Be Your Own Valentine: Three Self-Love Rituals Guided By Chinese Medicine

Photo by Noemi Jimenez

Photo by Noemi Jimenez

Head on over to the resplendent Beyond Yoga Blog for Botanarchy’s seasonal alchemical alembics to awaken the heart on Valentine’s Day.

The soul of ancient Chinese medicine is the concept that the entirety of the cosmos is contained within us, and that we each have our own divine rhythm that is an emanation of the heart of the universe. The seat of this magic is our heart, and the motive force of the heart is what we call the shen spirit, the cosmic light of the universe that brings inspiration, awareness, and compassion to everything we grace.

Our hearts are on a mission to connect us with our divine path, and our self-love nourishes this mission, giving it purpose and movement through a constant barrage of trauma and disappointment. If Valentine’s Day is good at anything, it’s amplifying this disappointment, bringing the familiar pangs of loneliness, longing, and lack, reminding us of all the types of love we could be experiencing and why we aren’t. I’ve often felt that Valentine’s Day should be re-imagined as a holiday of self-love, where we direct the light of the heart inwards to reconnect to our divine path and recognize that we are already whole.

One of the gifts of this medicine is the remembrance that love needs no vessel other than the self, for we are in ecstatic communion with the universe. The infamous ‘yin yang’ symbol – also known as the taijitu or ‘supreme polarity’ – is not just the darling of mall jewelry, but also a symbolic reminder that we don’t need to be in partnership to be whole, that the self is both already complete and ever-evolving. In the yin yang symbol, opposites exist in complete harmony, two swirling teardrop shapes that fit within each other to form a perfect circle that is one, containing all the polarities of the universe- male//female, yin//yang, light//dark, sun//moon, heaven//earth, it’s all there.

Let this be a guiding light for you this Valentine’s Day, along with this smattering of practices guided by the wisdom of Chinese medicine that access the light and wisdom of the heart, and find that center of wholeness + perfection in our untarnished core. We don’t need to be in love, we already ARE love. Take that, Tinder!

Below are 3 Self-Love Rituals guided by Chinese Medicine for you to try this Valentine’s Day.

1. SHEN-GAZING
The shen, our heart spirit, is the light that illuminates the heart, bubbling over from its cauldron to shine out from our eyes. Shen-Gazing is a simple practice you can do anytime you need to connect with your inner luminescence, or meld with the transcendent values of the heart. It cultivates self-love, reminds us of our innate divinity, and helps bridge the connection between the heart and the world at large. There is no proper way to do this, and no correct amount of time to devote; simply allow yourself to witness and explore. This is the perfect opening practice for the two other rituals listed below, and also my favorite way to prepare for a date when the butterflies are abounding and the inner critic is a’yelping.

How to Perform this Ritual:

Light a candle, and sit comfortably in front of a mirror.

Gaze into your own eyes, making contact with the spark that animates you from within, the true self that lies in the depths of your being untouched by the world.

Stay gazing, greeting this spark as if it were divine, feeling the light within your eyes grow as bold as the light of the heavenly cosmos. Don’t break your own gaze – breathe, soften, stay present to the light of the shen. Merge and meld, and merge and meld, until you feel the subtle glow permeate your whole being.

2. INNER SMILE MEDITATION
This is a practice culled from the Taoist tantric arts. It melts the contraction of negative emotional energy, and helps in accepting oneself unconditionally. It is a supreme reminder that happiness and love are a choice, and that we can drop into their slipstream whenever we chose. Hello, freedom.

How to Perform this Ritual:

Sit comfortably with your spine straight, such that you are a poised conduit of energy from the earth below to the heavens above.

Take a few deep, cleansing breaths to release any judgment, stories, or stickiness that may have taken root in the body.

Close your eyes and rest your tongue gently on the roof of your mouth, so that your throat stays relaxed and your breath can flow freely.

Smile gently and honestly, deliciously yet genuinely, beginning with a sly turn-up of the lips and allowing it to blossom as it will. If you are vexed and jaded like the best of us, this may not come easy to you. Fret not! Pluck some grinning memories from the vaults until you have coaxed a suitably sublime smile onto your face.

Allow the smiling energy to spread multi-directionally, bringing the energy to the spot between your eyebrows – the third eye – the energetic locus that allows us to cut through illusion, access deeper truths, and see beyond the limitations of ego and language. Let your forehead relax, and allow the smiling energy to accumulate at the third eye point, bubbling over like an over-poured glass of champagne.

