Exactly a year ago, I sat in a Mongolian yurt built in the backyard of a house in San Pedro and learned about yoni steaming for my first time.
Yoni = Sanskrit word for "sacred place", a flower to bloom, the beginning of consciousness, portal into the cosmos, or more commonly known to westerners as...
Vagina = Latin word for sheath, or "sword holder".
*gasp!* yes, I said it. VAGINA. And after saying it so many times in the comfort of people seeking to decolonize their bodies, it's something I wish we could talk more openly about so that the many people I know who have suffered from reproductive and sexual trauma don't need to do so in isolation.
Note: I'll be replacing the word "women" with "people" and/or "people with uteruses" to acknowledge that not everyone with a female anatomy identifies as a woman. :)
((Shout out to Queering Holistic Health))
Keli Garza of Steamy Chick opened up an apprenticeship program alongside Marcia Lopez of True Healing Bodywork to educate people with uteruses about steaming and broke down the coursework into three modules: individual treatment plans, herbalism, and spiritual womb healing. Since I have early trauma of my own as a survivor, I was interested in understanding more about the spiritual component tied to steaming and how plants could help me. Although I had done a lot of personal healing and even worked in the field of sexual assault as an advocate, I was curious to know how it was my ancestors practiced healing before it became limited to hotline numbers, talk therapy, and hospital visits. Before Gwyneth Paltrow made it hip, steaming had been been practiced by indigenous people worldwide. However, gynecology (founded by European men) became the standard procedure for reproductive health and quickly replaced the lineage of midwives and doulas our villages once called upon for support. (Check out the documentary "The Business of Being Born" on YouTube!)
I've had issues with my yoni for as long as I can remember. I hated how my whole life, I had a battle with infections that were always prescribed with antibiotics which would only mask the symptoms for a couple of weeks or months until it'd return again. I remember as a little girl being in pain while visiting family in Thailand, and the village pharmacy didn't even have medicine for me because the local women never experienced the symptoms I was going through as an American-born Thai.
United States had violated me without my consent.
I was molested by the older white man across the street who offered my parents childcare support when they couldn't find a babysitter for me since they were immigrants on their hustle without extended family to rely on. And it was in Keli's workshop where she confirmed that many of her clients who experienced symptoms similar to mine also had a history of molestation. (This is not to say that sexual abuse doesn't occur outside of the US, but it probably didn't help that a lot of my childhood lunches were Lunchables and other acidic American foods full of preservatives either...)
There were a multitude of other symptoms people around me were suffering from: endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids, cysts, painful periods to no periods at all. While surgery was the most recommended procedure for many of them, several testified how steaming along with changing their diet actually helped to drain their cysts and shrink their fibroids! It also helped to regulate periods and eliminate cramps, since it's abnormal for any person to feel pain during their moon phase. So of course, I had to learn more.
My first month, I got too excited about steaming before the official apprenticeship program began and broke out in another infection. I later learned I sat for too long and with too much heat, which countered the fire that was already in my specific body type. I had to be gentle and discovered which herbs would be my plant allies. It also didn't help that during this time I was fired from a job I was passionate about for being too radical in my beliefs, which manifested into the worst infection of my life. It was so painful to the point where I landed in the ER because I developed swollen lymph nodes and couldn't even walk. At first, I was resistant toward going to the hospital since I had a bad experience with Kaiser, my previous health insurance. I sought out Marcia Lopez for emotional support, who reminded me that doctors within this industry save lives, and our role is to work alongside them as we heal our bodies - not against them. I needed to at least get confirmation that what I had wasn't life-threatening. As a newly non-insured patient, and jumped through several loopholes until I finally got the care I needed at a regional hospital. Nurses (who provided me with the most loving care) did several tests on me, and said nothing was wrong; my symptoms would naturally clear up on its own within a week, and that I simply needed to rest. What was happening to me?
Our reproductive organs are located in our root chakra, the chakra of security and grounding. It only made sense that the combination of losing my job and having an innocence stripped from me at a young age was showing up for me tenfold here. I did eventually heal a week later without having to take any medication, and became more fascinated by how our emotions and trauma can lead to physiological illnesses.
