Failure is an illusion. I eluded to this earlier on when you asked me about mistakes I made early on in my career. I don’t believe in failure. You have successes and learning experiences. It’s the mindset you bring to the task. If it doesn’t work out the way you hope, that’s OK. You will learn something from it and it may even put you on a better path than the one you originally imagined for yourself or the project. I have had many instances in my life where one could have said my mission “failed” but really it taught me valuable information I needed to for success today. A great example was leaving a job that I had a few years ago. At the time I was heartbroken thinking that I hadn’t lived up to the task at hand but in reality, I needed to leave that role to open an opportunity to take a job that gave me insight into running a private practice. I needed it to thrive today.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewingAdrienne Irizarry.
Adrienne Irizarry, PHc is a Certified Peristeam Hydrotherapist from the Peristeam Hydrotherapy Institute and owner of Moon Essence, LLC.
She works with women to regulate cycles at every stage of life — menarche through post menopause. She uses steam, herbs and Chinese dietetics to bring a woman’s body into better balance and to recover from childbirth.
Adrienne’s passion for Chinese Medicine over the last decade, particularly in the area of food and nutrition, continues to grow and now includes acutonics, cupping and acupressure in addition to her steam therapy practice.
Adrienne has a Bachelor of Arts in Music and Master of Arts in Communication from the University of Maine in Orono. She has a certificate in Non-Profit Management and is the 2012 Jerry F. Tardy Young Professionals Award winner through the Council of Alumni Association Executives (CAAE.) She holds a diploma in Chinese Nutritional Therapy and is a Sacred Menarche Mentor.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My backstory begins the same as the narrative of thousands of women around the world — I had period problems and I wanted to have a baby.
I have a Masters in Communication and had worked in nonprofits as well as corporate America in marketing and public relations for over a decade. These jobs are busy, exciting and intense and the demand of the schedule was taking a toll on my body. My periods had always been painful, irregular and heavy from the time I started menstruating, but working in this environment these issues escalated and were the worst they had ever been. It was impacting my ability to contribute to my job in the way I knew I was capable of.
After seeing several OB/GYNs the answer was always the same:
- “Let’s try birth control to regulate your cycle” — the result? Weight gain, cramping and eventually a “cardiac episode” which mirrored a heart attack at the age of 25.
- “Let’s try pain management” — the result? Less pain but still heavy flow and utter exhaustion because the “faucet” wouldn’t turn off in less than 10 days.
- “You have had a child. Maybe you should consider a hysterectomy” — the result? NO WAY. Why cut part of my body out because they couldn’t solve the problem?
After years of trying to get answers, I had a friend who told me about vaginal steaming.
My first impression was — “vaginal what?” but heard her out. She explained it was like a sauna experience sitting over steam. It was very relaxing but the best part was the improvement in her period so she thought it might help me too.
I honestly had nothing to lose so I thought “what the heck — I’ll give it a try.” I couldn’t have ever imagined the results I experienced.
My first session was so relaxing. It was warm and like sitting in a hot bath. I walked away thinking I would do it again even if it was just for 15 relaxing minutes.
After steaming the first month, I couldn’t believe my next period. I barely had any cramping. I wasn’t bloated and groaning about getting into my pants. My period was even and HALF what it had ever been for flow. I wasn’t physically exhausted at the end of my period and it only lasted 6 days instead of 10! Woah.
Excited about my results, I steamed the second month and had another revelation. For the first time in my adult life my period was pain free, lasted only 4 days and was even and moderate in flow.
Going from 8–10 day periods that were heavy for the first 5 days, painful and bloated to 4 days, pain free and mild/moderate flow — it was like stepping into a new body. I had more energy for life and the dread I once experienced for my impending period each month turned to excitement to see how much better I would feel as each month passed with my new steaming regimen.
It was this success that drew me to getting certified as a peristeam hydrotherapist. Every woman should have a hassle-free period like this! If we all have to have a period, why do they have to be miserable? The answer is they don’t. I am on a mission to help others feel as good as I do now.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
The Western medical model is very invasive for women. Tools go in and out. Surgery is the “go to” when medications fail. Healthcare for women’s reproductive health is very painful. When I tell people what I do, many get a mental picture of some sort of tool with steam that gets inserted into the vagina because it is so engrained in our culture that reproductive healthcare requires tools that go into the body.
The Western approach attempts to deal with symptoms, but they do not get to the root of what is causing the symptoms in the first place.
Peristeam hydrotherapy is about addressing the “why.” I don’t know about you, but I was always the “why” child. I needed to understand why things happened in the world around me or what was happening in my body. As I work with women, I find I am not the only one. They want to know how their menstrual cycles or menopause symptoms became what they are now.
