COMBINING aromatherapy with yoga can powerfully enhance the journey towards spiritual wholeness.
Yoga and aromatherapy are both practices that work towards integration of body, mind and spirit.
Yes, both work upon the physical body; yet both modalities are so much more than that, both beckon us to awaken our sleepless Self.
The real meaning of yoga is ‘union’, (from yuj, meaning to yoke together) and its purpose through disciplined practice is to unite our self with our highest nature.
Everything about aromatherapy and using essential oils also practically and systematically supports our ongoing quest towards this ultimate goal of holistic wellbeing, while also delighting and enlivening the senses.
Important aspects of yoga - besides the obvious physicality - include breathing (pranayama), withdrawing our attention from the outward to the inward (pratyahara), meditation (dhyana) and purification which includes clearing the patterns or obstacles (klesa) that impede our awakening, such as violence, greed and jealousy.
It becomes a way of life to diligently observe the yoga ‘ten commandments’ (yama and nijama) or guidelines as outlined by Patanjali, the father of yoga, in the sutras.
We need all the help we can easily access with this ongoing challenge; what a blessing that we can rely on the plant world and their precious gifts, the essential oils, enabling us to live our essential truth (satya).
Aromatherapy gives us some very useful and specific tools to enhance these yogic processes in myriad ways with their medicinal and psychotherapeutic properties.
This could include releasing old or negative emotions; experiencing profound detoxification or cleansing; soothing tense or aching muscles; helping to balance hormonal fluctuations or even helping to realign the chakras and promote feelings of calm and peace.
Using essential oils keeps us on the job or on the mat. In short, we show up.
The innate intelligence of plants is distilled into the concentrated essential oils, making them an extremely human-friendly medium. Their application and diffusion positively influences physical wellness, a positive emotional state and mental clarity.
Possibly the most powerful quality that essential oils bring to the aspirant is a very enjoyable opportunity to evolve in a spiritual way; they can become our companions on this spiral of development.
Simply smelling an essential oil can dramatically change our state of awareness, assist visualisation and strengthen affirmations.
The yogic journey really takes off when we cultivate that spark of enthusiasm and purpose that burns within, that intense desire to grow as a Being has a name in yoga: ‘Tapas’; the fiery inspiration that focuses our discipline and devotion to evolve spiritually.
No matter how rigorous the asanas or poses can be - they are all helpful - but precursor steps towards meditation as we organically move towards stillness.
Plant essential oils help catalyse processes that are otherwise not easy to achieve for the disciplined spiritual practitioner who places great demands on the body and mind. Essential oils sanctify the space for meditation, purifying the body and mind, which is foundational to yoga practice, while fortifying the nervous system to improve the function of the mind, the senses and perception. Their pleasant scent calms the central nervous system and facilitates the process of insight.
In fact some essential oils heighten focus and concentration, which is essential for not only performing yoga postures (asana), but also in doing regular spiritual study, (perhaps reading of sacred texts).
This is called svadyaya, as the yoga sutra prescribes on the eight-limbed path. At the very least, the intelligent scent of plants anchors us into a more self-reflective consciousness.
The intangible action of the mind creates thoughts that are in themselves forms of vibrations.
Clearing negative energy may be necessary to elevate the vibrations in a space that has accommodated other users with less salubrious motivations and habits.
Negative thoughts produce negative energy, which manifests as discordant vibrations in the subtle body and this discord is quite capable of negatively influencing our well being.
Conversely positive thoughts produce harmonious energy, which is where aromatherapy comes into its own.
Evaporating essential oils can clean and disinfect the atmosphere on a purely physical level, but more subtly, they ‘clear’ on a energetic level, to create an environment that is more suitable for subtle work.
Creating serene space in this aromatic way helps us calm the typically human ‘chattering monkey’ mind and settle us into a more receptive and self-aware state, where thoughts can be witnessed and not given free reign and the yoga self-enquiry process becomes the default.
This very effort is a valuable aid for the aspirant to fulfill the second foundational yoga sutra 1.2 Yoga chitta vritti nirodha which translates as ‘yoga is the silencing of the fluctuations of the mind’.
In yoga asana we shape-shift our human form into those of animals and trees and insects in a series of movements that culminate into the eventual stillness of the meditative state.
Aromatherapy helps transform the active human body from being a programmed machine into a sensing open form, fluidly improvising its relation to the world.
The body senses that there is nothing that appears as a completely determined or finished pose, as it shifts and changes to its own rhythm.
