can sync up to the lunar cycle, and there are all these other connections to natural cycles that happen in nature that we’ve just become so divorced from. I think part of the issues we’re dealing with have to do with the need to return back to understanding that. On top of that, there are a lot of plants out there that can also help with certain qualities, like stagnation, for example. Historically, in Chinese medicine they use Mugwort (Artemesia), which has kind of that “moving” quality for cleansing to it and is used more traditionally for that.
So there’s a lot of interesting experimentation that can happen too in terms of integrating different herbs. And in the same way that you track your cycle, you can track your steams and get to know which plants are right for you in this new iteration of what is an ancient practice. There’s a lot to be explored here and I’m excited that you’re excited about it, considering all the expertise you have about women’s health… And even just knowing the connection to the emotional side of it. And this is a good space to listen and explore, like, “What is going on this month that made me feel crappy… Or made me feel amazing?”.
Nicole: [00:45:25] Yeah. Like you we were saying, you could literally do a meditation during this practice, and again it just further serves to connect you to that part of your body that you might feel a lot of disconnection around.
Jessica: [00:45:44] You wrote an article that was a reaction to the negative responses to this practice. You said, “With all the torture we inflict on our vaginas these days–waxing, lasering, chemical-laden douches, synthetic tampons and pads, antibiotics, hormonal birth control, vaginal national rejuvenation surgery, bleaching, spermicides… I’m frankly shocked at the backlash in the media about vaginal steaming. It’s mind-blowing to me that everything I listed above is considered completely normal and okay, but sitting over a bowl of hot water and herbs for thirty minutes is going to ruin our health? I mean seriously.” Seriously! There are so many things that have just sort of accepted as being normal, especially with these synthetic hormones that we use to control pregnancy….
Nicole: [00:46:42] I know, right!? It’s insane to me! Obviously, I’m on the front lines and so I see so much of what goes wrong, and I get that there are millions of women who go through every single month without incident–BUT there are millions now, more, who are NOT going through every month without incidents. And they’re experiencing severe, really significant, potentially life-altering problems. And at the hands of all of those things that I listed, we’ve kind of collectively lost our minds…. I mean, I’ve lasered, I get it…. It’s not like I’m not immune to doing those kinds of things, but when I think about how a doctor would say that lasering or waxing is fine… but vaginal steaming is not…. I mean, yes, there is obviously a risk of being burned by the steam. So you want to use caution, of course. But we are women, we have brains, and we’re perfectly capable of handling a bowl of steaming hot water as far as I’m concerned! I believe in women… I trust that we are capable of doing things that are going to take care of our health and that are in our best interest. But it’s the same for lasers. You can get burned there too. I’ve been burned by a laser before. It sucks! I’ve never been burned by vaginal steaming. So I really think it is important for us to take that with a grain of salt as well. And again, like what Dr. Lissa Rankin says, check in with yourself! Like, does this seem like a cool thing to do? Are you curious? Then, do some more research and see what people have to say about it.
Jessica: [00:48:35] Yeah I think what’s cool about it too is you can do this in the privacy of your own home. There are definitely salons popping up everywhere for this practice, believe it not…it’s more on the West Coast, but in New York City there are spas that offer a vaginal steaming as a service. But where you’re kind of dependent still on the practitioner. But I think what also is great about this is you can do this at home quite simply. And in that case, you’re kind of responsible… if you burn yourself. At least this way, it can be done on your own terms, in your own home, in your own way… And you can really be sure you’re doing this using your best judgment in a way that feels safe and good for you. And if it doesn’t, you STOP, just like anything else!
Nicole: [00:49:21] Right? Exactly, I know! And again, I trust that women know that if it feels too hot down there they’re going to get up and… wait, just wait for a minute.
Jessica: [00:49:34] Well Nicole, I think I’m going to wrap up here…. This is has been incredible! You are such a wealth and resource of information on all these topics, and it’s really awesome to have been able to share this with our Leiamoon audience today. I highly recommend going to Nicole’s website and exploring all the information, videos, quizzes, and guides that she has up there. It’s an incredible resource. Thank you for all that you share! For more of Nicole, tune into her podcasts as well and check out her online programs. And of course, continue to stay connected with us at Leiamoon on Facebook, Instagram, and our mailing list as we inch closer to launching our much-anticipated vaginal steam product!
Nicole: [00:50:21] Thank you so much. It was amazing.