The standard healthy period lasts 4 days, medium flow and arrives every 28–30 days. No cramping, no brown blood, no clotting, no arrival before/later than that and no heavy bleeding. Anything outside of this tells a story. For the vast majority of women, the period I just described is a unicorn and many who read it probably laughed out loud. It is possible to achieve even after years of dysfunction by using steaming as a therapeutic tool.
The beauty of this practice is that just sitting over a steaming pot of herbal solution customized for their body’s needs. We can address why they are having the symptoms they are experiencing and get to the heart of the matter, breaking the cycle and restoring harmony in the body. It’s gentle. It’s relaxing. In 10–30 min they can turn back the hands of time and restore (or maybe even establish for the first time) a healthy cycle for their body.
This practice is so much more than just periods. It can help with hot flashes/night sweats in menopause. It can break infection cycles without antibiotics. It can support fertility for women who are struggling to get pregnant. It helps the body recover after having babies. This practice is supportive to every woman from the time of menarche all the way through post-menopause.
Using steam, herbs and food therapy I am showing women how to take control of their health and it’s a game changer.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I truly believe there are wins and there are learning experiences. A “mistake” I made early on turned into a powerful learning experience. My mistake was to underestimate the power of this practice on the circulation.
I had a client in the early days of opening my practice that came in for a steam session on a colder day in December. I live in the Northeast so winter and cold temperatures are no joke here. This woman had gone into the room to do her session and after a few minutes I heard a shriek emanate from the room.
I went running in to see what happened, heart racing fearing something bad had happened. I asked the woman if she was OK and this heartfelt laughter met me on the other side of the curtain.
“This is AMAZING!” she exclaimed. “My circulation is so poor in the cold. This is the first time in 32 years I can feel my hands and feet on a cold day!”
I froze. The shriek that had sent my heart and mind racing was from sheer joy! My client was experiencing the power of steam for her circulation and it quickly showed up in her extremities and not just her pelvic floor. I was humbled in that moment that such a simple and gentle therapy could have such a system wide impact.
Since this day, the system side effects of steaming have grown to include digestive support, more frequent bowel movements that are easier to pass and more. Steam is a powerful agent for change.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I have been so fortunate for the amazing people who have come into my life and helped me become the woman and the practitioner I am today.
One of these women in my early years was my mentor Alicia Nichols. Alicia came into my life when I was a young professional fresh out of grad school and she taught me everything a young female professional needs to know to thrive. She shaped me as a professional in the field I was working in but also as a person that was ready for everything life would deliver. She is a force of nature and I always admired her for how she could command a room with gentle presence and accomplish everything she had committed to. She has always been just a phone call away when I’ve needed her at different junctures in my life and I am so thankful for her continued support. She is one of the most articulate, poised, intelligent and capable women I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and I wouldn’t be half of the woman and professional I am today without her energy and talents in my life.
The dream of becoming a practitioner would never have been realized without the mentorship of Kelley Sherman and Kim Trafton. Kelley nurtured my early interest in Traditional Chinese Medicine and fed my hunger for information with every book I could get my hands on. Kelley pointed me towards training opportunities, acutonics and more. It was her patient and guiding influence that launched me forward down this path that I walk today.
Kim Trafton has helped me talk through cases for fresh perspective, honed my diagnostic abilities and nurtured my work in this field in countless ways.
Keli Garza — you can’t talk about vaginal steaming without mentioning her contribution to this field. She brought this ancient modality to the forefront and has tirelessly trained practitioners worldwide so we can share this therapy with women.
These women have all played significant roles in my health, my personal and professional growth over the last two decades and I am forever grateful to each one of them. They each had a hand in changing my life forever.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
I do believe being disruptive is positive. We can have differing views, beliefs or practices, but if we can have a dialog about our viewpoints from a place of respect and kindness, being disruptive doesn’t have to be negative.
It is important to honor what came before us because without it we wouldn’t have the insight into things we have today. History teaches us. When we lose sight of the work and research of people that came before us, that is when disruption can be negative. Nothing in this world forms in a vacuum. The practice of pelvic steaming is no different. It existed for thousands of years before the rise of Western gynecology care. The reason it is viewed as disruptive is because the Western medical model does not acknowledge anything outside of itself or pre-dating its 200 year old existence as valid or healthy.
I view being disruptive as positive because it means introducing other ways of thinking. Being disruptive challenges the current structure and opens the door to new possibilities and ways of thinking. It is through this process that we evolve. Technology advances. Understanding matures. Think about it — if we didn’t have disruptors, we would still believe the Earth was flat.
Growth is painful. Change often creates pinch points in its early stages until more people adopt the understanding and accept it as truth. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It means we are evolving in our understanding of the world.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Be authentic. People trust people. If you are willing to share the real with people, they will have faith in the process. When it comes to talking about women’s anatomy, everyone comes to the conversation with different levels of comfort. Being willing to hold space, be authentic and vulnerable with people creates a safe space for growth to take place.
