It’s 8 PM on a Tuesday. Do you know where your vagina is?
If it’s with mine, it’s in Queens getting a Chai-Yok 'facial,' or ‘V’ Steam. Chai-Yok is a centuries-old Korean technique of steaming your vagina with herbs such as Mugwort and Wormwood. The apparent benefits are: aiding fertility (not yet, please!), alleviating menstrual cramps (yes, thanks!), regulating irregular periods, diminishing stress and insomnia, providing hemorrhoid relief, and easing pain stemming from endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and even constipation. FABULOUS! Apparently there are a fair number of spas providing the treatment in L.A., but it’s harder to come by in NYC. But after a comprehensive Internet search, I found Aabu-Herbal Steaming.
I decided to give it a go--my main issues being pretty gnarly menstrual cramps as well as stress. Was this ancient technique worth the hype?
After my hour-long subway ride, I met Jun, the owner of Aabu-Herbal Steaming and my vagina liaison, outside a Thai restaurant, as we had discussed in our email correspondence.
She was friendly, and immediately put me at ease for what would be one of the most intimate moments I have ever experienced with a stranger. First of all, this whole process goes down inside her home. It was clean and quiet, but this was definitely her crib, not a commercial space. Hence the Thai restaurant meeting place, I guess.
Once we got inside, she asked me to take off my shoes and helped me put some slippers on (ew, Birkenstocks feet, sorry Jun!). Then, after handing me the world's smallest hamper filled with clothes, she asked me to go to the bathroom and change into something that was more chai-yok appropriate.
That's when it hit me: I was going to sweat my balls off during this. I obviously knew it would be hot, but I definitely didn't realize I'd be wearing a full long-johns-situation, complete with a Steve Jobs-esque turtleneck. It also hit me why Jun had informed me that only women weighing 180 pounds or less can try out a V steam: these things are TIGHT--and they only went up to size large.
After emerging from the bathroom in my full Zed’s gimp outfit, I was instructed to remove all metal jewelry and put on a giant silver cape. It was basically a human sized microwavable bag, which Jun zipped and secured around me to minimize steam expulsion. Actually, let me back up for a second. The ‘Queen’s Chair’ is where the magic happens. It's pretty much a giant, white wooden chair with arm, back, and butt cushions, and a metal grate in front of the ass cushion for the steam to rise up through. There's also a wooden ledge that extends from it to rest your feet on. Jun instructed me to "spread em" (in a bit nicer of a tone than a cop might)... and I obliged.
Jun thoroughly tucked me into the cape, evoking memories of Chipotle burritos gone by--though those were soon replaced by flashbacks to my almost heatstroke at the Jay Z/Justin Timberlake concert this past summer. She told me she'd be back in 10 minutes to check on me, to see if it was too hot, and then left me two different kinds of cold tea.
The first few minutes of the steam were reminiscent of plugging in my hand held steamer. It was calm and quiet at first, followed by a slight tssssss, then steam billowing, and finally, a soft hum. The moment I felt that initial rush, I was extremely grateful for the disposable underwear Jun had provided--as well as my sassy Steve Jobs uniform, without which, my nethers may have overheated. Though the temperature never reached anywhere near scalding, I'd say by my lady bits and upper thigh region received quite the facial situation--and I was sweating pretty profusely from the get-go.
After Jun came back in to check on me, I spent the next 20 minutes pretty relaxed, drinking my cold tea and generally hypothesizing on this bizarre experience. Jun instructed me to stick my face inside the cape (seriously) and let the V Steam steam my face for about 10 seconds (wouldn’t want my pores to miss out!). And suddenly, just as quickly as it had begun, it was all over. It was back in the bathroom, buh-bye now-wet Steve Jobs turtleneck, hello clothes.
When I exited the bathroom, Jun gave me a bag containing the herbal packet she used (reminiscent of a giant tea bag) and a bottle of ‘essence’--I still don’t have any idea what it is, but it smells great. Trying to find out what the contents were proved difficult because of our language barrier, but Jun let me know I should use them in the bath today or tomorrow, as the pack would no longer be usable after that.
I left Jun’s feeling relaxed, calm, with a just a touch of body odor. My stress levels were way down and I felt strangely invigorated, collapsing into a deep sleep right when I got home. My mid-cycle ovulation pangs were also mellowed out. I’ll wait to see if my menstrual cramps are improved, next cycle, but either way, it was an utterly bizarre albeit pleasant New York experience. My vote: go for it, the worst thing that happens is you might just rest a little easier.