We all know a good Swedish massage every now and then can give your muscles a reset button. The massage therapist might tell you that your shoulders were really tense. Or your lower back needed some good adjusting. But do you ever stop to think that your uterus, too, is a muscle that can hold tension or shift out of alignment?
The Mayan Abdominal massage, also known as the Arvigo technique, is an age old therapy commonly used in Central and South American cultures for fertility related matters. The primary purpose of it is to move lymph fluid and increase blood flow to the pelvic organs. This can be hugely beneficial for women trying to conceive, alleviate the growing pains and aches during pregnancy, and heal the abdominal area postpartum. The massage can also help women with painful periods and cramps.
Katinka Locascio, LMT, is a Mayan practitioner who also owns a wellness center in New York City. “One of the sad things that I see in my practice is the way women are taught to normalize pain and dysfunction either around their menstrual cycle or with digestion. Mayan Abdominal Massage helps break that cycle by first opening up the conversation about what’s normal and what’s not, and then by giving women simple tools and techniques (self-care massage, v-steams, castor oil packs, and meditations, for example) to help the body come back into balance,” she explained.
Locascio also likes to point out how much stress the uterus experiences from too much sitting, poor posture, and reduced blood flow from everyday tension. “Think about how feeling anxious stops your diaphragm from moving! That alone can decrease the blood flow to your pelvis,” she notes.
During my pregnancy, I was leery to have an Arvigo therapist touch my belly. But shortly into my first session, I was sold. She was able to address places of tension on my body that a regular prenatal massage didn’t. I learned where my sacrum was and how that contributed to pain in my round ligament (which stretches to support the uterus during pregnancy) in my third trimester! Did you know that there are 14 ligaments that hold the uterus in place? 14! It’s important that these ligaments hold the uterus in an optimal position, otherwise it can wreak havoc on surrounding organs.
“For example, women who experience constipation before their period and heavy crampy menstruation may have a retroverted uterus,” Lacascio said. “The massage and self-care techniques can shift the uterus forward into a more central position and take the pressure off the colon, thereby relieving her constipation.”
Often paired with a Mayan Massage is the somewhat controversial v-steam. (Remember when Gwyneth Paltro blew up the internet about this practice?) I might argue that it’s far less invasive and generally just more relaxing than people think. And while it may seem like a trendy thing, it’s actually a practice with a pretty prevalent history in women’s health. Obviously, it is not advised during pregnancy, but while trying to conceive and postpartum, a steam can ease a woman’s reproductive organs.
Locascio’s practice frequently provides steams for women during their sessions. “V-steams are a very simple, inexpensive form of self care,” she explained. “There’s nothing really radical about it, it’s a mini steam room for your pelvis. Really we are just talking about plain physics here. Heat dilates blood vessels and increases circulation.”
Apart from the physical benefits, she particularly enjoys the ritualistic nature of it. “It’s a time I use for myself. Being a mom of two, that little bit of self care goes a long way every month,” she added.
I relished my postpartum steam. It was the perfect way to heal after childbirth. Steams can do wonders for our good friend the cervical fluid. The crypts that produce cervical fluid might need a little love postpartum and while breastfeeding. A steam can also help a woman who experiences dryness coming off of hormonal contraception. Note that the steam and heat isn’t going inside you. It’s more a vulva steam than anything. Residual warmth travels to your cervix and uterus.
The good news is that you can integrate these practices into your routine at home—including some mayan abdominal work. (Although I definitely recommend going to an Arvigo therapist if you can find one!) There are safety precautions that must be met, so be careful to do your research with the steams. It should not in any way feel like a burn, the steam should not be too hot, and when starting out, try a 15- or 20-minute session first.
“Mayan Massage can help realign the uterus and center the womb in the pelvis. Sometimes the steam can help soften the tissues so that the massage can be more effective. In general your practitioner can discuss with you the best way to incorporate v-steams into your self care routine. The two really support one another,” Locascio said.
It’s only fair to give your abdomen and pelvic area some love. Sadly, they are often left out! So put the Gwenyth Paltrow image behind you. It’s not hippie, it’s not woo woo. Mayan Massage and V-steams are simply tools to help women address parts of their body that don’t usually receive remedial care.