Select plant oils inspire us to embrace fluidity and change; without which nothing would ever grow or blossom, prompting us to become who we were meant to be.
They lend wings to our imagination and awaken zest for living our lives more meaningfully.
Essential oils open up pathways to consciousness through our faculties of perception and thus our experience of reality undergoes an alchemical process of transformation.
Immersing in yoga with aroma allows us to co-create in the cosmic dance between spirit and matter.
In aromatherapy, essential oils do a balancing act by either stimulating or sedating the nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system is composed of two opposite divisions: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
The sympathetic nervous system - which stimulates the heart - causes the bronchi to react, contracts the arteries (raising blood pressure), inhibits the digestive system, mobilises glucose and stimulates the secretion of sweat, thus preparing the person for physical action.
The parasympathetic system slows the pulse, lowering blood pressure, decreasing the secretion of sweat and prepares the person for feeding, digestion and rest.
Of course each system has its relevance at different times in different individuals and in aromatherapy we learn to artfully either excite or inhibit either of these systems with specifically indicated oils; whatever is necessary to achieve a balance of health.
Most of us in modern life have the sympathetic nervous button on jam and need to seriously arouse parasympathetic function; sometimes we might reach adrenal depletion where a kick-start to the energy by rousing sympathetic function is necessary to lift the torpor.
Listening to our body and pre-empting the tendency to compete, overdo and hurt ourselves will help us fulfil the very first yama or moral principle of ahimsa which means to do no harm; being kind and compassionate for ourselves is the first step.
In herbal or yoga circles we still refer to the familiar concept of Yin and Yang.
The human being embodies the same principles whereby the yin constitution is the feminine, passive, receptive, dark, cold and wet and the masculine yang constitution is active, light, heat or dryness.
To create balance we must provide a diet, herbal/aromatherapy and yoga therapy that provides more of the yin or yang that is lacking.
Harmonious or balanced interplay between these two energies within humans is required for mental and physical health; therefore we treat yang illness with a yin essential oil, herb or yoga pose.
OILS FOR A YANG SESSION
Use energising citrus oils, cheery orange, uplifting lemon, lovely lime or gorgeous grapefruit to get you going.
Try invigorating juniper berry, clarifying cypress and rousing rosemary to stimulate you into action.
Consider breath-taking black pepper, lightening litsea cubeba, moving manuka, stirring niaouli, provocative pine, galvanising ginger, triggering tea-tree and enthusing eucalyptus.
A yang yoga session activates the sympathetic nervous system, and is more suitable for a morning session or to motivate a naturally slow, or depressed person.
Generally it entails more extensions or backbends for the body, balances and vinyasa style practice that flows with salutes to the sun. There are those specific times, when stimulating essential oils that increase energy in the body are more relevant; any help to overcome sluggishness, inertia or exhaustion on some mornings is most welcome, especially when it smells so good.
OILS FOR A YIN SESSION
Try calming chamomile, reassuring lavender, comforting clary sage, radiant rose, joyful jasmine, visceral vetiver, settling sandalwood. Consider grounding geranium, voluptuous ylang-ylang, pungent patchouli, renewing neroli.
A yin yoga session exerts influence upon the parasympathetic nervous system and is more suitable for evening sessions, over-anxious or stressed individuals and those needing more calm in their lives.
Generally such a session entails more flexion or forward bends, seated and restorative postures with an extended corpse pose.
Soothing and relaxing essential oils will be an aromatic prompt to leave worries and concerns outside the room and quieten the mind for a yin yoga session.
Undeniably there will be a plant oil to restore balance to the autonomic nervous system where it exhibits excess; the truth is we don’t want to be too much of any one thing.
One of the key yoga sutras is: “Sthira sukham asanam” which means the yoga pose must be performed with steadiness and ease in equal measure.
Sthira is the effort to build up the pose from a grounded, strong foundation with alignment of the bones and sukham is the ‘sweetness’ created when the breath and softer tissue relaxes deeply, releasing tension within the defined structure of the pose.
We thus become relaxed and powerful when we find this balance between containment and permeability, rigidity and plasticity and spaciousness within boundaries. We also learn to balance our effort and surrender in each pose and this enriched awareness ushers us into a new world of acceptance.
In this milestone, we fulfil the other yoga niyama or commitment called Samtosha whereby we are content in every moment, being comfortable with what we have and trusting in the bigger picture.
Pertinent essential oils to use for yoga practice should definitely enhance respiratory function, because improving respiration and the quality of breathing is foundational to all yogic or spiritual practice.
