Walk into almost any yoga studio these days and you are likely to notice that the pungent aroma of incense (not always a universal favorite) has been replaced by a far lighter olfactory experience: essential oils. Some yoga teachers diffuse essential oils during class to enhance the uplifting experience of the asanas. Others anoint students with oil-infused hands as they drift into Shavasana. Some studios offer spray bottles filled with essential oil blends for students to wipe down sweaty mats at the end of class.
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Whether they’re using sandalwood, patchouli, frankincense, eucalyptus or bergamot, these days yoga teachers are increasingly integrating essential oils into the yoga experience. And with good reason: These aromatic compounds—found in plant seeds, bark, stems, roots, and flowers—have long been a favorite with the aromatherapy crowd and those who tout the oils’ ability to enhance mental and emotional wellness, relieve sore muscles, and support physical and spiritual well-being.
Essential oils are increasingly being integrated into the holistic management and treatment of diseases for a wide range of illnesses including cancer, respiratory conditions, asthma, migraines and heart disease. They are also commonly used to boost immunity, help manage weight and diet, and treat the symptoms of menopause.
If you haven’t been introduced to essential oils, consider integrating them into your yoga practice. Testing their powers on the mat is a good way to gauge what works for you and what doesn’t. But be prepared: Everyone reacts differently to essential oils. One person’s go-to oil to relieve stress or headaches could be the catalyst of these for someone else. For example, most people find that lavender promotes restful sleep; but others can find the scent agitating, which leads to restlessness and insomnia.
Essential oils are potent (and rare), hence their relative high cost. But a drop or two usually go a long way. As a general rule, most essential oils should not be applied directly to the skin or ingested, as doing so can cause an adverse reaction, especially for people taking prescription medicines. If you are looking to integrate the oils topically or as dietary aids, do diligent research and consult with a qualified essential oils expert for guidance. Though essential oils are commonly sold in grocery stores and new-age boutiques, beware: Only high-quality therapeutic-grade oils—containing no artificial ingredients or chemical residues—should be used topically or ingested.
Three easy ways to use essential oils in your yoga practice:
Diffusing: Most oil companies sell diffusers that deliver a lovely fine mist of essential oils into your yoga space. Oil lamps offer a cost friendly way to diffuse oils. (These are great for the home too!)
Purifying: From lavender to sweet orange, and peppermint to oregano, essential oils can be used to cleanse and purify your yoga space, yoga mat, chairs and clothes.
Anointing: Touch is healing and powerful, and even more so when enhanced with essential oils. Using the right oil at the beginning of class can infuse energy into your class. Similarly, using the perfect oil just before Shavasana can boost the calming power of this restorative pose.
There are dozens and dozens of essential oils on the market, and even more proprietary blends. Introduce oils slowly to your practice, giving yourself the time to become aware of their properties and power, and learn how you (and those around you) react to them.
Some oils to consider trying:
- For grounding: Ginger, patchouli, cedarwood
- For strengthening and centering: Sandalwood, cedarwood, myrrh, frankincense
- To promote breath awareness and clear breathing: Peppermint, basil, eucalyptus, rosemary, myrrh, frankincense, cardamom
- For calming: Lavender, geranium, chamomile, vetiver,
- For spiritual nourishment: Bergamot, lemon, orange
- To uplift: Cassia, clary sage, lemon, lime, white fir
- To purify and cleanse: Arbovitae, grapefruit, lemon, lemongrass, wild orange,
- To soothe sore muscles: Basil, coriander, cypress, lavender, rosemary, wintergreen
Remember, everyone reacts differently to fragrances, so whether you’e a yoga teacher or student, be mindful and respectful of those around you when using essential oils. Some studios ask students to refrain from using perfumes or oils before attending yoga class. If you’re a teacher who likes to use oils during assists or Shavasana, be sure to get permission from students before anointing them with scented hands.
How do you use essential oils in your yoga practice? What are your favorite scent combinations?