Guest Blogger Atum from Kingston, Jamaica. Atum will be joining us for the Yin and Social Justice Training this year to share about steaming, culture and his favourite natural adventures. Giving thanks for the humble brothers in the world. We are looking forward to our reasonings with Atum over the 14 days.
Breathing is essential to life, so much so that saying so seems almost redundant, doesn’t it? But it could surprise us to learn how many of us nowadays don’t actually remember how to breathe properly, with the changes in development and particularly lifestyle in the past few centuries. So let’s talk about breathing. A lot of the diseases and ailments that have manifested in our lives can be attributed to us no longer breathing as deeply as we once did. In fact, almost all “lifestyle diseases” can be reduced to the point of non-existence with proper breathing techniques. ‘Pranayama’ is a Sanskrit word meaning “control of breath”; “Prana” refers to the energy which sustains our life force, which we inhale while breathing, and “ayama” refers to extending or drawing out. Together these terms literally refer to the extension or control of the breath. So what does this have to do with steaming?
Steaming is a safe, all-natural way to use herbs as medicine. Steaming herbs can prove to be a great complement to our practice of yoga and pranayama, or breath control. The first time I used a steam chalice, I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into; but half-an-hour later I was sure I was never turning back. I first came across steaming while on campus at university, in a time when I was becoming more aware of herbal medicine and began replacing a lot of pharmaceuticals with natural plant based “alternatives”. I use the word ‘alternatives’ loosely since herbs are the original medicine, before we had pills and syrups, the way of our ancestors.
A steam chalice usually consists of a few simple, natural parts that have been crafted from any combination of: clay, bamboo, calabash and/or coconuts. All from the earth. In fact, all the four elements work together in the process. A small clay pot, called a kutchie, holds the herbs and a small filter called a gritty, which separates the herb from the fire. This separation ensures that heat travels down the kutchie evenly and draws vapours from the moisture in the herb but does not ever burn it. If the herb is burned in your kutchie, you may be pulling too hard or loading the kutchie with too much herb. Water cools and purifies the steam, making the essence soothing to inhale and clean enough to only have positive healing and growth effects on the lungs. The fire is created by lighting activated coconut charcoal which is created first by burning dry coconut shells. After burning the shells and waiting for them to turn red hot and fully activated, some shells can be wet and left to dry for later use. Jamaican Locust or ‘tinkin toe shells can also be used and provide a unique essence. It is helpful to know that activated charcoal is the remedy used in hospital ERs to treat alcohol and food poisoning. It can be chewed, which whitens the teeth, or broken up and swallowed with water. It will make you want to use the bathroom so stay nearby, and use wisely. Coconut charcoal is a powerful antioxidant and is able to neutralize a majority of toxins including arsenic. It is not recommended that regular wood charcoal be used in the body or in the steam chalice. Air is the most important element here, since breath control is the catalyst that heats and dehydrates the herb --bubblin’ up the chalice. Combining breathing techniques like long, slow inhales and exhales and suspending the breath can greatly enhance the efficiency of steaming and working the lungs.
Any kind of herb can be used to steam. Its most common use has been with ganja as a spiritual meditation and healing practice. Popularized by Rastafari brethren, it has become a thing for people around the world looking for healing. Loading up, lighting and really properly steaming a chalice is a ritual in and of itself and will help engage a meditative state readily. Ganja has been found, with proper breathing techniques to significantly reduce if not eliminate symptoms associated with shortness of breath and asthma by helping to stretch and repair the lungs. Many other herbs are being used for their medicinal properties which include anti-inflammatories like ginger root and turmeric to pain and fever relievers like basil, lemongrass and peppermint. Rosemary is used to improve memory and cognition.
The benefits to steaming are pretty endless, and at the risk of not making this a medical journal. I can say with certainty that it has brought tremendous healing to Iself and so many others around me who have embraced this ancient practice. So sit around the fireplace & let’s sip some steamers.
Peace + blessings,
Join us in Jamaica Feb 16 to March 2nd for our annual Yin and Leadership Training.
Hey, want to steam in Vancouver? Link up with Danielle, she has some steamers for sale and use. Interested in placing an order? Danielle@lovelightyoga.com