Allow the smiling energy to overflow down your face, relaxing the cheeks, nose, mouth, and all the facial muscles. Let it flow downwards through your neck, into the chambers of your heart.

Smile into your heart, filling it with compassion and joy, its cosmic companions and original bedfellows. From here, you can direct the smiling energy to each of your internal organs, or any crawl space or crevasse in your body that has wilted or waned. Allow the glowing tumescence of the smile to dissolve all stagnation and constraint, giving special attention to any spot in your body in need of healing.

Finally, direct your smiling energy to the point about 2 inches below your navel; This is your life gate, the internal alchemical furnace where we store and churn our energy and magic.

In closing, you can open your eyes, release your smile, keep it, give it away… whatever feels juicy and good. You’re on a date with yourself, after all.

3. SELF-LOVE ACUPRESSURE
Acupressure is needle-less acupuncture by the mojo and moxie of one’s own hands, a simple yet comprehensive self-care system for radiant health, balance, and well-being. Through the practice of stimulating acupuncture points on specific organ meridians, we can cultivate and harness life force energy, revitalizing the internal organs, glands, nervous system, and the bones. This foundational practice of gentle self-massage increases our capacity to skillfully cultivate, circulate, and sublimate energy throughout the body.

One can access the boundless love contained within the heart by activating points on the body that awaken and enliven the heart spirit, or shen. I will walk you through how to locate these points below. Finding an acupuncture points is a lot like finding the reflex point on your knee that gives that quintessential kick. You want to sink your fingers into the skin until you find that sweet spot, sliding your finger over that valley or mountain peak until it elicits an emotional or physical AHA! If the point you discover feels at all tender and stagnant, you will massage the point in a counter-clockwise direction, breaking up the stasis and freeing up the qi. If the acupuncture point feels lithe and empty, draw energy into the body by massaging in a clockwise motion.

Your hands are instruments of magic- put some devotion potion in there. I like to use a dab of Rose Geranium essential oil in tandem with these points, as it is a heart-opening ally with a sexy Venusian flair that brings luminous awareness of our spiritual gifts. Floracopeia is my most cherished purveyor of high vibration, high integrity oils.

How to Access 3 Heart-Activating Points:

Ren 17 “Center of Chest” 膻中

Location: Midway between the nipples in the center of the breastbone. Locate the point by drawing a straight line between the two nipples, stopping at the cleft in the center of the breastbone, massaging and stimulating the area in 4-5 second intervals.

Ren 17 rests on the body’s central axis right in the center of our being, and as such, it opens the chest helping us to love and breathe deeply. As yogis, we are well aware that breath is life, and this point helps reinforce the connection between our Lungs and our Heart. When palpated, Ren 17 can provide a deep emotional release, and if you feel frantic and scattered like a box of lightning and chaos, this point helps resolve anxiety and panic attacks, quell heart palpitations, and regulate erratic breathing.

Heart 7 “Spirit Gate” 神門

Location: On the wrist wrinkle of the inner crease of the wrist, just below the palm, at on the pinky-finger end beside the ropey tendon. Locate the point by turning your hand over so the palm is facing up, then apply downward pressure to the spot at the pinky corner of the wrist, just next to the tendon, massaging and stimulating the area in 4-5 second intervals.

Heart 7 can help merge the divide between the heart and the mind, center us in our heart, and access the wisdom of the shen. I love using this point when I need to think and act with my heart, come home to roost in the infinite wisdom inside me, and tap into freedom of expression as governed by my true purpose. This point is also great for nourishing a weary heart in those of us suffering from burn-out.

Pericardium 6 “Inner Barrier” 內關

Location: Three finger breaths above the wrist on the inner forearm in the space between the two tendons. Locate the point by turning your hand over so the palm is facing up, then apply downward pressure between the two tendons, massaging and stimulating the area in 4-5 second intervals.

The Pericardium is the ‘Heart Protector’ meridian, and as such, is likened to the keeper of the castle gate who discerns who orwhat is allowed to enter or leave the inner domain of the heart. Acupressure on Pericardium 6 helps inspire healthy boundaries in relationships and beyond, and like a spry acupuncture adaptogen, it can be used to open our hearts when they have closed in reaction to past pains, and to shore up our heart’s castle walls when we are the walking wounded. It is an excellent point to calm a restless heart and quiet the mind.
— Beyond Yoga