Certain scents encourage us to surrender to the breath itself; the current of the life-force, as it moves through our body; indeed beautiful fragrances awaken the desire in us to surrender ourselves to life.
When we do this we open ourselves to the cosmic rhythms of contraction and expansion in the natural interplay of inhalation and exhalation.
By activating the life force with breath and exploring the bodily sensations of its processes, all the residues of past sorrows, joys and beliefs that have left their imprint on our body, get stirred and their memories come to the surface.
The mobilising, memory-enhancing properties of essential oils only augment this healing process. It is only when we are sensitive and able to feel that we are able to perceive.
As the residues come up, the calming nature of the plant scent discourages our usual conditioned reactions to engage in these long-buried emotions.
Our central nervous system is lulled into a more dispassionate state of equanimity as we observe and just allow the waves of memories, tensions, holding patterns and stored pain float up and dissolve into finer wavelets of energy or into empty space.
Essential oils give us motivational and empowering support to explore this natural phenomenon of release and resolution that leads to healing.
The air that is breathed is subtle matter and awareness of it can develop awareness of the subtle world, especially when it carries within its current, the subtle energy from plants in the form of volatised essential oils. Carefully chosen respiratory-enhancing plant oils prepare the ground for aligning the breath with Prana energy, the life-giving vital energy that pervades all of the earth and its inhabitants.
Breathing is the only physical vehicle for the internal prana (our individual portion of life-force) to draw its replenishment from the external Prana (universal life-force.)
When we understand this, we understand why using essential oils to open up the breathing passages and deepen the respiratory process is so beneficial on our quest for spiritual awakening.
To promote breath awareness and clear breathing use peppermint, niaouli, basil, cypress, eucalyptus, rosemary, fragonia, myrrh, frankincense, cardamom.
Beautiful, botanical essential oils were meant to be breathed in and be intimately imbibed by our nose that has been purposely designed to process such fine volatile elements.
The nose is the gateway to consciousness because the energy of life is taken in the air we breathe.
When we smell something beautiful, our first impulse is to breathe in deeply - the very first requirement on the life-long path to attain the state of yoga, or Divine union.
Gaining welcome entry into our body, they decongest blockages to create clear passage for air carrying Prana to flood freely through our being so that we can feel the current of creation course through the subtle channels and wake up the cells to nourish the entire body.
Persistent practice eventually leads to the practitioner using specific breath-work to harvest the Prana more efficiently.
To regenerate our own vital force is to re-establish our own inner harmony.
Ultimately pure essential oils can be deeply relaxing, which helps release the locks that block the current of Prana, or the life-force.
The body and mind is focused on alignment, and alignment begets relaxation that leads to the emergence of sensations and awareness of the empty, silent space of consciousness.
Using aromatherapy in our spiritual practice teaches us that awakening isn’t about getting life to unfold to our tune, but about getting in tune with life.
Sedative, antispasmodic and carminative oils work with the parasympathetic nervous system to wind us down and release tension in the body and the mind.
Diffuse essential oils during your yoga session with an aroma diffuser, be that a simple oil-burner with a bowl of water over a small tea light-style candle, or a more modern ultrasonic diffuser (an apparatus which uses an electric pump to propel miniscule droplets of essential oil into the air).
Refreshing plant scent can clear stale, musty or unpleasant odours. The gentle release of pleasing aroma will create the exact ambience that is required to positively shift the mood to one more conducive to spiritual practice.
In a class setting, colds and bugs can spread like crazy, so the anti-viral and anti-microbial properties of some oils are invaluable to prevent disease contagion and promote wellness.
Try lemon tea-tree, litsea cubeba, lavender, pine, cajeput, manuka.
In order to observe one of the first commitments of yoga, which is saucha, meaning internal and external cleanliness for purity, anti-microbial essential oils are of significant assistance.
They are applied as powerful cleansing agents to clear the atmosphere and also clean the room, especially the floor that is quite closely negotiated during a yoga session!
The oils are excellent cleansing agents to wipe down the yoga mat to deodorise and disinfect, which will prevent the spread of harmful bacteria or even fungal infections with their anti-fungal action.
Maintaining cleanliness of body, mind and environment is fundamental if we want to vibrate at a higher resolution.
Try thyme, oregano, lemon tea tree, pine, lemongrass and lemon.
Massage makes perfect sense when we bend and flex and extend the body to increase our range of movement.
Overreaching our current limits and hyper-extension can be common tendencies among yoga students with painful consequences.