- Everything in life is about balance. If you work too hard, as is customary in our culture, your health fails. If you play to hard, your work suffers. If you have an extreme in any direction — lifestyle, food etc. — it causes the pendulum to swing too hard in another direction. If you strive for balance and not perfection, health and happiness coexist.
- Failure is an illusion. I eluded to this earlier on when you asked me about mistakes I made early on in my career. I don’t believe in failure. You have successes and learning experiences. It’s the mindset you bring to the task. If it doesn’t work out the way you hope, that’s OK. You will learn something from it and it may even put you on a better path than the one you originally imagined for yourself or the project. I have had many instances in my life where one could have said my mission “failed” but really it taught me valuable information I needed to for success today. A great example was leaving a job that I had a few years ago. At the time I was heartbroken thinking that I hadn’t lived up to the task at hand but in reality, I needed to leave that role to open an opportunity to take a job that gave me insight into running a private practice. I needed it to thrive today.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
This is a great question, especially in light of what is going on in the world with COVID-19. It has changed the way I practice a bit. The beauty of it is that I can serve women internationally through telehealth. It does change my plans for in-person programming, though.
My next big goal is to educate the parents of young girls and young women. It is possible to have a body literacy conversation without it being a sex education conversation. Our culture really struggles to separate the two because of how hypersexualized women’s bodies are.
I believe it is possible to have age appropriate conversations with young girls about bodies’ changes. If we can teach them body literacy from the beginning of puberty and show them the tools for self-care to keep their bodies healthy, just imagine the change in the quality of life for future generations.
I can’t tell you how many women I work with that make the same statements when they learn what I am offering. “Where has this been all my life!” “Why weren’t we taught this when I was young?!” “I would have had a totally different experience in my teens and 20s!” For these women, their quality of life, choice of partners and their fertility management would have been totally different.
My work with adult women is significant, but to start girls at an age when they don’t know the current societal narratives that “cramps are normal” and “you are fertile all month so you need birth control” and actually show them how their cycles work and prevent cramps before they even happen we will have a generation of women who will be healthier than any generation before. The first place the body steals resources for other parts of the body is the reproductive system. If that is functioning optimally — the rest of the body follows suit.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
This question makes me think of the quote “well behaved women seldom make history.” Being outspoken as a female is viewed negatively. Women are seen as brash, bitchy or obnoxious. The same characteristics when displayed by a man are seen as confident, assertive and persuasive.
I believe that women can be powerful, confident, and assertive. These are more masculine energies, but why do they not apply to women doing the same actions and having the same conversations as male counterparts?
I believe to be a disruptor you have to embody these powerful words as intelligent women. Being a disruptor is not for the faint of heart. It requires a strong understanding of self. It requires a sense of security in that sense of self. These are all attributes of being confident and having razor sharp wit.
The cultural narrative of masculine and feminine is changing but not radically enough to eliminate the challenge of negative stereotypes of being a strong female with fortitude and character.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
The Web That Has No Weaver by Ted J. Kaptchuk, O.M.D changed my world. It disrupted my Western understanding of the body and how it operates and opened the world for me to new ways of understanding the rich interplay of the body and its systems. It was like stepping through a portal into a different realm at the time I read it 10 years ago. It opened the door for my passion for Eastern medicine and many texts to follow that now inform my entire understanding of the world.
For podcasts, it would have to be Fertility Friday and her book The Fifth Vital Sign by Lisa Hendrickson-Jack. She has tackled topics like body literacy for young girls, fertility awareness postpartum as well as brought a spotlight to the importance of the menstrual cycle to serve as a vital sign for women to understand their health. This is a revolutionary approach and relationship for women to understand and engage with their menstrual cycles and fertility and I love that she challenges the current constructs in her work to bring attention to this topic for the betterment of women’s health.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
More of the NIH budget needs to be allocated to women’s health related topics. There are viable alternative therapies that are less invasive and highly effective for a wide range of women’s health related issues.
Researching these modalities, validating the anecdotal evidence with studies that are asking the right questions and offering women options outside of surgery and hormones to address imbalances in their bodies would be a public service.
It isn’t popular because Western medicine is business, but the right thing would be to serve the health and wellbeing of the public. Surgery and pharmaceuticals make more money than herbs and steam, however, if a woman wants to have a baby and the Western model puts her in an “unexplained infertility” category but Eastern medicine has a diagnosis — why would we want to deprive that woman of holding a baby in her arms?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Leap and the net will appear.” This is one of my favorite quotes from one of the amazing female mentors I’ve had in my life.
Anything worth doing often feels scary at first because you are the only one doing it. That leap of faith is a scary one, but once you take it, the universe takes care of the rest.
Opportunities fall into place. Things “just work” with less effort. If you are trying to force something to happen, reconsider what you are doing because it will just flow when its right.
How can our readers follow you online?
I can be found on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at @moonessenceme. I am on LinkedIn as well. My website is https://moonessence.life and I have a vibrant blog there as well.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!