Vaginal Steaming: DIY Healthcare for Body Autonomy + Reproductive Health

Yoni Steam

Be it by hook, crook, Depo-Provera, or deodorized douche, the all-pervasive monotheistic religious hegemony has spent the last 2000 years convincing women that life sprang from Adam’s Rib, selling us on the lie that the vagina is a bothersome vessel for pain, shame, stench, bewilderment, male pleasure, and vulnerability. Scared silly by the sacred sorcery of the womb, our topsy-turvy culture has tried to stifle its innate ecstatic capabilities, obstructing its shamanic power by handing our health over to doctors, pharmaceutical companies, advertising agencies, corporations, and various trained henchmen of the uninformed patriarchy. Before the culture of the yearly Pap smear, women had a slew of secrets for protecting and enshrining our palaces. We communed with the moon, and tracked our cycle in the ebbs and flows of its shadow. We listened to the language of our sacred secretions, knowing which herbs to take to fight infection, stop bleeding, treat infection, and prevent or promote pregnancy. We tethered our circadian rhythms to ritual, using ecstatic rites to harness the guttural and sacred power of our cycles, evoking power and transformation for both ourselves and our kinfolk. As the sole gatekeepers of ancient medical arcana, we were self-governing gynecologists in our own right.

Throwing brevity out the window, I could wax poetic for miles on the suppression of shamanistic ecstasy and the rise of the patriarchal hegemony (if that gets you all weak in the knees, do consult the Oracle Of Terence McKenna, stat), but I’ll let you fall down that rabbit hole on your own accord. Rather than lamenting the loss of the sacred feminine, I’ll offer up my most hallowed rite for celebrating body autonomy, an old school ritual of reclaiming and rejoicing in your womb.

Vaginal steaming, known as Chai-Yok in traditional Korean medicine, has been used for centuries to cleanse, strengthen, fortify, and sanctify the Palace of Blood. I use it frequently, to stave off a lifetime of reliance upon institutionalized healthcare and gynecological practices that shut down the body’s innate intelligence. A staple of midwifery and folk medicine in regions as diverse as Asia, Egypt, and South America, V-Steaming is now offered for $40-$120 a pop at MILF-y spas in most metropolitan locales. The perfect anecdote to wily gynecological issues that hover in the periphery, both persnickety and pernicious, steaming brings oxygenation and heat to the womb, dispelling cold and stagnation in the body whilst cleansing, nourishing, and healing the oft-ignored tissues of the reproductive system. Squatting over a steaming cauldron of herbs has benefits both meditative AND medicinal. Practical and primordial, the bewitching vapors bring energy and exaltation to the dark, sibylline corridors of our body and our nature, places where patterns get stuck and troubles tend to stagnate. Steaming is an effective pain reliever that moves blood, aids in tissue repair, strengthens the female sexual organs, ignites sex drive, prevents and heals infection, and reduces inflammation. The ritual itself is a high falutin’ heathen hootenanny, fit for both guttural goddesses and citified gentility alike. If you are curious about how to address urogenital health at home along with your current healthcare regime, steaming could inject a hearty dose of joie de vivre into your Blood Palace and aid in the following conditions:
• Infertility
• Postpartum Health
• Uterine Fibroids
• PMS
• Menstrual Cramps
• Irregular Menstruation (long, short, or absent monthly menses)
• Blood Clots (or dark, brown, scanty blood during menses) 
• Pain During Intercourse
• Uterine/Bladder Weakness and Prolapse
• Miscarriage
• Ovarian Cysts
• PCOS
• Constipation
• Vaginal Dryness
• Endometriosis
• Hemorrhoids
• Bladder and Yeast Infections
• Ingrown hairs on the bikini line
• Scarring and adhesion from childbirth, hysterectomies, and laparoscopies
• Sensation of cold in the abdomen
• Sexual Trauma

Though gentle and painless, steaming should be avoided if you are pregnant (or after ovulation if you are currently engaged in conceiving), bleeding heavily, use an IUD, have an acute infection (systemic or local), or have vaginal sores, blisters, or open wounds. If your current state of health & robustness is ever in question, DO consult with a suitable health care purveyor before engaging in any shenanigans. Body awareness is tantamount to body autonomy, so always be mindful and well informed. Keeping with the times, I must incant the following mantra, making it loud and clear to the powers that be that everything I offer here is for educational purposes only:
This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult a qualified health care professional if you think you may have a medical condition.