Essential oils that are naturally analgesic and anti-inflammatory can effectively quell aches and pains and used to enhance recuperative body stretching and recovery.
Use antispasmodic oils after practice to prevent cramping. Try basil, bergamot, black pepper or cajeput.
Cypress helps reduce swelling. For tight, tense areas like the lower back and shoulders, massage a blend of manuka, clove and frankincense to reduce pain. Use juniper, marjoram, peppermint, eucalyptus, cypress and lemongrass to relieve sore muscles and tendons.
They improve circulation and flexibility, making tissues more elastic to prevent strains which improve overall musculoskeletal function and co-ordination.
The ritual of anointing is super-relevant for yogis and can pave the way to setting our intentions (sankalpas) and invoking the true spirit of Yoga.
This can help fulfill the fundamental devotional aspect of yoga (Ishvara pranidharna) whereby we surrender our individual self to the Universal Self, commit to the process and let go of the outcome.
The scent acts like an anchor to remind us to keep us true to our original purpose every time we smell the scent.
Essential oils may be worn as a scent to support visualisation, meditation and focus.
Use an aromatherapy roll-on applicator or solid balm and apply a small amount of the blend to your pulse points before starting, such as wrists, temples or forehead.
The essential oils should always be diluted in an oil or balm base before applying to the skin.
Of course the chakra points, which are the body parts governed by the seven chakras, give some excellent indications of where we can anoint the body, especially if there is an imbalance in a particular area.
Before meditation, put a drop of myrrh, sandalwood, buddhawood, or palo santo on crown and forehead. Use any combination of these oils depending on what seems right.
Rub rosemary, frankincense and cypress on the bottom of the feet. They motivate you to exercise even if you don’t feel like it.
For a clear mind and focus, put a drop of frankincense or peppermint on chest and forehead to inhale during inward poses.
Try massaging niaouli into the tips of the toes, acupressure points to open up the sinuses and aid breath-work. Rub peppermint oil on to the back of neck and soles of feet to stay cool.
Stay cool and refreshed by adding a drop of grapefruit, lemon or peppermint oil to your water bottle or stay warm in winter by adding a drop of ginger or cardamom oil to your herbal tea flask.
Use an aromatic eye pillow that is filled with flaxseed and comforting soothing oils to rest not only the eyes in savasana (corpse pose) but also the mind.
Choose soft, silky materials cut and sewn in a simple, suitably-sized rectangle.
The flaxseed provides gentle weight that applies the right pressure on specific parts of the eyes, nose and forehead to induce deep relaxation.
Add dried herbs such as lavender, chamomile and marjoram to help absorb the essential oils.
Try sandalwood, lavender, chamomile and clary sage.
Store in an airtight bag between uses. You can pep it up after time with more essential oils, just place directly on the ready made pillow.
Create a purifying mist that doubles as a yoga mat cleanser and room deodorising spray.
12 drops orange essential oil
6 drops lemon tea-tree EO
20 drops lavender EO
Add to a spray bottle - shake well before each use - and mist over your mat and wipe clean with a soft towel before and after each use.
Alternatively, use the spray to mist the air of your practice space to create a clean, aromatic and motivational atmosphere.
Tip: If you first mix the essential oils in 10mL of apple cider vinegar or vodka the essential oils will mix more evenly throughout the water.
There are times, especially in winter when you’re cold and you’ve possibly overdone it in practice, that a nice hot bath is just the go.
Put a generous amount of Epson salts (magnesium) into the running water, add a few drops of geranium, lavender, vetivert and rose for a really relaxing bath and recover.
You could add a few tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda (aerated salt) as well to really detox your body, dispense with the lactic acid build up in the muscle tissues and soften the skin.
Some beneficial essential oils for Yoga:
• Tangerine and peppermint are inspiring and motivating;
• Eucalyptus and cypress open the breathing process;
• Sandalwood and vetivert are grounding and strengthening.
• Ginger and patchouli will be stabilizing and earth-connecting
• Sandalwood and cedarwood are strengthening and centering
• Lavender, geranium and chamomile are calming and relaxing
• Myrrh, frankincense, eucalyptus and rosemary encourage the flow of energy, self-expression and help you achieve steady, deep inhalations and exhalations
• Bergamot, lemon and orange lend a sense of fulfillment and spiritual nourishment to your yoga quest
• Neroli, jasmine, ylang and rose promote transcendence and spiritual expression.
YOGA is basically about releasing us from the negative behavioural patterns that occlude our real, un-suffering Self and prevent us from realising our true potential.