The next couple of months threw me deeper into energetic work, studying chakra alignment and somatic healing (including pole and aerial dancing!). My network of healers expanded, and through this my support circle of sisters grew. Several people have come to me about their own trauma that doctors were only able to help with to a certain degree, and I was able to refer them to alternative modalities and spiritual womb healers who specialized in sexual trauma.
Along with steaming, i wanted to learn more about Mayan abdominal womb lifting. This ancient healing technique is able to help realign people with tilted/prolapsed uterus so that they can naturally conceive without surgery, and can help with other reproductive challenges. I was fascinated by Marcia's testimonials of how she was able to help women get pregnant, but I also wanted to be cautious about appropriating another culture. While Marcia is one of the few practitioners of Meso-American descent, most of the well-recognized practitioners are white women who traveled abroad to study this technique and made it a career for themselves catering mostly to middle-upper class white women back in the states.
Now, I believe that all people should have access to reproductive health care. It also should not matter what color one's skin is, or what gender they identify with, but considering that most people who don't have access to good health care are brown and black women, trans, and gender non-conforming folks we have to talk about how cis-heterosexism and racism have played a huge role in this industry. (See the documentary No Mas Bebes, the story of immigrant mothers who sued county doctors, the state, and the U.S. government after they were pushed into sterilizations while giving birth at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the 1960s and 70s.) While our nation is fighting for reproductive justice by keeping services like Planned Parenthood available, i also feel this is a calling for people of color to reclaim the indigenous wisdom that so many of us have been stripped from since our bodies became seen as profitable, and therefore disposable.
Which leads me to my next journey. While researching other practitioners of color in the area, I came across a testimonial written for local Long Beach healer Panquetzani of Indigemama by a Thai American woman in the east coast named Anne Napatalung who said this technique was once practiced in Thailand, and that we are so interconnected beyond borders. I turned to google for more research, and found out there was only one elder in all of Thailand who was passing down the techniques of Thai abdominal womb lifting with herbalism in Chiangmai. Tears welled up in my eyes as I began to think of how much it is I had yet to learn about my own culture, and I made it a goal of mine to one day learn from her.
I found Anne on Facebook, thanking her for her words and hoped we could cross paths one day. Several months later, I am now on a plane headed to Thailand to meet her for my first time! From Bangkok, we will travel to Chiangmai together, two brown Thai Americans responding to an intuition that has drawn us back to the motherland to study with Homprang. It gets deeper when I learned her family is from the same village as my mother, Phatthalung, which is uncommon for me to find in the states.
I called my mother to hear her birth story. There were no hospitals at the time, so births were done at home with the assistance of midwives and doulas. Her grandmother passed away before she knew her, but her grandfather remarried the local midwife who delivered my mother into this world and became her grandmother figure. She told me stories of how she loved her so much and would follow her around with hot rocks and a sarong, prepared to deliver a baby at any moment. This is probably what helped inspire my mom to eventually become a nurse, which led her to the states.
While my parents tried to push me into the health care field by becoming a nurse (and even tried to dress me up as one for Halloween several years in a row as a kid!), I knew it wasn't my calling. I still am not sure what exactly my "calling" is, but as I learn to live each day in the present moment more lessons begin to reveal themselves to me. I know I am an artist, and as an artist it is my duty to respond to the current times. It is also my duty to shape the future by envisioning and creating what it is I want to see. As I've shared in previous posts, I strive to see a healer on every block. I envision youth of Southeast Asian descent in Long Beach and beyond to know the plants their parents and grandparents grew up with, and to use that as a way to reconnect with their heritage aside from the stories of war, trauma, and immigration. I don't want any child to have to go through abuse, and I want all people to have access to healing without the fear of being shamed by their community. I'm not comfortable calling myself a "healer" quite yet, as I truly believe we all have the capacity to heal ourselves and those around us. Perhaps that is why I exist; to reveal what it is already budding inside each of us and to see it blossom.
So... yoni or vagina? In my own effort to reclaim an ancient language my ancestors once spoke, and because I'd like to imagine my womb blooming with galaxies and shooting stars, I'll take yoni!
See you on the other side of the Pacific Ocean...