The benefit to steaming at home outside of the confines of a bougie spa, is that you can get down & dirty with the purely ritualistic aspect of cleansing your nethers atop a makeshift throne of chairs and blankets. Liberated from an infinite loop of stodgy spa jamz, you can undulate to black metal or Brian Eno, and shake, scream, chant, trance, and seidr to your little heart’s content. You can anoint yourself as Priestess of the Blood Palace, and consecrate your sex organs through a shamanic journey into your own womb. Use the steam to track sensation in your nebulous sexual matter. What arrows and wounds can you remove and heal? What would you like to plant in your sanguine shrine to gestate and grow? V-Steaming nearly BEGS you to invoke your favorite fertility goddess. Perhaps honor Coatlicue, the Aztec goddess who gave birth to the moon and stars. You can give birth to your own moon and stars, dissolving into primordial nothingness and re-constellating inside a Cosmic Egg containing the raw DNA of your new, intentional universe. Sitting regal atop your throne, you can chose to worship your womb and release old trauma, imagining the steam is the magic milk of the goddess Isis, imparting divinity and healing like it did for the witch cults of ancient Egypt. Perhaps invoke the priestess physician Sekhmet in a purification rite to drive out and destroy malignant forces. Or, adorn yourself in feathers fit for shamanic flight, retrieving information from the netherworlds about a womb-related health quandary that you long to address. Maybe you’d like to turn this into a protective rite, to ensure that various institutional ignoramuses keep their grubby paws off of your vagina (here’s lookin’ at you, SCOTUS!), and stop treating your body as the property of their dubious enterprises. The possibilities are as infinite as your own sense of adventure. In my experience, ‘magic is effective together with medicine, medicine is effective together with magic.’ That’s real talk pulled straight from an ancient Egyptian papyrus on healing, a culture revered for their sophisticated, efficacious, and nuanced medical care. Whatever you fancy for your nethers, throw in a flourish of intention and will, deepening the medicine by allowing the steam to impregnate you with the seeds of your desired self.

HERBAL ALLIES

Traditionally, herbs were chosen by village folk healers and midwives based on their magical and medicinal properties, taking into account what was in season and the specific needs of their patient. The basic recipe calls for 1 cup of dried herbs to 8 cups of purified water, and if you fancy a forage, do make sure the herbs haven’t been sprayed with any god-awful malarkey. In my practice, I specifically tailor my herbal formula to what condition I am working with (pregnancy? cramping? pain?), adding my mojo to a base of mostly Mugwort and Wormwood. My favorite recipe includes equal parts of the following constituents:


Mugwort: Sacred to both Hecate, patroness of herbalists and midwives, and Artemis, the moon huntress who presides over women in labor, Mugwort is a uterine stimulant that can restore a woman’s natural moon cycle with a wave of her weedy wand. Bar none for regulating the menses, she simultaneously eases menstrual bleeding in cases of excessive blood loss, whilst stimulating menstrual discharge in cases of scanty flow and amenorrhea. A natural antibiotic & antifungal, Mugwort protects the uterus from ulcers and tumors, eases painful menstruation, prevents miscarriage, and expels cold and stagnation from the womb. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we light bundles of dried Mugwort over acupuncture points to expel cold and warm the meridians, healing a myriad of conditions by leading to a smoother flow of blood and qi.

Wormwood: Antifungal and antibacterial, this cherished herb of Poets and Priestesses alike rids the body of toxins, cools the blood, heals wounds, relieves spasms, and strengthens sexual desire.

Rosemary: A tonic, astringent, diaphoretic, and stimulant, Rosemary increases circulation to the reproductive organs, relaxes nerves, eases muscular pain, stimulates the immune system, purifies the reproductive tract, and prevents infection.


Lavender: Known as the Swiss Army Knife of Herbs, Lavender cools inflammation, is antiseptic, aromatic, and antispasmodic, and particularly shines for chronic infections, relieving muscle spasms & cramping, regenerating cells, preventing scarring, and lifting the spirits.


Rose Petals: Sacred to Aphrodite, this female tonic is an anti-inflammatory and aphrodisiac. Cooling, gentle and astringent to the tissues of the genitals, Rose increases menstruation, heals skin, balances hormones, and calms tension.

Marshmallow Root: Not necessary for all V-steamers, but excellent to sprinkle in if you’re having a bout of vaginal dryness. Marshmallow relieves irritation by coating skin surfaces, and is a gem for those that experience a sensation of ‘rawness’ in the nethers, or burning with urination.

Yoni Steam

SUPPLIES

1 cup of dried herbs, or 1 quart of fresh herbs. Though I love the dickens outta them, essential oils should NOT be used for steaming, as they could easily irritate sensitive genital tissues.

8 cups of purified water, boiled.

