In Self-Care Down There (Adams, Feb. 2020), Bhandal, a menstrual health coach in British Columbia, considers vaginal wellness from a variety of sex-positive perspectives, biological as well as spiritual. Having encountered “so much hesitancy around even saying the word vagina,” she notes, she encourages readers, the way she does her patients, to see that having conversations around “pelvic, menstrual, and vaginal health are a way to take care of ourselves, and are a source of power.”
Your book oscillates between mainstream advice and what you call “sacred self-care” sections. How do these two approaches relate to each other?
When most people think about their period, they’re thinking about how they’re going to just get through it. A lot of my work is showing them that, beyond the pain, our vaginas are sources of learning about how to be comfortable in our own bodies. Spirit and mind are part of that.
Multiple perspectives on what vaginal healthcare is can exist. Mainstream health-care practices tend to see things like painkillers as the way to support vaginal health, and I think ibuprofen is a miracle drug. I see value in research, and peer-reviewed studies, and randomized control studies. But I also identify as a Punjabi woman with ancestral roots in India and Pakistan, so I wanted to look at the Vedic practice of yoga and what that can mean to health, as well as Buddhist mindfulness meditation. In the 21st century we have knowledge of many different practices and can look at them all rather than privileging one over another.
You equate vaginal wellness with empowerment—how so?
Women and nonbinary folks have been trained to not really know a lot about what’s going on down there. We don’t even feel comfortable talking about our vaginas. If we can’t bring them up in conversation, how can we have positive dialogue around them? We’ve been taught to think about our periods as dirty things that need to be covered up and managed; the main word we use around them is hygiene. So bringing forth the idea of our vaginas as a source of power is a tool to not only reclaim our bodies, but to not feel shame about them.
Whom do you see as your readership?
The people I want to speak to are young people just coming into the world of adulting; they’re graduating from high school or university, maybe starting first jobs, and they have vaginas and need to figure out what to do with them now that they’re on their own. Part of vaginal health and well-being, in my opinion, is finding time for self-care. That also means finding pleasure in our lives, not being scared of our bodies and our menstrual cycles, and appreciating and loving ourselves.