We are all afflicted by negative patterns that hold us back and anyone on the yogic path, even if they do not choose to attend a yoga class, can observe the fundamental guidelines (yamas and niyamas).
They simply require us to “do the work” and practice self-enquiry to become self-aware enough to pre-empt the negative patterns as they arise; we can all benefit from this.
Again, aromatherapy gives us some wonderful tools in our daily practice that will serve us in this life-long journey quest towards Self-realisation.
They can assist in peeling back the layers that obscure our light and our true nature.
The natural ritual of applying essential oils and their pyscho-therapeutic benefits can help us ‘turn around’ a negative mind state (pratipaksha bavana) and set us upon a more positive and salubrious course.
All true healing takes time and one should not expect results overnight, even when using the most appropriate oils. Although they can have an immediate effect, most disharmonies of a protracted nature will take patience of spirit to change.
The Blend Concentrates in this article are not designed to be applied directly to the skin. Add to 20mL of Carrier Blend (cold-pressed vegetable oil such as jojoba or olive oil) for safe use.
Oils to regulate and relax: bergamot, chamomile, cypress, frankincense, geranium, jasmine, lavender, marjoram, melissa, neroli, orange, rose, sandalwood, ylang
Suggested blend concentrates:
Nervous and agitated: two drops each chamomile, bergamot, orange.
Sudden psychological trauma: lavender 3 drops, frankincense 2, chamomile 2.
Tense and exhausted: clary sage 3 drops, cypress 2, lavender 1 drop.
Over-thinking and worry
Oils to settle the mind: benzoin, cardamom, chamomile, clary sage, coriander, fennel, frankincense, grapefruit, lemon, marjoram, myrrh, patchouli, sandalwood, vetivert
Suggested blend concentrates:
Obsessive over-thinking: sandalwood 4 drops, vetivert 2
Over-preoccupied with detail: frankincense 3, vetivert 2, lemon 1
Over-concern for others: marjoram 3, chamomile 1 geranium
Over-analytical and detached: geranium 3, sandalwood 2, patchouli 1 drop.
Anger and Frustration
Oils that pacify the spirit: bergamot, chamomile, grapefruit, lavender, orange, rose, neroli
Suggested blend concentrates:
Frustrated and Irritable: orange 2, bergamot 2, chamomile 2
Impatient and intolerant: bergamot 3, lavender 2, peppermint 1
Depression and Negativity
Oils to uplift the spirit: bergamot, chamomile, neroli, rose, orange, lavender, jasmine, melissa, litsea cubeba, rose, rosemary, lemon, frankincense, myrrh, vetiver, tuberose, cacao, cypress.
Suggested blend concentrates:
Tense and negative: bergamot 3 drops, orange 2, neroli 1
Sullen and wounded: hyssop 2, chamomile 2, rose 2
Self-condemnation: lavender 3, rose 2, myrrh 1
Cold and joyless: jasmine 2, ylang ylang 2, orange 2
Self-neglect: vetiver 3, cardamom 2, rose 2
Melancholic and distant: clary sage 2, rosemary 2, patchouli 2
Deep inertia of the spirit: ginger 3, jasmine 2, cypress 2 drops.
Anxiety and Apprehension
Oils to calm and reassure: cedarwood, cypress, geranium, jasmine, lavender, melissa, neroli, rose, thyme, vetiver, ylang
Suggested blend concentrates:
Sudden fear, especially at night: geranium 2 drops, vetivert 2, rose 1
Anxious depression: lavender 3, rose 2 drops
Hypochondria: lavender 3, cypress 3
Restless and distracted: frankincense 3, geranium 2 drops.
Disempowerment and Indecision
Oils to fortify the spirit: benzoin, bergamot, cardamom, cedar wood, clary sage, cypress, eucalyptus, ginger, grapefruit, hyssop, juniper, orange, pine, rosemary, thyme
Suggested blend concentrates:
Lack of determination: cedarwood 4, ginger 2 drops
Vulnerable and unassertive: pine 3, thyme1, orange 2
Resistant to change: cypress 3, juniper 3, benzoin 2
Chronic indecisiveness: clary sage 3, bergamot 2, orange 1
Lack of confidence and self esteem
Oils to boost morale: Caraway, cedar wood, fennel, ginger, hyssop, jasmine, juniper, pine, rose, rosemary, tea tree, thyme
Suggested blend concentrates:
Lack of self-worth: rose 2, jasmine 2
Low morale: thyme 2, pine 1, juniper 3 drops
Withdrawn and defeatist: juniper 2, rose 1, ginger 2