Large pot with lid, suitable to hold your steaming herbal brew. A crockpot is excellent to transfer your boiling water into, as it retains heat for longer periods of time.

Two wooden chairs that you will balance your sweet cheeks betwixt. For routine steaming, you can cajole a carpenter friend with a scroll saw into making you a special steaming chair, with a hollowed out center for the steam to rise through. Or, if you’re a fancy pants, you can invest in a right & proper U-shaped medical chair, like this hot little number from Amazon.

Blankets to ensconce yourself in once seated.

Warm clothes to cover your neck and feet. These ensure that the healing ringlets of heat get trapped deep within the body, where they can work their magic and mojo.

Suitable ritual adornments for your magical fête.

A nearby bed to retire to après steaming.

WHEN TO STEAM

Most women will benefit from a hearty steam 1-5 days before their period arrives. For those looking to enhance fertility, I love these V-Steam guidelines from the CNY Fertility Center: 
1. If you are in a natural cycle, steam once within a few days after your period, and then once just before ovulation but before intercourse.
2. If you are taking Clomid, steam once when you first start your Clomid medication, and then once just before ovulation but before intercourse/IUI. A side effect of Clomid may be a decrease in cervical mucous. The steam will help increase this mucous.
3. If you are doing an injectable IUI cycle, steam once when you first begin your stimulation drugs, and then once in the morning before your IUI procedure. Steaming before your IUI procedure helps to liquefy the cervical mucous and creates a lubricated path for the insertion of the catheter through the cervix.
4. If you are doing an IVF cycle, steam once when you first begin your stimulation drugs, and then once in the morning before your transfer. Steaming before your transfer procedure helps to create a lubricated path for the insertion of the catheter through the cervix.
5. If you are doing a donor egg cycle, steam once while your donor is stimulating and then once in the morning before your transfer.

METHOD

Yoni Steam

1. Arrange your steam shrine in a quiet place where you can get down and dirty. Suit up in your ritual garb (keeping your neck and feet covered), being sure to remain pantsless or sans-culottes, as they say in France. Create your throne by placing two wooden chairs far enough apart for the gentle tendrils of steam to penetrate your nethers, with a nice spot between them to place your bowl of herbs (you may want to use a placemat if you have dainty hardwood floors). If you’re using a crockpot, plug it in now so that it’s nice and toasty when it’s time to pour your brew. Kick up the jams, consecrate your herbs with your intention, and work your magic and mojo like a boss.
2. Drape a warm blanket over your chair, so that you don’t have to fuss about once it’s time to steam. 
3. Place your purified water and herbs in a covered pot, and bring to a soft, rolling boil for roughly 5 minutes. This is a stellar time for incantations, or a cathartic Bacchanalian dance party.
4. Turn off the heat, and steep your brew for another five minutes with the lid on. You can wrap the pot in a dishtowel to further hold in the heat if you so desire. When ready, place it next to your steam shrine.
5. Pour half of the water into your bowl or crockpot, waving your hand about 10 inches over the water to ensure the steam is not hot enough to burn your precious ladyparts.
6. Finally, sit atop your throne, tilting your pelvis and posture for maximum steam action. This requires some show-ponying around, and will be different for every pelvis. Ensconce your low body in the blanket, making sure no steam is escaping through the pesky crevasses. Should the steam be too much for you, you can control the temperature by venting the blanket as you so desire. This should be pleasantly intense, but not painful or burn-y in the slightest. Be very mindful, m’dears, especially if you’re in an altered state or meditative trance.
7. Allow yourself to stew in the vexing vapors for about 10-12 minutes, or until the heat wanes to tepid and/or ho-hum.
8. Dispose of your wan waters, and replenish with the remaining herbal infusion from the stewing pot. If need be, reheat the brew until steaming. Then, be a dear and repeat steps 5-7.
9. Retire to the bedchamber, and seal the rite under a pile of warm blankets, relaxing and rejoicing in your resilient, rejuvenated womb. 
10. Be mindful of your vagina in the days and weeks to come, being sure to check in with the state of affairs hither and thither. You should expect changes in your vaginal discharge and menstruation, signaling that cleansing and healing is transpiring.

Many women won’t blink an eye at the ritual of a monthly wax, but rarely ever invest in their vaginas outside of a vajazzle or a finessing. Seeing as our reproductive rights and body autonomy are under savage attack on nearly all fronts these days, it is more important now than ever that we reacquaint ourselves with our biology, and reclaim our unalienable health by shifting to a paradigm of self-care. Your reproductive health is your birthright, learn to lasso it’s capricious curves!