DOWNTOWN — Right now, in an upscale underground spa in Santa Monica, an ancient Korean ritual is taking place and women of all ethnicities are benefiting from this newly rekindled tradition — the vaginal steam bath.
Yes, that’s right, ladies. The V-Steam (also called “chai-yok”) has been at the forefront of Korean herbal healing for over 600 years. The remedy is touted to help regulate menstrual cycles and aid with infertility issues and is one of the newest treatments offered at Tikkun Spa, one of only a handful offering the treatment in Southern California.
Owner Niki Han Schwarz and her husband, Charles Schwarz, an orthopedic surgeon, wanted to develop more than a “spa.” They wanted to create a relaxing, therapeutic center where people could focus on healing themselves, be it through massage, steams, acupuncture or herbal treatments. The name Tikkun comes from a Hebrew phrase “Tikkun Olam” which Schwarz said means “to heal the world.”
“We believe people need to heal themselves in order to heal the world,” Schwarz said. The emphasis is on both physical and spiritual healing — a series of lectures on the Kabbalah are up coming — and the spa offers its clients access to a physician, a naturopath, a chiropractor, a physical therapist, an acupuncturist, a nutritionist, aestheticians and massage therapists.
Tikkun offers Korean inspired spa treatments and temperature based therapeutic rooms such as the such as the Himalayan Salt Room, which is said to be conducive for relaxation while micro particles of salt help purify the lungs, and the Hwangto Clay designed to increase blood circulation and stimulate detoxification thorough the skin. In the women’s section adjacent to the area where the Korean scrubs are performed, there’s also a large Jacuzzi, steam room and showers.
But today, we’re here for the V-Steam.
After we doff our clothes and put our belongings in our lockers my friends — Kejo Thomas, manager of a local gym, and Saetha Evans, a personal trainer — and I are escorted to the Couple’s Room. In the Couple’s Room are always two massage tables set up side-by-side, a Jaccuzi tub, a private bathroom and a heated onyx chamber. As you lay on the tiles in the chamber, the heat starts to penetrate your muscles, thus making it a very effective place for couples to rest while waiting for their massages to begin. This room can be rented out for private parties and we’re told is extremely popular on Valentine’s Day.
Also in the room, in a semi-circle are three wooden stools covered with soft plastic cushions. Underneath, a round hole in the top rests a pot of steaming mugwort. I had it in my head that we would be uncomfortably squatting over a fire pit the entire time — nothing could be farther from the truth. Once comfortably seated, you control the flame underneath the bench and adjust the temperature of the mugwort. A pretty pink plastic poncho is draped over you so that the steam rises up through your entire body. The sensation is delightful. The lights are turned down and our female bonding begins.
The idea here is that the mugwort — an emmenagogue, a medicinal herb known for its stimulating and warming properties of the pelvic area — increases the circulation in the uterus and generates a clearing effect on “clogged conditions.”
Both Evans and Thomas crank their heat up. I’m on the lowest possible setting and I’m burning up. “Some people run a bit hot,” Schwarz explained. Yeah, that would be me. No surprise there.
Evans says she notices an increase in Kundalini energy in her root chakra. Chakra or no chakra, after 40 minutes in the steam, Evans’ skin is positively glowing. She believes combining Kegel exercises during the treatment better enabled her to draw in the healing properties of the mugwort.
“Honey, I’m just so relaxed and I feel great,” chirps Thomas, who looks as though she’s in a state of complete bliss.
“In America there aren’t many treatments you can do for uterine health,” laments Schwarz. She personally believes the treatments helped her regulate her menstrual cycle and conceive her third baby when she was 45.
As of now, the treatment is geared for women but Schwarz so believes in the remedy that she is working with an herbalist to formulate four different treatments: one for overall cleansing and general health, one that is specialized for women who are trying to get pregnant, one for post-natal women to help with regulating hormones and lactation, and one for men, who may have problems with hemorrhoids, the prostate or may need anal cleansing.
The spa itself is a little hard to find — on the corner of Fourth and Broadway (where the old Burke Williams used to be) — but there’s two hours free parking in the adjacent structure on Fourth. A phone outside allows you to be buzzed into a small vestibule, nothing but an elevator in front of you. Get in and hit the “down” button. Once you descend prepare to be transported. It’s worth the hunting and pecking.
As for us gals, Evans got her period the next day, Thomas had the best sleep in her life, and me, well, I’m still hot, baby.
For more info: www.TikkunSpa.com.